Most of you who read this live, as I do, in temperate climes. That means we are just experiencing the dramatic change to the length of our day, where not only do the days get shorter naturally, but we put our clocks back and emphasise the shift, so darkness starts even earlier. As those of you who know me know, I am not a winter person; in fact I have been known to be really awful at dealing with the cold short days!
However, over the years I have gradually learnt to deal more effectively with it, and intend to continue to see if I can change the effect on me.
We have learnt to take no notice of the natural seasonal changes, carrying on with our normal busy lives, and acting as if nature has no part to play in how we act, but this is not true. Our bodies are biologically designed to interact with the natural world around us, and if we can cater for this in some ways, we will make life easier for ourselves.
After all, even doctors are now acknowledging that there may be something in this interaction with the seasonal changes – we now have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) seen as a reality, and as something physical, not just psychological. And on a more anecdotal level, notice that people’s moods are often adversely affected by grey skies, cold, rain, and that we are more inclined to just curl up in front of the TV in these long evenings.
So what can we do to make it easier for ourselves?
First of all, remember that we physically need daylight. It helps regulate our body clock so we sleep properly, and some believe that it stimulates our pituitary gland and helps us to produce the vitamin D we need for our health, particularly if there is some sunshine. So see if you can get out into the daylight, however dull it may be, for 15 minutes a day. Many people go from home to car to work and back again for 5 days a week, with only seconds spent outside in the light. A short walk at lunchtime could make a big difference to how you feel.
Then look at what you expect yourself to do, and see if you can make some seasonal adjustments. At this time of year, your body is beginning to prepare for some form of hibernation – a slowing down for the winter period. We may not be able to change our working patterns, but we can certainly change our rest-of-life patterns, to cater somewhat for the natural inclination of our bodies. When we were hunter-gatherers, late autumn and winter was the time to rest and recuperate, and to catch up on ourselves. So give yourself permission to do the same.
This is a good time for indoor projects, as I suggested in my last blog. Do a bit of clearing out, and make your home even more comfortable and welcoming.
Do something creative: make a different evening meal, get out those drawing materials and play with them, learn to make your own Christmas decorations, or read about something you’ve been interested in for a while.
Make the long winter evenings a time you look forward to, when you indulge in something you enjoy: do a jigsaw, read a book, watch a movie.
And remember the rest and recuperation part of the story. Catch up on your sleep, and allow yourself to recover from the cumulative exhaustion of your busy life. Have friends round and enjoy a sociable evening of food, drink and conversation. Make some hearty winter food: home-made soup, a good roast dinner – things that feel heart-warming.
Weekends are an opportunity to top up on some daylight as well. If you have children, take them to a country park or local play area – they still have the instinct to be outdoors in the daylight when you can. And just notice the plants changing: leaves dropping, berries on bushes, the touch of frost sparkling, and everything quietening down to rest, ready to spring to life again in a few months.
This is a time of permission to power down for a while, to build your energy to take full advantage of the surge of spring. Go with it, and you will transform your winter.
Actions to take
- Take a short walk every day and get some fresh air
- Give yourself a winter project – something to make your home feel even more welcoming
- Do something creative that’s also fun
- Do something you enjoy that you can do at home
- Catch up on your sleep – let yourself sleep for longer than usual when you can
- Make some hearty winter food
- Relax with friends
- Notice and enjoy the changes in the natural world