Category Archives: Psychological Wellness

7 Winter Coping Strategies

For those of you who are experiencing snow this week, you have my deepest sympathies.  Should you actually be enjoying the snow, let me know and I will make a point of sending mine to you when it comes.

This time of year can be especially difficult for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a form of winter depression brought on by the decrease in sunlight due to the shorter winter days.  Even for those who are just suffering from winter doldrums or cabin fever, this time of year presents its share of challenges.

I have been managing my SAD for the past decade and have picked up a few tips for coping and even thriving in winter that I would love to share with you:

1.  Maximize sun exposure and daylight hours.  Rise earlier to enjoy as many hours of sunlight as possible.  I know this one is easier said than done since SAD leaves you completely exhausted, but every hour of sunlight helps.  Make sure to get outside for a while everyday even in the cold to derive greater benefit from those glorious rays.

2.  Use a SAD light.  Even maximizing natural daylight, often isn’t enough. Using a SAD light such as this one (I don’t own this type, but it is similar to mine) can help to synchronize your body clock and help with energy levels.

3.  Break a sweat.  Exercise can help with energy levels and flushing toxins from your body.  Also the post work out “high” can temporarily help elevate mood.

4.  Maximize nutrition.  In the winter more than any other time of year, I hear the siren call of carbs and sugary foods.  They tell me, “Oh you’re tired?  Eat me, I will give you the energy you so desperately crave. ”  They lie.  Invariably I always feel worse when I dramatically increase my carb and/or sugar intake.

In addition to eating healthful foods, supplements can be very helpful.  This year I started using this brand of fermented cod liver oil to help improve my vitamin D levels, and have noticed a marked improvement in mood since incorporating it into my routine.  Even if you are maximizing sunlight, it is almost impossible to get enough vitamin D from sun exposure alone in the winter due to overcast skies, and the need to be bundled up.  Supplementing can help fill in the gap.  My doctor told me that of all the people he has tested for vitamin D deficiency the vast majority were deficient or barely adequate.  Bottom line: pretty much everyone can benefit from some Vitamin D supplementation.

5.  Engage your mind.  Find something to keep your mind occupied: take a class, join a book club, volunteer.  The distraction and mental stimulation can help, as wells as having something enjoyable regularly scheduled to anticipate.

6.  Take a winter trip.  I know winter is far from an ideal time to travel, but changing things up, even with just a day trip, can help provide a much needed change of pace and something to look forward to.  Resist the temptation  to hibernate like a bear.

If possible, you could even take a trip somewhere warm and sunny.  Who says vacations are only for the summer months?  Taking one in the winter can help to break up the season into smaller parts.

7.  Form new associations.  There was probably a time when you were a small child that winter was a season of wonder and beauty.  Pause frequently in the moment when you catch yourself thinking about winter to challenge negative associations and form new more positive ones.  Make new more positive memories in which winter isn’t merely accidental, but rather essential to the experience.

How about you, do you enjoy winter?  Ever suffer from cabin fever, or SAD?  What are some of your coping strategies?  

Since there are seven of these tips, I will be linking up with Jen from for 7 Quick Takes.  Happy Friday!

Update:  This week 7 Quick Takes is actually at thisain’  God Bless!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor am I trying to play one on the internet.  If you think you have SAD talk to your doctor about strategies that you should adopt for your unique needs.

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Graveyard with text

To Suffer Slings and Arrows: Finding Meaning in Death and Suffering


Taken by my husband on a visit to the cemetery on All Souls Day.

Recently I posted this article written by a college classmate on my Facebook page.  Later that day, a friend asked me to contrast that article to this one (be warned, the article contains vivid descriptions of what it is like to die a lingering, suffering filled death).  This post is born of thoughts I had after reading both.  

Because of the intense suffering and break down of the body that occurs with death, some call it ugly.  To the atheist, the suffering that accompanies the final days of one’s life could be described as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” If pain is devoid of all meaning and purpose, than the most reasonable thing in the world is to “take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them.”

When faced with excruciating, seemingly pointless suffering, some individuals consider suicide a an appropriate response to such a fate, perceived worse than death itself.  As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, a man well acquainted with suicide from his time in a concentration camp, wrote: “Life is not made unbearable by circumstances, but by a lack of meaning and purpose.”

Advocates of suicide and euthanasia make the bold proclamation that the sufferings preceding death (or even those throughout life) are devoid of meaning, not worth enduring. or simply unbearable.  As a result, they promote suicide as a means of escaping suffering out of despair or fear.

For death to become bearable, one must first find meaning in suffering; this meaning can be seen from both natural and supernatural perspectives.

Every time that I have been a part of someone’s final days, I have been struck by suffering and deaths’ ability to transform, to drive change by forcing one to confront their own mortality. The person grapples with understanding what it means to have the span of their days on this earth numbered, perhaps imminently.

Death dispels the illusion of being in control. The one who suffers through it watches his very body turn on him.  He faces an experience he can try to fight, but cannot escape.  As Viktor Frankl noted, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”  Death, then, offers the ultimate challenge, one that can compel us to change ourselves for better or for worse.

I have seen death bring about great increases in humility, love, forgiveness, and patient endurance.  I have seen it provide a chance for loved ones to express their affection through gentle service and keeping vigil at the bedside, and for the dying to humbly receive that love.  Often it takes the form of holding the dying person’s hand and whispering “I love you” countless times as you suffer together.

Facing the permanence of death has a way of reminding one of what his true priorities are.  The noisy distractions of life fade away and relationships have an opportunity to come to the forefront.  Love may intensify and be purified from selfishness and vain attachments.

Suicide robs the dying and their loved ones of the opportunity to share this deepening of love, the fullness of which can only be realized through the unique process of natural death.  In a sense, our lives are not simply our own; they belong to others.  We cannot be truly happy in this life except by giving of ourselves to others.  Our ties in the human family are closer and more profound than we often realize; each life touches so many others.  When someone deliberately chooses to terminate his own life, he tears a gaping hole in the fabric of his community. Whether intentional or not, committing suicide communicates to others that escaping one’s own suffering takes priority over the time and love that could have been shared otherwise within the natural death process, however painful as it may be for all involved.

The most significant relationship one facing death may no longer ignore is a relationship with God.  Death prompts one to take a final stand and decide what type of relationship they want to have toward God: one of love, apathy, or defiance.

For those who choose to draw closer to God, suffering holds an even greater purpose.  They are in the unique position of being a visible sign of Christ crucified to the world. “Always bearing about in [their] body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in [their] bodies” (2 Cor 4:10). In their pain and trials, the Christian shares in “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philipians 3:10).  Love is proven, not in the heights of ecstasy, but in the crucible of suffering. Love “bears it out even to the edge of doom.” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)

With their bodily sufferings, the dying can fill “up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24). This is not to say that there is anything insufficient about Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, rather that, in His love, Christ has given us a means of applying the merits of His suffering and death to our own soul and the souls of others.  Accepting the sufferings one is presented, is a powerful way of taking up the cross and following in the footsteps of the savior.

Looking back on my own life and reflecting on my sufferings, I see that the moments of greatest pain and sorrow were not pointless.  These heartaches ignited the fire of passions, previously unknown, and increased my capacity to love others.  They prepared me for gifts I had not previously been disposed to receive.

Perhaps then the sufferings which precede death are merely preparation for receiving the greatest gift God has to offer: eternal life.   A life where every tear shall be wiped from our eyes, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”  (1Cor 13:12).


Do you see meaning in death and suffering?  Are there reasons that you find suffering meaningful (or not) that you care to share?   
P.S. Prolonging death unnecessarily will be addressed separately in another article.
I have aspirations of also writing on the idea of what constitutes a meaningful quality of life, but I am a slow writer, it will probably be quite a while.

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The Value of a Person

The Value of a Person

The Value of a PersonTo think a person’s value is determined by what they produce is a form of slavery whose subtlety allows it to run rampant.  Viewing all relationships in terms of what can be gained is a poor way to live life; and yet the philosophical lens of utilitarianism has colored so many aspects of how we look at others and even ourselves, as human beings.

How many times has a woman been viewed too unattractive to love, though she is a thoughtful, generous, charming person.  No, her value must be measured only by her ability to produce arousal in the opposite sex.

How many times will the homeless man sitting on the corner be deemed unworthy of the same care that one gives their dog?  No, investing any time or money into helping him would just be “enabling him and draining resources.”

How many times has an unborn child been condemned to die because that extra chromosome means that their life isn’t “worth” living.  (Who gets to make the call on whose life is worth living and whose is not?)

I know for my part how hard it is to escape utilitarianism’s pervasive influence.  Even if I no longer evaluate others based on what they can do for me, my estimation of my own value as a person is influenced by my abilities, or perceived lack there of.

I can’t count how many times I have looked in the mirror and have not noticed a body that can bear and nurse my babies, but  rather have remained fixated on the many ways motherhood has left its unforgiving marks.

Or I recall in college berating myself over getting a B+ in a particularly challenging class.

Even now reflecting back over my day with my children it doesn’t matter how many stories were read, songs were sung, diapers changed, projects completed, dishes washed, floors scrubbed, all that I focus on is that I failed to meet my goal of having dinner on the table when my husband came home from work.

In all of these areas my thoughts are, “You are a failure.  How could you be so incompetent?  You are lazy and stupid and until you improve, you are not worthy of love.” And you know what?  I am done with living life like this.  I am tired of measuring my perceived worth against my accomplishments and finding it lacking.  I may be a weak and imperfect person, but I am NOT worthless.

I am going to resist the temptation to list my accomplishments in an attempt to prove that to myself.  Because as I keep having to remind myself: they do not determine my value.

One Who has far superior judgement has already determined what I, and you, and the plain woman, the homeless man, the baby with Down Syndrome, and all the rest of mankind are worth; and it is nothing less than every drop of His Blood, every ounce of His strength and every beat of His pierced Heart.

As a mother, I look down on my sleeping children and recall all of the sufferings that have brought us to this point and I think to myself, “You are worth it all.”  So too, I imagine that, God has looked at each of us and weighed our lives against all of the sufferings He endured, and declared, “You are worth it all, my child.”

Have you ever struggled with viewing yourself or others with a utilitarian mindset?  What helped you to combat it?

As a side note, I hope no one misinterprets this post as a desire to boost my confidence by fishing for compliments.  This has been a difficult post to publish, but I wanted to share it in case it could be of help to others who are going through similar struggles.  I know that it is a hard place to be in.  I just wanted to let you know that you are precious and have inestimable value, regardless of your accomplishments or skills.  Its a lesson I am still struggling to learn.

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Thriving Amidst Adversity

blacksmith_2540894In January, frustrated with the chaos I was encountering, I decided to seek to thrive in all that I did.  I set goals for various aspects of my life: relationships, health, prayer, etc. (I hope to share them with you sometime soon, to help keep me accountable to them.)  

While I have been progressing in my goals, and life is becoming more ordered and running smoother, this progress didn’t bring me as much satisfaction as I had hoped.  In my mind, thriving was still eluding me.

As I pictured it, thriving meant managing all of the duties and responsibilities of my life with perfect competence.  I figured that, if I tried hard enough, I really could have it all together. You know, a perfectly clean house, with delicious all-organic paleo meals on the table promptly at 6pm, children whose days are spent engaging in a variety of stimulating learning activities (definitely not with any television), picture perfect health, and extensive periods in the day for prayer and recollection.

While all of these things are good and desirable, it wasn’t until recently that I realized that I had missed the point.  In my naivete, I had thought that sanctity- which is what true thriving is all about- necessitated having it all together.

With relief I recalled the lives of saints who share my vocation as mother.  If I held them to the same standards that I had proposed for myself, then Sts. Monica, Gianna and Frances hadn’t really thrived.  St. Monica had difficulties in her relationship with her son and husband; St. Gianna suffered from cancer; and St. Frances was constantly interrupted at prayer by her children.

When it comes to thriving, only one thing is needful: to draw closer to our Lord through the circumstances of our daily life.  I may not be able to control the chaos and trials in my life, but I can control whether these trials bring me closer to God, or lead me further away.

Thriving doesn’t just happen when everything is going right; it happens when you are being tested in the furnace of adversity and are molded into what you are supposed to be.

Is it even possible to thrive without trials?

The challenges and chaos aren’t distractions from my goal for a life well lived; they are a means of pushing me closer to it.  It is up to me to use them wisely.  Maybe then I will experience what it looks like to thrive.

How about you?  Have you ever experienced a trial that helped you become a better person?  I would love to hear about it in the comments!