There are a handful of my favorite things that pair perfectly with a gray-colored, moody weather day: piping hot mugs of matcha, Leon Bridges on vinyl, trying out new soup recipes, page-turning reads in a cozy at-home book nook. But despite my best intentions to embrace the hibernation vibes, my inner sunshine begins to climb the walls. And with daylight dwindling at the earliest of hours, I find myself putting on my pajamas even before the streetlights come on to perk up the neighborhood. Clearly, I’m in need of some winter selfcare tips. (Because as much as my wishful thinking tries to convince me otherwise, spring isn’t here yet.)
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Summer is my happy place. A time of cannonballs into the pool, flip flops and tank tops. After the shimmer and shine of the magical holiday season is a faded memory—yet still weirdly winking at me through the pine needles on our living room floor—it feels like the dreary, cold days of the early months of the year just seem to drag on. (And on… and on.) If I don’t have a set of skis strapped to my feet and an après hot toddy waiting in the wings, I could definitely opt right out of the entire rest of winter.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
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12 Winter Selfcare Tips to Help You Nourish Your Mind, Body, and Spirit
But, as I found myself humming along to the lyrics, or so I thought they were—”O-BLAH-Di, O-BLAH-Da,” life goes on, I began to wonder. Is this season-specific, blah kind of bummer just a me thing? Or, are there more of us out there who feel the same way?
This question inspired me to take a second glance at the interview I did last year with integrative primary care physician, Dr. Jessica Chernetsky, M.D. from Austin-based West Holistic Medicine. As with most articles that look at our mental health in the winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) dominated much of our conversation. And while my winter blues are not necessarily SAD per se, they are definitely more prevalent as each year passes.
So I broadened my research further and got in touch with one of my best friends, yoga and meditation teacher Kate Waitzkin to get a healthy dose of her sunshine (because she really does feel like the sun, personified). For people locally in her hometown of Austin and across the globe virtually, Kate’s meditations soothe the soul, her yoga practices online work wonders for body, mind, and spirit, and her ritual course, an online program designed to help weave the art of mindfulness, presence, and ritual into your everyday, has become a smashing success. (Just ask Camille, who recently took the course herself.)
Today, Kate’s sharing more of her wisdom with us. Below, she gifted us with 12 inspiring tips to help you prioritize your well-being throughout the rest of winter.
Editor’s note: This article is not meant to be used in place of medical care. Please consult your medical provider first if you are experiencing seasonal depression of any kind.
1. Get Your Face in the Sun
Several years ago, I was having a conversation with my mom and sharing a struggle I was going through at the time that was leaving me feeling down and energetically drained. Just before we hung up the phone, she said “get your face in the sun today, honey.” I followed her advice then and have carried her wisdom with me ever since. It has become something I share (and do!) often.
We know that sunlight boosts serotonin levels, which plays a key role in regulating our mood. Of course, we want to be mindful to protect our skin from damaging rays, but even a few minutes standing outside, breathing fresh air, and bathing your face in the sun can have a profound impact on how you feel and the quality of your energy.
2. Embrace Humidifier Heaven
I finally invested in a humidifier this winter and it has been a game changer for my quality of sleep and how I feel as I wake each morning. With colder weather comes drier air, which can lead to dryness in the body on many levels.
3. Prioritize Sleep Hygiene
We know that both quality and quantity of sleep is important for immune function, but prioritizing your nightly z’s can also play a key role in your mood and mental clarity. Rather than attempting a complete overhaul to your nightly routine, which often proves short-lived, consider weaving in one micro-shift to your sleep routine and build gradually from there.
A warm cup of tea, a soak in the tub, vetiver massaged onto the soles of my feet, a guided meditation as I settle in—these are just a few of my favorite rituals for good sleep hygiene. Find a practice that feels just right for you and take note of how you feel as this tiny change becomes part of your nightly ritual.
4. Trust in Nature’s Wisdom
Mama Nature reminds us that the winter season is a time for slowing down and turning inward. Following this guidance can support us in feeling connected to the world around us and aligned physically, mentally, energetically, even spiritually. Consider stepping into the reflective nudge of nature by setting aside a quiet time each day to put pen to paper and journal. Do your best to let go of your agenda and expectations and simply allow the page to be a soft landing for your thoughts, feelings, and insights in that moment. I love this self-reflective practice first thing in the morning, but find a time that works for you and enjoy the clarity and sense of release it so often affords.
For tips on how to kickstart your journaling practice, read this.
5. Practice Breathing Basics
Consciously (and gently) shaping our breath has the capacity to directly impact the quality of our mind and how we feel. Breathing exercises may also support the health and function of our lungs, which can be a helpful tool during the winter months. Try the following technique, which can support the health of your lungs, build mental focus, and ground your energy.
- Lay down onto your back taking any support you may need to be comfortable. Take a few natural breaths in and out through your nose.
- On your next inhale, gently inhale just one-third of your breath capacity, pause briefly, now inhale two-thirds, pause, finally, inhale all the way, filling your lungs with breath. Then release one long, slow exhale.
- Take a few natural breaths and notice how you feel. If you feel comfortable, repeat this a few more times.
- This technique can also be applied to your exhales. Begin with a full, complete inhale. On an exhale, breath out one-third of the way, pause, breathe out two-thirds, pause, exhale completely, then inhale one smooth continuous breath in.
Once you are comfortable with this practice laying down, you may wish to try it sitting in a comfortable upright position. Remember, keeping the breath soft and gentle throughout is key!
6. Enjoy Daily Movement
Some form of daily movement offers myriad benefits to support whole-body wellness. This is especially true during the winter months when we can easily stagnate behind the dropping temperatures and the lure of a warm fire and a good book. Even so, when it’s cold and gray outside, it can be hard to motivate ourselves. Luckily, we now have access to a plethora of online practices from which to choose. Whether you lace up your walking shoes and brave the cold, turn on your favorite tune for a 15-minute dance party, or cue up an online yoga practice, staying physically active during the winter months can help boost your immune system, promote better sleep, and keep your mind clear and focused.
7. Build Meaningful Connections
Nurturing supportive relationships and making meaningful connections with others are deeply important ingredients to experiencing wellness any time of year. The sky is the limit when it comes to how you connect with others. This can and will look different for each one of us (hello, fellow introverts!). I do my best to cultivate at least one face-to-face connection every day. Some days that means an eye-to-eye moment and kind word with my boys before they head off to school. Other days it’s a date night with my partner or walking the neighborhood with a friend.
Keeping it simple and holding the intention to seek opportunities for meaningful connections each day affords consistency. It will not only fill our social cup, but keep us healthier to boot.
8. Try Aromatherapy
Using therapeutic-grade essential oils aromatically—via an oil diffuser or simply inhaled from the palms of the hands—is a highly effective and super swift way to shift our internal state. Citrus oils in particular (think wild orange, grapefruit, lime, bergamot, etc.) are known to support and lift the mood and can be a welcome experience for our senses during the cold and dark days of winter. When your energy is low or you need a mood boost, citrus essential oils are a stellar tool to keep handy.
*Keep in mind it is extremely important to use high-quality, therapeutic-grade essential oils, properly diluted. Be sure to seek the guidance of a qualified educator to guide you as you explore.
9. Make Meditation Work for You
Creating space each day to step away from the activity, sit quietly, and tend to your internal state has the capacity to positively impact your health in many important ways. Lower stress levels, improved memory and sleep, deeper self-awareness, improved focus, and enhanced immune function are just a few examples of how a meditation practice may support your experience of wellness.
Setting up a dedicated space—a comfortable seat in a quiet space of your home or workspace—can dissolve the barrier of where to go when you’re ready to practice and serves as a gentle invitation into a daily practice. Whether sitting and observing your breath, doing a slow body scan, or practicing a guided meditation, keep it simple. Remember: the only “right” way to meditate is the way that works for you.
10. Dry Brushing
When it comes to physical wellness and a healthy, functioning immune system, supporting our lymphatic system is a key component. While lymphatic massage by a trained professional is an art and can be an extremely supportive tool, dry brushing is something we can do in the comfort of our home and is believed to gently stimulate the lymphatic system.
My dry brush lives right next to my shower. It’s an easy way to boost circulation first thing in the morning, invigorate my system, and support immunity! Check out this article to learn more.
11. Stay Hydrated
This one may be a no-brainer, but even though I know how important it is to stay hydrated year-round—especially in the dry winter months—I still struggle to consume the recommended daily intake.
12. Seek Inspiration
Nurturing a willingness to continue learning and exploring new things can help us maintain a sense of wonder and curiosity that can keep our minds active, help us stay (and feel) engaged in the world, and can give us something new to look forward to each day. Podcasts and audiobooks are literally at our fingertips and provide a super easy way to take in new learnings, explore new ideas, and stay inspired. Next on my list—guitar lessons!
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