We often think of summer vacation as the time to rest and relax, however, I can’t be alone in thinking that my summers are more packed and busy than my winters are. As an avid gardener, spring, summer, and fall are my busiest times. My schedule is filled with outdoor activities, nights out enjoying the warm weather, socializing, lake or cabin time, family get-togethers. Looking at my friends and family who have children, their summers are full of playdates, camps, trips, and finding ways to entertain their kids while they aren’t in school. There is something about the start of winter that allows me to breathe a sigh of contentment, knowing that I can hunker down for a season and turn my focus a bit more inward, or to projects I have not gotten to for many months.
If we think about nature, winter is a time for hibernation, sleep, managing resources, and prioritizing basic needs like food and warmth. Plants die back and retreat underground. What would happen if we took that concept and translated it into our lives? What valuable lessons can we take from nature and use to bring contentment, stress-reduction, rest, and relaxation into our daily life and/or environment?
Taking our cue from plants and certain animals, we can see that scaling back is something that has many benefits. Many plants get rid of their above-ground parts, reducing themselves down to roots. Animals like bears, groundhogs, and fish either hibernate or slow their systems down. Winter can be a time of reducing things down to necessities and honing in on what’s important.
How does that translate to humans? It can mean being more mindful of our energy output and input. This could mean saying “no” more, holding up our boundaries, taking a moment to ask our mind and body what it needs/wants before saying “yes” to something. It could be prioritizing time alone, relaxing activities like reading, and sleeping more or taking weekend naps. What would scaling back look like in your life? Some benefits you might see are less stress, more enjoyment of the present moment, more time for yourself, and feeling more rested and relaxed.
Not all animals hibernate in the winter and not all plants die back. My bird feeders are full of chickadees, cardinals, and junkos and the squirrels are busy underneath them (and sometimes on them). Evergreen trees break up the gray and white vistas and remind us that spring will eventually come. Getting outside in the winter, if possible, is important. If you are able, simple winter walks are a wonderful way to get fresh air, move your body, and enjoy the unique beauty of the winter scenery. Even standing or sitting outside for five to ten minutes a day can have benefits. It can be a time to practice mindful breathing or mindful movement. It can be a time to practice gratitude for the warmth of the indoors, the coziness of our beds, and the sweetness of hot chocolate or tea.
Getting outside can give our minds and bodies an important break from work or other activities and increase circulation, which can boost our mood, energy, and creativity, as well as provide health benefits for both mind and body.
Coziness and Warmth
Prioritizing warmth and coziness during winter reminds me of squirrels curled up in leaf-lined tree hollows and little birds puffing up their feathers until their bodies are round. Prioritizing warmth and coziness for myself means intentionally creating a space of calm and softness in my house. This can include doing some cleaning, finding a blanket, some candles, and settling down with a craft.
It also, however, means finding the time to use that space. The biggest barrier I see for clients and myself is not that we don’t have time. Rather, it’s convincing ourselves that spending time in that space is valuable and worthwhile. We can so often be sucked into the productivity mode that is the norm for Americans and see time for coziness and rest as being lazy or selfish. How can you prioritize rest this winter and take time to appreciate the benefits it provides?
Perhaps because I end up doing so much outdoor work with gardening in the spring/summer/fall, I tend to take more time in the winter to do more internal work and self-care during the winter. If we look towards nature for inspiration we can see this too: it’s a time of turning inward and contemplation, a time to build up energy so when spring comes we have seeds to sow and ideas to plant. Winter can be a time to make plans for spring/summer, put in place habits of rest/relaxation before we get busy again, and enjoy creature comforts like hot soup, electric blankets, wool mittens, crunchy snow, fires, baths/saunas, cuddling with loved ones or pets, or whatever comes to mind when you think of cozy comfort.
It can also be an amazing time to practice mindfulness along with those creature comforts. Practicing mindfulness while doing an activity you enjoy is a great way to train your brain in the habit of mindfulness and makes it easier for you to use mindfulness in situations that are perhaps less enjoyable, say in stressful situations or more emotional ones.
What would prioritizing rest and relaxation over the winter look like in your life? What would be the benefits? Can you see yourself adding any of the above practices into your life? I encourage you to take 30 minutes one day and either write down or think about what you currently do to take advantage of the winter season and what you might want to add (or take away!). Remember, prioritizing rest and self-care is how we are able to refill our tank of energy so we can show up both for ourselves and the people and community around us.