This article was originally written for ProHealth and first appeared on their website in November 2021.
Many people find winter a dark and miserable time, a time where motivation wanes and it seems harder to attack life in the same way, harder to enjoy. Sometimes, we can also feel a hard to pinpoint sadness, perhaps relating to the loss of the activities we were able to do when the weather was better and the days longer or the loss of having higher energy and being motivated to do more. But winter comes around every year and unless you can jet off to sunnier climes for several months a year, the best approach is to find a way to enjoy it.
Let nature inspire you to embrace slowing down
The beauty of Autumn is a wonderful reminder that it is time to let go and adapt to the lower energy of the season. What can you let go of until energies start to rise again? As a person whose energy is limited by chronic illness it can be a bit of a struggle for me, to let go of even more from my life. But I have learned that when you accept what is, you have more power to make the most of it. I remind myself to let go of struggling to do more. We are a part of nature so we can’t expect ourselves to have the same energy levels all year round. And, as a part of nature, taking some time to slow down and let go is all part of a cycle that allows creative times of newness to follow.
Accept lower motivation but keep brain chemistry balanced
Adaptation is programmed into our chemistry. Less sunlight leads to lowered dopamine levels which dulls our motivation, our bodies’ way of slowing us down and saving energy. When we think that we should stay motivated, we can feel like we’re failing when we don’t feel it, adding to our sense of misery. When we allow winter to be a time of lower motivation and just snuggle into it, it’s easier to stay happy.
There are also steps we can take to minimise the disruption to our brain chemistry and help stave off the misery. Get out in morning daylight every day if you can or consider the use of a light therapy lamp. Supplementing with vitamin D may help too. Pay special attention to making sure that you laugh regularly perhaps with a favourite comedy program. I also like to use aromatherapy to lift my mood, I find citrus scents are particularly uplifting but other aromas can offer a cosy sense of comfort too.
Make yourself cosy and comfortable
Embrace this time to hunker down and be cosy. Enjoy comforting fabrics like soft blankets, and woolly socks. I have a fleecy pair of lounge trousers that feel cosy and comforting even when I don’t need them for warmth. Winter is a great time to indulge in the occasional pyjama day too. On colder days enjoy snuggling in front of the fire or soothe yourself with a warm wheat bag or a hot water bottle. Be mindful when enjoying your favourite winter hot drinks. Before you take a sip, inhale its aroma, then focus on the flavour in your mouth, then the comfort of the warmth it brings as you swallow. Unable to drink hot chocolate or warm cider because of food intolerances, I treat myself to special flavours of herbal tea during winter months, to embrace this cosy pleasure.
Find some sparkle
Brighten up you home with some extra lighting. In November I drape our fairy lights over a shelfing unit in the darkest area of the house, to counter the darker days and longer nights. Then when we put up the Christmas tree, we move the lights and have a different kind of sparkle. We use candles more often too. Just the ritual of lighting a candle can be comforting. Little things can make all the difference when you chose to pay attention to them.
Make the most of being together
As a society with a sometimes too strong work ethic, free time has become a time for seeking highlights and consolation. We often miss out on the richness of connection by taking our time with others for granted. With those highlights now unavailable to me because of chronic illness, I’ve learned how rewarding it can be to truly pay attention to my connection with others when I am with them. The slowing down of the winter months can bring a wonderful opportunity to pay more attention to how much you can enjoy being with your nearest and dearest. To fully appreciate your time with others, be present and mindful about talking about something meaningful to you all, make eye contact and smile as often as you can. Grab the opportunities for connection at mealtimes or whilst sharing a drink. Play games with each other on those long dark nights instead of sitting in front of the TV. Lockdown has taught us that there are many ways to connect online if you can’t meet up in person. Join a watch party or an online book club, or simply arrange a video call over a nice comforting cup of tea.
Appreciate your entertainment
Winter can be a time for watching cosy movies, sitting in front of the fire with a good book, or binge watching a favourite series. However, these are all things that we can take for granted, or even think of as a reluctant choice when other things aren’t possible. I like to remind myself how lucky I am to have this entertainment so easily available to me. I also like to pay a little attention to my gratitude for all the people involved in bringing me the entertainment, the writers, directors, actors, producers, runners, investors, authors, publishers, and the many others I can’t even imagine. I find that a mental commentary can also help me get more enjoyment, simply by saying in my head ‘This is a really good book’ or ‘I’m really enjoying this movie’. Life can be so much more enjoyable when we choose to embrace what is available to us in the moment rather than resist what isn’t.
Most of all, winter is not a time to push. If you really want to make the most of a happy hibernation, it’s an ideal time to practise going with the flow and letting things be as they are. This is so much easier to do when you can trust things will work out. Trust that what you do during these slower months is enough; trust that, as the seasons change, your energy will change again. Finally, trust that the life skills behind adapting to a happy hibernation, are going to serve your happiness all year round!