Warm ways to winter wellbeing
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love this time of year! The nights draw in and the leaves turn and fall, scrunching under our feet, while the air feels fresh and clear. Nature, ever wise, knows that to continue its vivacity, it needs to pass through harsher phases where it strips itself back, exposed, minimal and vulnerable for us all to see.
Autumn is a time for nature to let go of its own vision of beauty and creation and go through a period of rest as it prepares for winter, before the rebirth of spring. The trees have to let go of their leaves, allowing space for fresh growth and a new chapter.
Autumn is also a season of transformation for us humans; We have natural cycles of growth and renewal. I recently saw a great quote on social media that says: ‘Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go’ and, as we watch the leaves fall, we can also ask ourselves what we need to let go of.
It might be unhealthy thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that limit our potential for growth and moving forward, or letting go of things or individuals that no longer serve a purpose in our lives or bring us happiness. It can be painful and we can suffer feelings of loss, but letting go is a magnificent catalyst for change and growth.
This time of year encourages us to face ourselves as we become more isolated and lonely as the weather changes and we seek shelter indoors. We can find ourselves withdrawing from social activities and neglecting our own wellbeing by spending less quality time with our loved ones.
Let’s go outside
As much as staying in with Netflix or a good box set can be appealing, research has shown there are many benefits to getting outside, exposing yourself to natural light and developing a connection with nature.
Setting aside some time in your day to go for a walk and engage your senses through mindfulness exercises can release stress and anxiety – but how to do a mindfulness walk?
Start by taking a few breaths, paying attention to the rise and fall of your chest and feeling the way the air moves in and out of your body.
Sight: In these seasons of change, there is such a diversity of colour, shape and texture. Actively use your eyes and focus on what you see. Take time to appreciate the clouds racing across the sky, the swaying of branches in the wind and the kaleidoscope of colour in the fallen leaves.
Sound: Focus your hearing as keenly as you can on what is happening around you. Birdsong, traffic, the wind in the trees or even magnificent silence; whatever you hear, take a few moments to fully listen and absorb.
Touch: Nature is full of contrast at this time of year. Wet, dry, rough, smooth, crunchy or squishy, it’s all out there for you to dig into. Take the plunge and pick up leaves, or even a worm! Explore the textures and shapes with your hands.
Taste: Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that you pick something up and eat it! Bring along a warm drink and enjoy it outdoors while you are feeling mindful. Feel the warmth of the cup in your hand and let the drink linger in your mouth so you can taste it fully. It’s a soothing way of ending your time of being in the moment.
Remember, life will always try to barge its way into your mindfulness walk, whether you start thinking about an earlier conversation or planning a to-do list. If you find yourself drifting, focus on one of the senses and bring yourself back to the present moment.
Don’t be SAD
Don’t forget that reduced daylight hours can mean that we don’t get enough Vitamin D, leading many of us to develop Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
SAD is a form of depression that follows the pattern of the seasons, although it’s commonly called ‘the winter blues’ because the symptoms are more intense and obvious during winter months.
Follow these practical steps to help manage any SAD symptoms you may be feeling:
Get outside and expose yourself to as much natural sunlight as you can. Take regular exercise and try to minimise life stress as much as possible.
Sunlight stimulates our body to produce vitamin D. In the darker winter months, the NHS recommends taking daily vitamin D supplements. You can also consider supplements and foods high in omega 3, which have been shown to improve mood and general wellbeing.
Light box therapy simulates natural sunlight, stimulating melanopsin receptors in the eyes to produce serotonin, which regulates your natural sleep pattern and improves your mood.
Counselling and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help you recognise how your mood and wellbeing changes during the winter and help you develop the skills and tools you need to cope with SAD.
If you don’t feel any improvement after taking the steps above, make an appointment and tell your GP how you are feeling. They will look into your current circumstances to determine whether you are suffering from SAD and may refer you for treatments, such as counselling or medication, to help you manage.
Here are a few more ways to practice self care while enjoying and adapting to the seasonal changes over the next few months:
At this time of year I need to be like a bear and make my home into a cosy nest. Break out the warm blankets and jumpers, light the fire or enjoy a hot chocolate and a good book – it’s all about treating yourself with that feeling of cosiness and comfort.
Drinking enough water is always important, no matter the season. It may be colder outside, but most of your days are spent indoors in heated rooms that can dehydrate you as easily as a summer day.
Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!
Along with drinking plenty of water, those heated rooms are not doing your skin any favours! It’s worth making sure that you moisturise every single day to protect against the elements. Not just your face – the whole body feels the effects of winter, so apply lotion to your hands and anywhere else that needs it. Applying moisturiser also is a way of self-soothing when we are feeling anxious or stressed.
Things tend to accumulate in the home throughout the year and winter is a good time to declutter. Ask yourself two questions: ‘Do I love this?’ and ‘Is this useful to me?’ By learning to follow these principles in removing physical items from our lives, we can then learn to use these questions in other aspects of our life. If something or someone is not bringing value to our lives, it’s time to let it go.
Try something new
Find an indoor hobby that makes you feel good and relieves stress. Baking and cooking, for example, are great forms of self care, as being creative and making your own food helps you to spend time in the moment, not to mention stimulating your senses.
Rest and recharge
Embrace the darker evenings and try a new evening routine. I like to have a warm bath and then snuggle up in bed half an hour earlier than I would during the summer months.
I hope that these tips will see you through the coming months happily and healthily! The buzz and busy-ness of Christmas-time means it’s more important than ever to focus on your wellbeing and be mindful seasonal pressures, but spending a few minutes each day on ‘you’ will be the very best gift you can give yourself.