Why “hibernating” when things get tough can actually be a good thing for our mental health
Mental Health

Why “hibernating” when things get tough can actually be a good thing for our mental health

Dr Jenn Anders, aka The Anxiety Doc on Instagram, explains the value of pulling away from the world when things get too much.

There comes a time for all of us when everything that’s been piling up becomes a bit too much to handle. The only way to cope, it seems, is to get away from it all for a while. So we turn inward, cancel our plans and put our heads in the sand for just a little while until the worst blows over.

To some, the hibernation strategy may sound like avoidance or a temporary sticking plaster on a much larger wound.

But according to psychologist Dr Jenn Anders, aka The Anxiety Doc on Instagram, pulling away from the world is in fact a widely misunderstood yet important stage of healing. 

It seems that getting out, shaking it off and pulling ourselves out of a bad mood may not be the only way to cope with challenging situations, and is often part of our expectations that we ‘heal’ in a certain way.

“The practice of ‘going into hibernation’ isn’t widely accepted as part of the healing journey,” Dr Anders writes. “But if you are in the process of grieving, healing, and/or transforming, trust that your body knows what to do.”

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What is the hibernation stage of healing?

In her post, Dr Anders explains that the stage is characterised by a pull inward: a deep desire to be alone and to disconnect. Whether it’s triggered by work stress, relationships or another external factor, it prompts us to distance ourselves from situations or company that brings us harm, giving us space to “detox” from stressful encounters.

But if it’s so important, why do so many of us find this stage of healing so difficult to navigate?

Dr Anders explains that during a time of hibernation, we’re more likely to start questioning our reality and life choices. Are we really happy in our jobs? Do we need more from our friendships? Are we where we want to be in life?

These difficult introspections can often cause inner conflict and bring up emotions and regrets that aren’t easy to process.

“Roll with it,” Dr Anders encourages. “Most people will tell you to ‘get out’ and distract yourself, but what they don’t realise is that introspection is actually how we heal. Distraction is how we suppress.”

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She goes on to explain that we shouldn’t fight our natural inclination to hibernate while we heal as it’s a cue from both our minds and bodies that lets us know what they need. Instead, we should lean into the desire to close off and give ourselves permission to disconnect.

“Try not to judge yourself and remind yourself that you are healing,” Dr Anders advises. “Trust that you’ll emerge even stronger.”

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Images: Molly Saunders