What a difference a week can make! The snow squalls and slippery roads of last Friday have given way to bare lawns and snow banks today. It should be a lesson to us about the speed of life and how very little any of us can really control. In fact, all of the big things are largely beyond our control. We adapt, adjust, anticipate – and do the very best we can. The short mostly dreary month of February is an apt reminder of this perennial challenge.
February comes from the Latin word februa, which means “to cleanse.” The month was named after the Roman observance of Februalia, which was a month-long festival of purification and atonement that took place this time of year. If the ancients had to struggle through it, is it any surprise that February continues to be a difficult month for many people, especially those in northern latitudes with months of cold and darkness? They don’t call it the “February blues” or “blahs” for nothing!
Did you know that over 11 million people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and many of the rest of us have a less severe case of the winter blues (officially called subsyndromal SAD). Our winter mood-related issues are most probably a response to the lack of sunlight when days are shorter. In 2009, an overview of more than 20 studies combined found that SAD is much more common for people living farthest from the equator (like us!). In one U.S. study, only 1% of Floridians, but 9% of Alaskans reported SAD symptoms. The winter blues are even more prevalent in the Great White North, with 15% of us Canadians reporting that we experience some form or sadness or melancholy at this time of year. Ugh!
There are many things we can do in our homes and with our families to combat these seasonal slumps like getting outside together with the family dog (!), but what about at school? After all, schools are where most of our children spend most of their time.
Two important things that may help keep the dreary February blues at bay in the classroom (and elsewhere!) are movement and mindfulness. Being and staying active is a very important part of physical and mental health and there are countless ways we achieve this in schools. From active learning pedagogies requiring physical movement to teamwork and sports, elementary children and teachers are some of the most active people on the planet.
However, when physical opportunities are not possible, the practice of mindfulness can help bring one’s attention to the present-moment without expectation or evaluation. Clinical studies have documented both the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in healthy adults and children. Being mindful is pretty straightforward. It means that our mind is fully attending to what’s happening, to what we are doing, and to the space we are moving through (i.e., remaining in the present moment). That might seem trivial, except for the annoying fact that many of us veer from the matter at hand, while our minds take flight. When this happens, we lose touch with our bodies, and pretty soon we can become engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened (or didn’t happen!) or we begin to fret about the future. This robs us of peace and feeds the blues.
None of these things is rocket science or novel. What has been good for the human body and soul has always been good for them. Eating well, getting enough quality sleep, exercising and practicing healthy thinking are essential for living our best lives.
If you need a little boost later this month and want to “get active” with some other school families, why not consider meeting up at The Factory for Matthews Hall’s own version of Winter Fest, Sunday, February 26th 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM? High ropes, trampolines, zip lines, warrior course and arcade?
It may be just what the doctor ordered, at the end of the shortest, bluest month of the year.
In the meantime, let’s all help our students get active, stay active, and think in healthy and hopeful ways. Before we know it, we will turn to the next colour on the wheel – sunshine yellow. And remember that blue + yellow = green – the colour of balance, freshness, and progress!
Ric Anderson, Head of School