As the Winter season is fastly approaching, and in many places, inclement weather including snowstorms and heavy rain have become prevalent, the opportunity presents itself to add more layers so that we stay warm and dry. Those layers often involve sweaters, jackets, coats, scarves, gloves, etc, with the premise that adding layers will not only keep us warm and dry, layers will protect us from being sick.
We are also inundated with the coinciding of the Winter season with the holiday season, which normally includes traveling, food and gift preparation, family, and decorations, music and celebrations. We are also focused on maintaining and strengthening or even entertaining relationships, as when it gets cold outside, we often look for something or someone to warm us on the inside.
Anxiety, especially during the season of an intense and immense Pandemic, along with the seasonal pressures of aforementioned performative measures of the holidays, adds layers to what we are feeling. In other words, anxiety has an opposite affect of putting on clothes and, when we add on additional layers of anxiety, we can often become overwhelmed, stressed, tired, depressed and sick. As a matter of fact, the DSM-V highlights and characterizes some of these symptoms as a component of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
In the therapy room, layers of anxiety often sound or looks like these statements: “Well, I don’t have anybody for the holidays and it’s a pandemic and I really can’t visit my family and friends, so I feel lonely” or “if I were thinner, then I would be more popular. So, I can’t eat a lot of holiday food because I will gain weight…and my mother already thinks I’m fat and says that that’s why no one will marry me.” Along the same lines, one of my clients even stated that one of her favorite songs is What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?
Much like removing articles of clothing when it gets hot, therapeutic treatment serves as an opportunity to remove the layers of anxiety by examining the impact of each layer that we put on ourselves (or others put on us), the credence or value of each layer, and a concerted plan to relieve the hold that the layers have on us. Often, the therapist helps by examining each layer and working with the client to remove the layer one by one.
When we learn how to be present in the moment and perform breathing exercises and/or meditate and when we learn positive coping mechanisms such as redirecting negative thoughts or examining fear-based actions and patterns, we create an opportunity to free ourselves of the layers of anxiety and begin to focus on shifting our perspective to healthy views of ourselves and our environment.
Written by Aaron Kimble, LPC Intern