Beating the January Blues
Tips on dealing with stress and anxiety in the winter months via St. Francis de Sales and others.
Editor’s Note: Gary Zimak will appear on EWTN’s Journey Home on Monday, Jan. 26, at 8pm and on EWTN’s Bookmark to talk about Listen to Your Blessed Mother and A Worrier’s Guide to the Bible on Sunday, Feb. 1, at 9:30am.
Christmas is a distant memory, except perhaps for a few unpaid bills.
New Year’s resolutions may have fizzled, but the pounds from eggnog and cookies have stuck for many.
And the weather? Cold and dreary outside across much of the country and world — and static electricity inside.
Clinical depression is far more complex, but everyone is susceptible to the midwinter blues. Fresh air, be it ever so cold, exercise and healthy eating is standard advice from health professionals to combat such doldrums, but Catholics can also turn to their faith.
Unofficially, Padre Pio is the patron saint of stress relief and the “January blues.” London’s Catholic Enquiry Office, an initiative of the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference to stimulate interest in Catholic life, declared St. Pio the patron saint of the January blues. When health research at Cardiff University identified the third Monday in January as the most depressing day, the bishops re-designated it as “Don’t Worry, Be Happy Day” in honor of Padre Pio’s famous advice: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”
St. Francis de Sales, whose feast day is Jan. 24, could have been talking about the January blues in his book Introduction to the Devout Life when he described sadness and anxiety as temptations we should hand over to God: “If, out of love for God, the soul seeks a way to be freed from her troubles, she will seek it with patience, meekness, humility and tranquility. She will expect deliverance more from the providence of God than from her own labor, industry or diligence.”
He warned: “Do not permit your desires, however small or trivial they may be, to disquiet you. … When you perceive that anxiety begins to affect your mind, recommend yourself to God.”
St. Francis also suggested disclosing the cause of the anxiety or sadness to a spiritual director or a devout friend, in order to find relief in companionship, perspective and encouraging advice.
Gary Zimak shares his own flight from stress into freedom as a Catholic author, speaker and radio host.
In a recent interview with the Register, he addressed the problem of the January blues. “Christmas is filled with anticipation and taking a break from the daily grind,” he said. “Once it’s over, however, many people feel there’s nothing to look forward to, so life becomes drudgery.”
Zimak said the key for him is to spend time with Jesus — the Prince of Peace — every day.
“I would be lost without daily prayer and Bible reading,” he said. “I also make it a point to attend daily Mass, but I know not everyone can do that.”
Reading the Bible and prayer, according to him, offer a supernatural peace that can exist even in the midst of external problems.
The first step is handing over control to God, he said: “I used to try to force myself to be peaceful, but finally realized that the best thing I can do is to let Jesus do most of the work. If I spend time with him each day, the peace comes.”
“In my life, anxiety has always represented an invitation from the Lord,” he said. “And if we follow St. Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:6-7, to make our requests known to the Lord, we can trust that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will fill our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Even in January — and beyond.
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.