Everyone’s in the Doldrums


    Lately, it seems like everyone is either stressed, sad, sick or all three. How can you avoid falling into the stress trap with everybody else?

    Dear Miriam,

    Lately, it seems like everyone I talk to is either stressed or sad or sick, or all three. What's that about? Is there anything I can do to cheer people up or at least to avoid falling into the stress trap along with all my friends?

    Everyone's in the Doldrums

    Dear Doldrums,

    My husband I were just talking about this the other day. His theory is that everyone is anxious for 2013 to be over and for 2014, a much more auspicious sounding year, to begin. But whether numerologically based or not, I agree that we seem to be going through a collective rough patch.

    Changes of seasons are always tough on people's emotions and immune systems, so that's part of it. The schedule of the Jewish holidays this year really did throw a lot of people off. Also, Thanksgiving is much closer to December than usual, which means that most people (even those not affected by the Jewish holidays) have also gone longer this fall without a vacation. Temperatures outside have been all over the place. A lot of nasty political conflicts have been all over the news and actually affecting real people's lives. It's getting dark earlier, and that's never good for anyone.

    In terms of sickness, there have been a ton of ridiculous viruses going around. I know a lot of people, myself included, who have been knocked out for a few days or even weeks. At the risk of sounding like my daughter's preschool teachers, help yourself stay healthy by covering your mouth when you cough and washing your hands before you eat. I encourage you to get a flu shot, take vitamins, get enough sleep, stay away from people who are sick and, for the sake of everyone else, stay home when you're sick.

    Stress is often a catch-all for being cranky or staying up too late watching TV instead of doing your homework or worrying about some non-specific fear of having too many obligations. I don't want to delegitimize stress as a real thing, but it can end up being a default state of being if you don't make a conscious decision to go another direction. Get your work done, find things to talk about with your friends/classmates/co-workers other than the obviously overwhelming length of your to-do list and, just like sickness, stay away from people who have a contagious level of stress.

    Being stressed can wear you down and lead to sickness. Being sick and, say, missing a lot of school or work, can also lead to stress. Both scenarios can lead to sadness when there just doesn't seem to be a way out or a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of impending winter. But you don't have to sit around wallowing in the fact that it's dark and cold and there's a lot to get done and you can't stop blowing your nose. Bring your friends soup if they're actually sick. Suggest fun activities to do with people who make you feel good. Invite friends to join you for "a night of positivity." Tell them to "come prepared to talk about your favorite thing unrelated to work or school," or "bring a bottle of wine and leave your stress at the door." 

    Winter can be tough on body and soul, but acknowledging that you don't want to wallow in it is the first step. If that's not enough, hunker down under a blanket with some hot chocolate and wait for 2014 to roll in.

    Be well,