Radical Self-Care in Winter
….especially during a Super Moon/Blue Moon/Lunar Eclipse
Me: “I don’t know what’s going on this week, but ever since Monday I’ve felt like I’m progressively losing it.”
Everyone else: “Yeah, me too.”
Me: “Oh look how pretty and bright the moon is.”
Also me: “.... duh.”
Self-care is an important piece to my daily life. When you’re in the helping profession, it absolutely has to be a non-negotiable, constant practice. Secondary trauma and the dangers that come always “giving” are a real hazard.
“You cannot pour from an empty cup.”
Regimented self-care becomes even more crucial for me in the winter months. The cold and darkness can creep up on me. Sometimes slowly, but sometimes it hits me like a ton of bricks and I feel like I’m painfully dragging myself up out of the rubble. There are a few practices that I have ritualized to maintain my mental health and wellness. I want to feel good. Here is a list of my 10 practices to fight winter blues/seasonal affective disorder/full moons, etc. The struggle is real.
1. Pump the fluids!
“Life is simple, just add water.” When I feel like I’m dragging, lethargic and like I’ve got a headache, stomachache, or some other ache coming on, my first thought is: “Have I been drinking water today?” Typically, I haven’t been. Or, I know I could do way better. Pull out that nalgene, or start the teapot for some warm, soothing, caffeine-free tea. Frequent trips to the bathroom are slightly annoying, but are most definitely a good sign.
2. “When it comes to food, do a little better...you know what I mean.” - Anne Lamott
What are we putting into our bodies to fuel our day? When I’m stressed and overwhelmed, I want to eat ALL THE CHOCOLATE, especially dark chocolate. I also want to eat fried goodness - like cheese curds. Ultimately, that’s not going to help energize me and turn my mood around. I like to think of those priceless phrases, such as: “You are what you eat” or “Your gut is your second brain”. Basically, if you eat like crud you’re gonna’ think and feel like crud.
Loading up on vegetables, vegetables, vegetables, as well as some fruit, and simple healthy protein makes me feel SO. MUCH. BETTER.
3. Chase ENDORPHINS.
My husband and I call running a “happy tax”. Sometimes you really don’t want to do it, but afterward you feel so much better. It’s a short amount time spent (if you truly think about it), for an extended result.
After telling myself for four days this week that I needed to run, I finally did. It changed everything. Running for endorphins is one of my favorite self-help strategies. Do not run for the mileage, or a faster time - run for the feeling of tension release, energy, and the feeling of being alive in this one amazing body.
Not into running? Chase endorphins in your preferred way. Work up a sweat whether it’s speed walking, indoor biking/eliptical, rock climbing, HIIT, yoga, cross-country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing. The options are endless. In the Spring, Summer, Fall - I LOVE gardening for hours. It gives me energy, works up a sweat, and makes me appreciate the little things. However, in the colder months - I run.
4. Meditate or move mindfully.
Meditation is a lovely practice. Meditation can also be really hard if not in practice with it. Moving mindfully through yoga or a walk outside to clear your head IS meditation and it can also help release tension prior to a still meditation practice.
Move to clear your “monkey mind”. Move to slow down. Move to notice your surroundings with all of the senses. Breathe and notice how amazing it is to be alive.
My favorite meditation is moving outdoors, breathing in the fresh air, noticing my surroundings, and listening to nature. No goals in mind, but to walk and notice. Moving meditation, aka forest bathing, aka eco-therapy. No matter the word, it’s healing.
5. Get a “mental health buddy”, journal about it, or do both.
Do you talk with someone regularly about how you’re doing mental health-wise? Mental health and wellness is a spectrum; sometimes we are on the high end feeling like a magical unicorn that can do EVERYTHING and sometimes we slip down to the low end, feeling like a sloth, and find it hard to crawl back up to a normal-feeling range.
Start talking with a trusted someone about how you’re doing with your mental health. It can be a friend, spouse, family member, colleague, or your therapist. Yes, talking about your mental health is okay! We typically have no problem telling people that we have the flu or a cold. We can also tell others when we are feeling down, depressed, or anxious etc.
According to Brene Brown, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgement.” There is no shame in feeling like a sloth. It happens to the best of us.
Having a mental healthy buddy is kind of like any new exercise or fitness program - if you have a buddy you’re more likely to be successful and stay on top of it. On occasion, check-in with your trusted mental health buddy. Tell each other when you’re feeling fantastic and share the little reasons why: what practices are you incorporating that are helping? When you are struggling, check-in again: what practices have you let slip and what is contributing to this feeling?
Noticing what’s going on in your mind and body and observing how that all connects is key: MINDFULNESS - that magic word.
If you aren’t ready to commit to a buddy yet, journal about it. Write down when you are feeling like a unicorn and write down when you’re feeling like a sloth. What is contributing to that feeling? The nice thing about writing these things down is the ability to go back and notice any patterns: times of year when things are typically amazing and times of year when things are a struggle. Once you notice your pattern, you are better equipped with knowledge to really gear up with prevention efforts.
6. Go outside. Now. Bundle up.
“A walk a day keeps the doctor away”. I started weekly, long hikes with my good friend about a year ago. We went every Sunday, no matter the weather, dressed for the occasion, and just wandered off with dogs in tow.
I didn’t even realize, at the time, how the routine of fresh air, hours of walking, and enjoying the outdoors was positively affecting me. I began to crave that outdoor connection more. I started my own daily walk through my woods, with my dogs, at home as well. I felt the accumulation of outdoor therapy build up a resiliency inside of me.
After work, especially if I’m rattled, I know that a walk through the woods with my dogs will clear my head. Before anything else: get home, and walk through the woods. It starts to get a little harder in the cold winter months, but when I bundle up and set out anyway, I never regret it.
7. Gather with beloved friends or family.
As an introvert, it’s hard to get myself to do anything after work, or after teaching a yoga class. However, when I do force myself to get together with dear friends or family, I feel refreshed, loved, and lighter. Get together with your favorite people or call one of your best friends or family on the phone and catch up.
8. Put the phone down. READ.
Phones suck your soul. It’s easy to scroll endlessly and then not know where the time went. Yeah, there are articles and things that I end up reading that are really good, but it’s so mindless. Mindfully settling in with a good book, cozy blanket, a cat cuddled on your lap, and a cup of hot tea is so much more nourishing.
9. Take care of the little things.
Appointments, bills, dishes, laundry, taxes… take care of these sometimes daunting and menial tasks. When they pile up they become overwhelming. Choose one task to take care of today. It’s amazing how much clearer your mind feels once the clutter of your growing laundry pile or stack of dishes is taken care of.
10. Plan a trip.
“Travel brings power and love back to your life.” - Rumi
It does not need to be a big, expensive vacation. Go experience something, (ANYTHING) new. Find an adventure. Visit a friend, grab a cheap VRBO, go camping, road trip, fly… the options are endless.
The planning process in and of itself is uplifting. Once on your quest, you’ll feel the responsibility of daily life drift away for a time, and the experiences of the adventure in front of you take over.
Travel allows us to be in the moment, reset, and remember what is truly most important to us.
All of these practices combined are my personal mental health and wellness regime. When I’m dedicated to them, I feel better. When I let them slip, I start to slip. I believe it’s important to incorporate practices that feel right for your body, mind, and spirit. Go ahead and try my regime out if it feels right for you, but by no means continue if it just doesn’t feel right.
Take out your journal. 5-7 minutes. Go.
List 5-10 things you are currently doing that make you feel well, whole, alive.
What is one new thing you’d like to incorporate this week to boost your mood? OR what is one helpful thing you’ve stopped doing that you’d like to start up again?
Author: Bryana Cook is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) and Clinical Trainee, as well as a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She works full-time as an Elementary School Social Worker, owns and operates her own yoga business: Northern Namaste Yoga, and partners with Amanda and Joella to bring you Boreal Bliss Yoga Retreats.
Bryana has a passion for wellness, yoga, and the great outdoors.