It’s easy to forget the slow creep of winter when daylight shortens by only a few minutes every day. Sure, if you live up north like we do, you can remember back to those early summer evenings when you watched the sun set after putting the kids to sleep. And if you happen to think about it, you can feel a cold bite from the north wind. But nothing slams the door on summer like the end of daylight savings time. This week, immediately, it seems like darkness pulls the curtain shut on the day before you even knew the day existed.

Fall and the forthcoming winter can feel isolating. But it can also be a time of looking inward to take stock of where you are, who you are, and what really matters in your life. This is especially true if you are the parent or caregiver of a child with serious medical challenges or special needs.

Here are a few exercises I like to do with patients I work with in my psychology practice, as well as with children I work with as a psychologist at a school with a mission for gifted education:

1. Sensory Gratitude

Sit quietly. What do you notice with your five senses? Can you smell a candle lit in the other room, or a pot of soup on the stove? Can you feel the warmth from a cup of tea? Can you hear dry leaves rustling outside or the sound of the wind pushing against the kitchen windows? Picture each of these sensory details as a seed from which gratefulness can grow. Which seed will you plant?

2. What We Have, Not What We Haven’t

Especially in the context of chronic or serious illness, it’s easy to compare our lives to those of others and see only the things that our illness experience takes away: Maybe you can’t travel as much as you would like, maybe you don’t have as much room for spontaneity, maybe your loved one can’t do the things that you see “regular” kids doing. But there is another side to this story you tell yourself, and that is the side of what you do have. Maybe your experience has helped you to build the strength of knowing your own ability to overcome. Maybe you have seen kindnesses and made connections that you might not have if it weren’t for your illness experience. Maybe you know things about yourself that you never would have learned any other way. List the things that you have in your life.

3. Enjoy Togetherness

If you’re a parent or a caregiver, much of your together-time with your loved one is taken up by things that you have to do. Just making sure everyone is fed, clothed, rested, cleaned and safe can be a couple full-time jobs piled on top of each other! When you have time for entertainment, you can find yourself facilitating your loved one’s enjoyment at the expense of your own. This fall, take some time to find something that you both enjoy. Is it making crafts together, or rooting for the same sports team? Could it be baking or even binge-watching the same Netflix show together? Maybe it’s doing the crossword or going for a walk. Whatever it is, try to pick something that both you and your loved one authentically enjoy. Next time everyone is clothed, fed, cleaned and rested, and you find yourselves with a few spare minutes, visit this activity together. And be grateful for what you share.

Yes, it’s dark. Yes, it’s getting colder. Yes, the season of barbecues and sunshine is behind us. But this season is also ahead. And if you know where to look – and how to look inside yourself! – you can find warmth even in the coldest season.

Kristi Pikiewicz
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.
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