There is undeniable beauty in every season but as winter descends, the call to hibernate is real. While the building blocks to wellbeing remain the same all year round, including movement, nutrition, environment, rest, play and social connection, we are wise to take our cues from Mother Nature and tailor our nourishing practices to respect the energetic flow of the seasons.
There are delights intrinsic to winter – the play of light through bare trees, crisp frosty mornings, wrapping up in warming layers and the festivities of Christmas and New Year to anticipate and savour, but plummeting temperatures and diminished daylight can leave us all feeling depleted, down and demotivated. We need to proactively build a self-care toolkit to buffer ourselves from low mood and fatigue, or the depression experienced by the 6% of Britons with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Even simpler, we can look at ways to switch up existing daily routines to help us feel brighter. We all know that gloomy weather has a tangible effect on our minds and bodies but what are the mechanisms at play? The impact of sunlight on mood via vitamin D absorption, regulation of circadian rhythms and production of serotonin is widely known, but less commonly appreciated is the effect that temperature has on our posture. The body steels itself against the cold, as seen in wrapping the arms around the body – rounded spine, a downcast line of sight and often a clenching in the jaw.
Research has shown that the way we hold our bodies has a powerful impact on our mood and energy levels, with a tall, upright spine, open-hearted chest and a relaxed swinging action of the arms giving us access to a feeling of optimism and zest. Conversely, the posture we adopt when we brace ourselves against the cold lowers our energy level, our mood and makes it easier to recall negative memories. It’s also hard to breathe deeply in this body position – so perhaps the mantra here should be, ‘When we breathe better, we feel better’.
Read on to discover self care tips to lift your mood this winter…
5 winter self care tips to lift your spirits
Move for mental health
As an antidote to the posture we adopt in wintry weather, stand tall, look up, soften your eyes, jaw, shoulders and hands and, if you’re walking, move your arms with your gait. Try these heart opening stretches to improve your posture and your state of mind.
Chest stretch: Stand with your right-hand side by a wall, raise your right arm to the same height as your head and place your right palm flat on the wall. Slowly orientate your feet and body away from the wall until you feel a comfortable stretch through your right arm and into the right-hand side of your chest. Take five slow, deep breaths into the stretch before changing sides.
Or, give the ‘chicken wing’ shoulder rolls a go! Place your fingertips on your shoulders, then as you breathe in, circle your elbows forwards and up. As you breathe out take them back and down. Repeat it six times and feel the freedom it creates.
If gym routines aren’t your thing, keep it short and sweet and head out for a quick jog or brisk walk (you might find mindful forest bathing helps you). Half the battle during winter is to make sure you’re kitted up, so wellies, warm coats and layers are an investment that make movement in nature’s beauty accessible all year round.
If you prefer to bunker in, there are still plenty of ways to move. Try exercises that create heat from within like squatting or lunging movements, or this abdominal exercise: lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides. As you breathe in, let your whole body relax. As you breathe out, press your palms and your feet down into the floor and feel your tummy muscles leap into action. Repeat 10 times, feeling how this connects you with your personal power.
When energy is low, opt for floor-based yoga or stretches. It doesn’t take any effort, but you will feel so much better for having released your body.
Warming rituals of nourishment
Come together with family or friends and enjoy the warmth created by cooking stews, soups and pies. Observe and respect natural inclinations for seasonal food and make the most of local seasonal produce. The ritual of a cup of tea has pride of place in winter. Choose a cup you love and savour a few minutes of relaxation, or if time is short, just a few mindful sips can recharge you.
Harness the therapeutic power of your environment
Turn to your home environment for comfort. Make it inviting with fairy lights and candles, invest in a robe in a colour and texture you love, and use rugs, throws and cushions to maximise cosiness.
Bring nature therapy inside with potted bulbs and house plants or use a dawn simulation alarm clock to feel more in sync. To make the most of the shorter days, gaze at the stars for a dose of mindfulness and awe.
Soothing rest and play
Cold mornings can make it hard to get out of bed. Ease yourself into your day by first rubbing your hands together to create heat and cupping your eyes. Sit for a minute, feeling your breath, the sensation of touch and the warmth of your hands. Add some zesty scent to your morning ritual, a spritz of room spray or simply pay attention to the scent of your shower gel or moisturiser.
As an alternative to screen time, opt for a TED talk, audiobook or podcast to relax your body while you nourish your mind. Turn to card games, nature bingo, jigsaws or pick up the craft of knitting to keep engaged in the moment.
If your body-mind is calling out for rest, respect the fallow time of winter and listen to it. Try out a ‘yoga nidra’ – a guided relaxation exercise. You can get super comfy using a weighted blanket and an eye mask to let the outer world drop away.
And finally, a warming bath is the perfect way to close the day. Add lavender oil to aid physical relaxation and use the mantra: ‘I release what I no longer need’.
Make time for soul food
While we may feel like hiding away, social connection feeds the soul, so make the effort to meet up in the real world. Make a date and take in some theatre, an art exhibit or try your hand at a new skill with a class.
Looking for more self care tips to lift your mood? Learn how to be mindful in the winter (even when you don’t feel like it), how to recharge your batteries when you’re feeling low, how to embrace your comfort zone this winter or check out our best podcasts for wellbeing.
Do you have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Signs to look for If you’re concerned that you might be experiencing SAD, seek support from your GP. There may be an onset of the following symptoms beginning in September and culminating in depression and anxiety in December, which may persist until springtime.
Signs include difficulty waking, low energy, lethargy, craving carbohydrates, increased hunger, increased sleep, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, diminished libido, social withdrawal, depression and anxiety. To some extent we all feel a touch of these things but for sufferers of SAD it can feel impossible to meet the usual demands of life and intervention is vital.
This article was first published in issue 31 of In The Moment Magazine. Featured image by Unsplash/Tim Gouw.