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  • Maureen Wendling

What's the Key to Beating Those Winter Blues?

For some, the end of the year means a celebration of the holidays. For others, it signals new beginnings—a chance to reset your intentions as the calendar changes. And for still others, the end of 2022 promises time to recharge before getting back into the swing of things come January.

For me, this season has always felt defined by the time change ushered in by Daylight Savings. Each year, the midafternoon sunset catches me off-guard — “did it get dark this early last year too?” I find myself wondering annually. The winter darkness is difficult for me, no matter how many times I come out the other side into spring.



I’ve found that, this time of year, I lean on my mindfulness practice more than usual. Sometimes, that looks like checking in with my senses. I’ll shift my focus toward the coolness I feel grazing my cheeks and brushing my ears. I’ll notice the colors around me, like the ochre of falling leaves or the crisp blue sky. I’ll pay special attention to the smells in the air. When I check in with the unique sensations of winter, I find myself able to appreciate the season’s beauty, rather than disparaging its pitfalls.

My current mindfulness practice also centers around gratitude. Before going to bed each night, I work on identifying three things from the day for which I feel grateful. Recently, I’ve felt grateful for the little things: a cuddle from my cat; hearing from a good friend; and making time in my day for a walk outside.


But there are big things, too, that have inspired gratitude in me. In the spirit of the holidays, I’d like to share just a handful of my biggest sources of gratitude from the past year.

  1. Our Shanthi Project board members and supporters of all kinds. Without your belief in our work, our mission to build social-emotional resiliency in our community would simply not be possible.

  2. New school districts, like Northern Lehigh, as well as returning school districts. It means so much to be entrusted with teaching students and staff coping skills and strategies that they’ll use for years to come.

  3. Our Shanthi Project teachers and staff. We are a small-but-mighty group of heart-centered individuals, passionate about supporting those who need us most. To my teachers, I am truly grateful for your tireless efforts to support the students and educators in our community. To my staff, the work you have done this year to de-stigmatize mental health and make space for open conversations has been truly inspiring.

  4. New partnerships that we’ve formed. In 2022, I was thrilled to see Shanthi Project work with students at Moravian University and Lehigh University for our new college-level mindfulness program. We’ve also had a wonderful experience as Fig Magazine’s yearly Social Mission Partner. Plus, this year marked the beginning of a two-year collaboration with Lehigh University College of Education on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging: a partnership that will help us create equitable, diverse, culturally responsive, and relationship-centered programming to better serve schools and families.

  5. Most of all, I am grateful this season for my family. Earlier in the year, my mother experienced a significant health event and is still on the road to recovery. In this difficult time, my sister has been a true partner, and my husband, as always, has continued to be my rock and voice of reason.

Reflecting on these major sources of gratitude doesn’t just make me feel warm and fuzzy—I know that it’s helping me strengthen my capacity for appreciation in the future, too. Scientific research tells us that the more we practice gratitude, the easier it becomes to identify and savor the good in our lives. Instinctually, our brains connect to negativity like Velcro—but a mindfulness and gratitude practice trains our brains to act more like Teflon to negative thoughts. We can create a habit, through the simple act of being grateful, that brings more positive aspects of life into focus.


Early sunsets, the busyness of the holidays, and a flip of the calendar combine to create a storm of unease and stress. To me, this presents the perfect opportunity to slow down, take a breath, and flex your mindfulness muscles, even for a minute or two. Your gratitude practice can look any way you want it to—but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make an intentional effort to say “thank you” more often—not just to others, but to yourself, too! Thank yourself for getting out of bed, responding to emails, or feeding your body nutritious food.

  • Write a note that reminds you to be grateful. Place it somewhere you’ll see regularly, like your computer or bedroom mirror. Similar to an alarm on your phone, the note will cut through the brain fog and help your gratitude practice become consistent.

  • Tell a friend, family member, or colleague why you appreciate them. Gratitude feels best when shared with others!

This time of year, experiencing present-moment awareness doesn’t mean succumbing to the darkness—it means recognizing the warmth that exists in spite of winter. Your ability to practice gratitude is more powerful than you know!


From myself, and everyone at Shanthi Project, we are grateful for you. Happy holidays & see you in the New Year!


 

You can show your gratitude for our role in the community by supporting Shanthi Project! During this season of giving, we’re asking for a donation as little as 5 or 10 dollars—anything you can give—if you believe in our vision of a socially and emotionally resilient future.


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