​Look on the Bright Side

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on January 02, 2023 # Lifestyle, Mental Health

Be positive blocksChristmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa have come and gone. The New Year’s Eve champagne bottles are empty. It is cold outside, the days are short, and the nights are long.

It is easy to get depressed in these long winter months, and many of us suffer from varying forms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (yes…SAD). Our biological clocks are confused by the darkness, and our serotonin and melatonin levels are out of whack, causing us to become listless, anxious, and depressed. But it doesn’t have to be the “least wonderful time of the year.”

It is vitally important not to sink into depression in this long and cold season. If you feel you are in a downward spiral, contact one of these free resources for personal help:

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

But if we stay active and make smart choices to boost our mental health, we can stay positive and upbeat as we wait for the beauty and warmth of spring. If you sense you are becoming depressed, try these ways to improve your mental well-being before it becomes true depression:

For SAD, there are light therapies available at little cost, fooling your body into believing there are more hours of sunlight than there really are. If you feel extra depressed every year at this time of year, see a doctor for recommendations on these therapies and others.

Gyms across America are full of people who haven’t been there since last January, working on getting themselves back into shape after too many helpings of mac and cheese at Thanksgiving and too many Christmas cookies. Join them! Not only will your body thank you, but your mood will improve. As you work out in any way your spinal cord injury allows you to, you will gain a sense of accomplishment that will make you feel better. Ask around. You may find others with the same level of injury who can tell you what works for them.

All through 2020 and 2021 (and 2022…), we formed a love/hate relationship with Zoom. During lockdowns, we were required to use our computer screens for business and for social contact. We hope the worst of COVID is over, but Zoom, or similar software, allows us to connect with friends and family when the winter weather keeps us indoors or distances are great. We all grew to resent Zoom because it consumed our lives. But if you save it for once-a-week happy hours with friends, or make a Zoom date for the entire family to wish someone a happy birthday, it can be fun and something you look forward to instead of dread.

Many people travel to warmer weather in the winter months. Travel can be inconvenient, and even dangerous, for those of us with spinal cord injuries, and our budgets may not allow us to fly off to Miami or Costa Rica. But we can all go on a mini-vacation.

  1. Plan a date to go to a museum and out to lunch with your significant other.
  2. Set a time to pop popcorn, get in your pajamas and watch a movie with your kids.
  3. Read a book and escape to a place you have never been.
  4. Go to a play. In many cities, you can choose between dramas, comedies, musicals, or other options. And if you live in a smaller town, there is a wide variety of live theater productions that you can watch on streaming services.
  5. Give yourself a gift of a spa treatment. If your nervous system allows you to, getting a manicure or pedicure, or both, can relax you, and make you feel better every time you see those well-taken-care of digits.

I’m sure you can think of other activities that would put you in a good mood. So treat yourself well. You’re worth it!

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.