Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Winter is upon us. If you live in cold country like I do, that means bundling up every day to brave the cold weather. If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that stays warm and sunny during the winter months, you’re most likely at least noticing the shorter days. Or watching us shovel the snow on the news.

We tend to view winter as a time of decline. It’s hard not to, as we watch the leaves fall off the trees. Weekend fun in the sun is on hold for most of us, at least temporarily. All those chirping birds have deserted those of us in the chilly north and headed south.

But as you know, the story of winter has a happy ending. Spring comes and we see more sun, the winter coats go back in the closet, and we’re greeted by the birds in the morning and the crickets at night. What was in hibernation wakes up. You can feel the optimism!

Learning from winter

If you’re anything like me, chances are you are not exactly welcoming the winter months with open arms. But I have been thinking lately about the lesson that winter teaches us about loss and rebirth. Loss means having something taken away, like beautiful warm weather. But it can also refer to letting go of aspects of our lives that aren’t working anymore. And if we accept these losses, whether or not we chose them, we are also given the possibility of creating something new, and better, to replace what we’ve lost.

And yes, spring is around the corner, a time to replace the not so good with something much better.

As you contemplate winter, here’s how to apply the lesson of winter to your life:

First, think big picture. I am thinking of winter not as January and February, but as a time for you to let go of aspects of your life that need to be cleared away to make room for the new. So don’t worry about placing a timeframe around this process. This is all about you and what you need to do in your own life, so work at your own pace.

Identify what’s not working. Sit down with yourself and do some contemplating about your life. Anything in your life that’s not making you happy, or that’s making you downright unhappy? Any other ways you’re feeling stuck? Be honest with yourself—it’s just you and a piece of paper or a computer screen. Nobody but you has to know how you feel.

Not sure where to start? Here are some examples of things in your life that you can choose to lay to rest:

  • Negative thinking.
  • Habits that you recognize as destructive but haven’t yet let go of.
  • Commitments you have made that have become a drain.
  • Personal or professional relationships that aren’t moving forward.
  • Sabotaging your emotional and physical wellness by not taking the best care of yourself.

What needs to go in your life?

Also identify anything that’s being taken away from you. Maybe it’s from changes at your job. Changes at home. Changes in your health. Changes in the world. On your list of changes, pay especially close attention to those that are going to feel like big losses to you.

So what do you do with this? What you now have in front of you at this point is winter’s chill brought to life—in your life. You can see what may need to be laid to rest to make room for spring’s rebirth. Take some time to contemplate the losses ahead, and what this is going to mean for your life.

Ask yourself what’s possible. This is what all that contemplation of loss is leading up to. Change creates open spaces to bring, well, more life into your life. As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. What’s possible in your life? As you make decisions—or decisions are made for you—about what to let go of in your life, identify the gaps that you will be left with. And then think about what you can do to fill those gaps. For starters, consider developing some healthier habits, finding some new ways to keep yourself active, and identifying people you could be spending more time with. While you’re at it, how about a renewed commitment to better management of your chronic condition?

Commit to embracing the potential to be your best self. Be realistic but also optimistic. Sure, you can’t do everything or have everything. But you do have the power to create a springlike renewal in your own way, in your own life.

Make a plan! Choose a starting point, and then develop a step-by-step plan in a timeframe that feels doable. You’re in charge here!

Winter, spring . . . decline, renewal. A symbol for letting go and for creating positive changes in your life. Apply the lesson of winter decline and spring renewal to your own life. Imagine how you might blossom! (Just had to throw that in!)

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