For many people, winter, and especially over the festive period, can be a testing time of year. We have fewer opportunities for natural light as the days become increasingly shorter and the nights draw in. Temperatures typically drop and it can often feel like the rain is relentless. Many of us are consequently drawn to staying indoors, battening down the hatches, and wishing the dark wintery days and nights away. Our appetite and sleep drive can also change in response to the reduced daylight, leaving us with less energy and motivation to do the things we enjoy and which nourish us. This year’s winter may feel harder for some people due to the increased cost of living, particularly the cost of heating our homes. We have put together some suggestions to help build and sustain wellbeing throughout the festive period and winter.
Reconnect with nature
Less natural light can affect our hormones and sleep patterns. Some people notice they sleep longer but less deeply, and others experience no change to their night-time sleep routine, but can still experience daytime fatigue. Mental health and mood in particular can be affected by these shifts (Lockley, 2009). Critically, we should remind ourselves that it is normal and okay to notice and experience these seasonal changes. Nonetheless, if you notice you are struggling, small changes in routine can be beneficial.
Research tells us that taking time in nature can help bolster our minds and bodies from these effects. The benefits are so diverse and robust, that some NHS trusts have embraced green or nature prescriptions, teaming up with charities such as the RSPB to produce Nature Prescription calendars. We don’t need special equipment or hours of time to reap the benefits. We can connect with nature on our doorstep, the high street, a country lane. The opportunities are endless. What is most helpful is not “where” we are, but “how” we are in the moment of connection.
Here are some tips, based on the work by the RSPB, to get you started reconnecting with and embracing nature:
- Step outside and be still for three minutes. Listen out for the sounds of nature. Can you feel the wind or breeze in your face and hair? What can you smell? Notice any changes in your body.
- Take a moment to really notice the ecosystem of a tree. Can you see any nests, lichen, or moss? What colours can you notice? How does the bark look? As the days move closer to spring, can you see any new leaf buds?
- Take a fifteen-minute walk, regardless of the weather, and really take in all the sensations evoked by nature. How does the rain feel and sound against your hood, hat or umbrella? What shapes and colours are the clouds?
Winter, particularly the festive season, can feel like a lonely or overwhelming time of year. For some, the festive period may be a difficult reminder of loved ones no longer around. For others, the seemingly unending chatter about parties, gifts, and family life, can leave adults and young people feeling estranged or disillusioned. It is important to extend self-compassion to ourselves if times feel hard.
- Check in with your emotions. Notice and be curious about how you are feeling. If things feel difficult, think about ways to comfort and care for yourself. Can you take time just for you?
- Accept the imperfect. Accept that, despite what many forums would lead us to believe, everything does not need to be, and cannot be, perfect. Focusing on what “went wrong” or “needs to be better”, prevents us from experiencing moments of connection with others.
- Be kind to yourself. We can easily spiral into negative self-talk when we feel lonely, overwhelmed, or threatened. We can say or do things to ourselves, which we would never say or do to another person. Can you leave negative self-talk behind, and practice self-affirmations instead?
Embrace winter mind-set
We often focus on the “negative effects” of winter on health and well-being. We see on many forums how physical and mental health conditions are exacerbated in winter, how alcohol consumption increases, and we become more sedentary. We can fall into the mind-set that winter is to be suffered and survived, and that thriving is not a possibility.
Yet, research maintains that a positive and embracing mind-set towards winter is associated with greater life satisfaction and positive emotions. This can have positive knock on effects for general and physical wellbeing.
Health psychologist, Kari Leibowitz, recommends small steps to shift towards positively responding to winter:
- Mindfully embrace seasonal activities and pleasures. Take time to really savour a warm soup or feel the heat of a warm mug of tea in your hands. Notice the sensations in your body as you walk slowly through the winter weather.
- Seek out natural daylight. Try to step outside, even for a moment, each day and soak up the sun’s rays, they’re still there even behind the clouds.
- Think about and seek out opportunities for joyful, quieter activities in the winter darkness. Take up writing, poetry, or drawing, the finished product doesn’t matter, only the process. Perhaps, you can allow yourself to snuggle under a blanket with a book?
- Accept and welcome some of the “struggles”. Caught out in a rainy day? How satisfying will it be once inside and out of wet clothes?