Cold winter months can feel like a bear! With the excitement of the holiday months winding down, it can feel as if we are winding down, as well. Often, we feel more sluggish, tired and out of sorts as our bodies adapt to fewer hours of daylight and colder weather urging us to hunker down under a warm blanket.
The feeling can be quite unsettling as it is a significant shift away from the energy and vitality we normally feel during the spring, summer and fall. Like the bear, it can feel as if we are entering some human form of quasi-hibernation. It doesn’t feel good!
Why do we feel like this and why is it so unsettling? There are two major reasons for our winter retreat into sluggishness and malaise. The first is our natural physiological reaction to winter’s seasonal change. The reduction* of sunlight during the winter months can throw off your biological clock shifting you into ‘Winter Standard Time’ – a time when reduced* levels of sunlight reduce* serotonin levels, a brain chemical that regulates mood, and increases* melatonin, the chemical regulating sleep and mood.
As a result, we can feel more sluggish and moody – an unsettling change in ourselves that can cause us concern. Along with these shifts, we tend to gravitate toward heavier fat and sugar laden foods further increasing* our sluggishness and producing diet related ups and downs.
Our natural winter slowdown can be unsettling for another reason. Although our sluggish physiology may be a natural adaptation to the winter months, our cultural values of being emotionally up and productive may add a layer of guilt or worry on top of our already moody and sluggish selves.
How often do we give ourselves permission to feel less motivated, tired, or out of sorts? In our culture, it is not okay to admit to our natural slowdowns – we are a culture of motivated go-getters.
It is this cataclysm between our culture of relentless go-getting and our natural physiological slowdown during ‘Winter Standard Time’ that creates our painful discomfort. When our bodies tell us to slow down and our minds give us grief for doing it, we experience inner conflict; we don’t feel okay about ourselves.
This is the time to apply some winter self-care to ourselves as we optimize our winter physiology and give ourselves the understanding, wisdom and compassion to naturally treat* our productivity guilt.
Self Care Tips For The Winter Slowdown
Here are some secrets for winter self-care that are based in honoring the earth’s natural seasons, treating ourselves with radical self-compassion and continuing to live a quietly inspired life. Work with these five self-care techniques that will allow your well-being and inspiration to flourish.
Tip #1 – Surrender To Nature
First, and most importantly, surrender to the physiological experience of winter. Allow yourself to feel slower at times. Know that you may have a harder time getting up in the dark because your biological clock is naturally oriented to light; the same goes for getting sleepy earlier in the evenings.
Let yourself experience what nature has given you. Listen to your body and don’t try to dampen your physical experience by food, drink or other avoidance strategies.
Tip #2 – Meditate: Stop, Look And Listen To Your Inner You
Spend about 10-15 minutes a day sitting quietly in a comfortable chair and bring your attention to your breathing. Begin to feel your breath move as you inhale into your lower belly, letting it rise to your abdomen and up to fill your lungs and chest. Exhale in reverse order.
Find the rhythm of your breath and know that this is the very core of you. Explore what the inside of your body feels like. Do you feel tension? Do you have an aching muscle? Are you hungry or full? Are your thoughts racing?
Take this time in meditation to exhale your thoughts on your breath and see if you can find a sense of quiet. Although our minds always chatter inside, ask yourself two simple questions: What do I feel right now? What do I need?
Tip #3 – Take Care Of Your ‘Winter Body’
Listen to your winter body asking for more sleep, more sunlight, or a warmer room. Give yourself what you need, but don’t over indulge – optimize instead. Eat less refined sugar, but enjoy more natural sugars from maple syrup or honey, don’t overeat, get your normal 7-8 hours of sleep and continue to move and exercise.
You may want to move slowly, like a few good stretches, or you may want to feel the brisk air against your skin and take a fast walk. Ask your body what it needs and listen wisely to its answers. Balance is key during the winter months which leads to Tip #3.
Tip #4 – Design Your Environment To Optimize Spirit, Mind And Body
What could be worse than a slow mind in a frenetic messy environment. This is a recipe for stress. Take some time to create the perfect winter environment – at home or work. Let your outer environment reflect your inner environment.
Place a blanket on your couch near some good reading material, clear the debris from your desk or workspace and stage your work in an organized fashion. Light up your room during the day and take frequent movement breaks; dim the lights at night and snuggle in.
Tip #5 – Let Mindfulness Allow Inspiration To Arise
How do you remain inspired during the cold winter months? Tips 1-4 are designed to have you come into mindful alignment with body, mind, spirit and environment. If you allow yourself to surrender to the winter season, listen to your body and mind, and create a warm environment for yourself you automatically reduce* the resistance you have to ruthless go getting and ‘Winter Standard Time’.
Now is the time your inspiration will surface like a Morning Glory in summer; fully accepting the physical nature of your winter you and unhindered by distracting nonproductive self-imposed guilt. Let the thoughts flow.
What we resist persists. If we resist our winter state of being and work in opposition to what nature provides we only create internal tension, feelings of discomfort, guilt and worry. It is the state of conflict between what we innately feel (winter’s physiological changes), and our cultural pressures to be ruthlessly productive that we suffer during the winter months.
Work with aligning your body, mind, spirit, and environment to the changing conditions of winter. Inner peace is always available if you dance with the earth and let your inspiration surface in your wintery state mind.
[NOTE: If you feel more serious symptoms than described in this article read about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for more information at the National Institute of Mental Health’s website.]
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