I live in Eastern Canada.
We have a thing here where we post winter photos under the hashtag #driftwars to see who has the most snow piled against their houses and vehicles.
Winters here can be brutal, both physically and emotionally, and its negative impact arrives swiftly and hits like a Mack truck.
I know I feel it in November, right after Halloween when the time here goes back one hour. The days are shorter, the evenings darker and the weather colder. I feel myself becoming more irritable and lethargic.
It’s amazing how the weather and seasons can affect your body and your mind, but there are actual scientific reasons why this occurs:
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How Winter Affects Your Mental and Physical Health
Once the days get shorter and the temperatures get colder, your body and mind often experience a negative shift. This can be caused by the change in your circadian rhythms or even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Your circadian rhythms, also known as your “internal clock”, are controlled by your hypothalamus, the portion of your brain that also controls body temperature, hunger and thirst. These rhythms or cycles are natural, internal processes that regulate your sleep-wake cycle. They repeat roughly every 24 hours.
Even though it is considered an internal process, the outside environment can affect it as well. Lightness and darkness can impact your cycle.
For example, when it’s dark, the lack of light signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Your brain then begins to release melatonin to make your body tired. Alternatively, when there is light, your brain signals your body to wake up.
When your circadian rhythms are thrown off whack by the shorter days of winter you can experience lethargy, weight gain, mental fogginess and mood swings.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, appearing and disappearing at the same time of the year.
For most people, SAD occurs during the onset of winter time when the daylight hours become shorter.
The symptoms of SAD are the same as depression and can vary from mild to severe. Some of these symptoms include:
- Losing interest in activities
- Tiredness and low energy
- Issues with getting to sleep or oversleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Feeling agitated
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Although you can take certain self care measures to reduce the effects of SAD, you should always seek the advice of a medical professional if you feel you are experiencing depression in any form.
Winter Self Care Checklist
Take some time this winter to focus on your self care and potentially avoid the negative effects this time of year can have on your mental and physical well being:
1. Get Some Sun
One of the major reasons why winter has a negative impact on people’s mental and physical health is the lack of sun. The days become shorter and the sun doesn’t shine upon us as strongly as it does in the summertime – that, and, a lot of people are less likely to spend long periods of time outside in the cold.
However, you should make an effort to get outside on nice days and soak up some rays, even if it means bundling up in 40 pieces of winter gear.
If you find it difficult to get past the cold and spend time outside, you can always purchase an LED therapy lamp to provide you with some mimicked sunlight from the comfort of the indoors.
2. Take a Hot Bath
During the colder weather, your body constantly tenses up against the frigid temperatures. This perpetual state of tensing and untensing can cause your muscles and joints to become sore and tired.
Slip into a nice hot bath to reduce muscle and joint aches. Add natural ingredients such as Epsom salts and baking soda to boost the relaxation factor.
Even if you don’t find your muscles getting sore during the wintertime, nothing beats a warm bath during a cold day.
3. Moisturize and Hydrate
Winter air is a total bummer to your skin – the dryness of the air zaps moisture from your body and leaves you feeling scaly and dehydrated.
Even though you’re not likely working up a sweat in the wintertime, it is still important to keep your body properly hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
You may want to consider using a special moisturizer and lip balm to keep your skin from drying and cracking. When it comes to moisturizers and lip balms, my personal favorite is anything made by Burt’s Bees. His bees are awesome.
4. Get Moving
We are not bears and we do not have the luxury of hibernating all winter. As much as we may try, our bodies are not made for lethargy and constant sleeping.
It may be tempting in the wintertime to forego all physical activities and blame the lack of exercise on the cold weather. Unfortunately, this is probably the one time of year that staying physically active is super important.
If you find it difficult to keep your body moving in the winter, consider some low-impact and enjoyable forms of exercise such as yoga. Any exercise you choose to partake in will help to reduce stress and elevate your mood during the cold and dark months.
5. Explore Outdoor Activities
To stay active, you can try exploring outdoor activities. Yes, it’s cold, but getting out in the winter time can be a lot of fun!
Maybe it’s time to embrace the cold weather and make the most of it. Bundle yourself up in layers and give skiing, hiking, skating or show-shoeing a try! Are your littles old enough to join? Even better!
Hygge is a Danish concept that describes a feeling of comfort and contentment by enjoying the simple things in life. It focuses on slowing down and enjoying the present.
Some of the staples of a hygge way of life are candles, fireplaces, soft blankets, comfy sweaters, homemade sweets, hot beverages and comfort foods. It’s all about being warm and comfortable.
Make a commitment to yourself and your family to hygge this winter. It’s a great time to enjoy comfort as well as to reconnect with your loved ones.
7. Enjoy a Fireplace
Fireplaces are a warm and comforting symbol of wintertime. We sing songs about them, we roast chestnuts over them and we hang our stockings above them.
If you have a fireplace, light it up! Throw a blanket on the floor and do that romantic lounging by the fireplace thing. If you don’t have a fireplace, bring one up on YouTube – you can even find ones that play joyful holiday tunes.
(And, if you are weird like me, you can stare at the screen and determine where the loop in the video occurs. You’re going to try it now, I know it.)
8. Fill Your Home With Warm Scents
Did you know that your sense of smell is strongly tied to memory? Ever smell a hot chocolate and are immediately whisked back to a time of warmth and comfort?
Fill your home with those tranquil memories by dispersing warm scents such as cinnamon, gingerbread, shortbread cookies, vanilla and Douglas fir. You can melt scented wax, light scented jar candles or diffuse essential oils.
You can even concoct your own simmering potpourri. Here is an amazing recipe for a stove top potpourri.
9. Drink Some Warm Teas and Eat Warming Foods
As you can tell, a lot of these self care steps for the winter time involve finding solace in comfort. We can’t change the weather, but we can help to change our emotional reaction to it.
Warm up on a chilly night by sipping on a cup of tea or indulging in a bowl of steaming stew. Fill your diet with lots of colorful veggies and squashes to boost your energy and immune system.
Journaling is an amazing tool to use all year around to help keep your brain untangled. Wintertime is a particularly good time, however, to practice some introspection and confront your struggles head on.
Using a journal doesn’t require any fancy writing skills. In fact, you can even try brain-dumping which basically involves word vomiting all of your troubles onto the page. Afterward, you can choose to deal with your struggles or let them go.
Either way, these dark days are perfect for facing your shadows and digging deep into what is truly bothering you. Then, when Spring begins to bloom and blossom, you’ll have some emotional baggage off your chest.
11. Keep Your Brain Busy
It may be easy to fall into the hum-drums of the winter season but it’s important to keep your mind active. You’ll find that the more you keep your brain engaged, the less likely you are to succumb to boredom and lethargy.
One of my favorite winter activities to engage in with my mom is doing puzzles. Every time I visit in the wintertime, she has a puzzle spread out on her table. We’ll sit and chat while piecing together the masterpiece.
You can even grab an adult coloring book. While you may not be engaging your brain in a highly intellectual activity, coloring is soothing and good for your mind.
P.S.: Every time I use the term “adult coloring book” I always worry that others will think I’m referencing something naughty. Fear not, most adult coloring books simply feature more complex coloring designs geared toward adult coloring skills – except for this one. This one is about swearing.
12. Have a Winter Gathering
Lastly, you can find the feeling of winter isolation by having a winter gathering of friends, family and loved ones in your home. Make it a potluck and enjoy soothing warm foods in the company of those you love.
Another negative affect of winter that I didn’t mention above is how isolation impacts our mental health. When we engage in fewer social interactions, our brain produces less oxytocin – a feel good hormone that is released during social interactions.
A lack of this hormone can make us feel irritable, lonely and depressed.
So come out of your winter shell and open your home to fun, food and laughter!
Don’t forget to download your FREE checklist printable:
Have your own winter self care regime? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!