Hibernation For Humans: Making A Practice of Seasonal Self-Care
In the midst of winter, it is not unusual to find yourself wanting to sleep more, eat more, and hole up indoors by the fire. Indeed, the change of seasons dictated the behavior of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and wintertime was a period when they would take shelter from the frosty outdoors conditions. However, these days, we act as if the seasonal changes are irrelevant to modern life.
Around this time last winter, my friend Catherine shared with me her conviction that winter is a season for hibernation. Not unlike our ancestors, she views winter as a time in which we honor our bodies and acknowledge our connection to nature, and by taking a cue from the shorter days, we reduce our activities to fit our reduction in energy.
This notion of hibernating resonated with me then, affording me the freedome to slow down and not feel guilty about it. During summer, a higher level of productivity is required for home and work. When days are long, our energy levels and metabolism are amped up, but in winter, we produce hormones that make us sleepy, giving us time to restore body, mind and soul.
Nevertheless, humans have a tendency to work against this natural cycle. As we force ourselves to operate at summer levels all year round, it is not surprising that people struggle with depression this time of year!
The winter blues
You’ve probably heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. Approximately half a million of Americans suffer from the wintertime blues, so it’s likely that you know someone who struggles with SAD, or that you also might be a sufferer. Today’s clinicians address this issue with medication or light therapy (prescribed use of a light box), but it is possible that SAD symptoms have more to do with modern society’s demands to move at high speed 365 days a year, while becoming disconnected from nature and the cycles of the sun. Perhaps we could benefit from a bit of self-imposed hibernation!
Here are six simple self-care strategies to help protect against wintertime doldrums:
Make time for relaxation:
Twelve months a year, we’re scheduled to the max, juggling responsibilities, making little time for ourselves to simply relax. In a day and age when being on the constant go is celebrated, it is even more necessary to make time to nurture yourself. Relaxation means something different to different people. For some, a yoga or meditation practice is extremely restorative, while others benefit from a hot bath, spending time in nature or curling up with a good book. Find what works for your and make it a daily ritual.
Take care of your health:
Your mood improves when you body gets the nutrients it needs. Increase your intake of wide variety of seasonal vegetables and fruits, preferably local and organic; and consume eat high quality meats, eggs and wild caught fish. In addition, stay away from processed foods, refined sugars and excessive carbs. Make a priority of exercising regularly which helps to maintain a healthy weight, but also helps to combat stress and depression.
Fight cabin fever:
Despite the temptation to never leave the warmth of home, always make a point to leave the house frequently, and socialize consistently with friends and family. Be mindful to surround yourself with positive people, and avoid relationships that are unhealthy. Address negative thinking and avoid ruminating over unpleasant events or occurrences. Negative relationships and negative thoughts only attract more negative.
Expose yourself to natural light:
Take advantage of as much natural light as possible throughout the day and avoid dark environments during daylight hours. Exposing yourself to daylight shortly after waking helps to regulate the circadian rhythm. Go outdoors into natural sunlight, especially during the morning or midday hours. In addition, rearrange workspaces at home or work, repositioning yourself near a window, allowing for natural light to illuminate the room, or consider going without sunglasses.
Emphasis healthy sleep habits:
Ensure that you stay on a regular sleep-wake schedule. Try to go to bed each night and get up in the morning around the same time each day. In the evenings, dimming the lights helps induce restfulness by signaling the brain that the day is winding down. When you go to bed, make the bedroom completely dark, quiet and set the heating at a cooler temperature.
Welcome the winter weather:
If the region where you live gets a lot of snow, why not embrace the best it has to offer! Wrap up warm and brave the winter-chill to take creative outdoor photographs, have snowball fights, or make snow angles. Winter is also a great time for outdoor sports such as skiing, sleding or ice skating, or take a week off to stay in a cosy mountain cabin!
Embrace your need for hibernation by giving in to your natural inclination to slow down, sleep more, and demand less from yourself! Taking care of yourself, body, mind and soul, you are likely to feel healthier and happier, and ready to weather the winter!