Self Care for the Winter

Last Update: November 1, 2023

The easiest way to get through the winter is to accept that we are a part of it. Come November 5th, we lose an hour as we transition away from daylight saving time. The time change, signaling the transition from autumn to winter, is notorious for throwing many of us off-balance, and this fatigue only compounds with the holiday season and its demands. At a time when most mammals hibernate, we are called to be active — traveling, working harder, being social, rushing.

How the Changing Seasons Affect Your Health

The winter blues don’t just come out of nowhere. 

Light, and especially sunlight, synchronizes our body’s natural circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are like our internal clocks, dictating when we feel alert, when we feel the most sleepy, and the moods in between. When we have less exposure to sunlight in the darker winter, our natural tempos are thrown out of whack. 

The production of serotonin, the chemical that our brain oozes to regulate our mood, is also created naturally with sunlight. Limiting opportunities to produce serotonin can cause our moods to drop. 

Sleep and the development of melatonin are also thrown off when the time changes. Melatonin affects our circadian rhythms, determining how restful we feel when we wake up. So much of melatonin production is dependent on schedule and routine. When we wake at dawn, before the sun can wake us up, we might end up feeling sluggish. Conversely, when we stay up too late, the drowsiness is more potent because our bodies are rushing to produce melatonin before we are asleep. 

With all this happening on the chemical level, we are bombarded with the holiday season and end-of-year activities that exacerbate the stress even further. This is an impacted time when a lot of folks travel, shop, and work toward tight deadlines. These activities require large amounts of energy, and worse, they can pressure us to exert ourselves beyond our comfort levels. Whether it is our workplaces, our families, or our friends — we are called upon, and we usually oblige at the expense of taking care of ourselves. It’s no wonder why the cold and flu coincide with the holiday season.

Tips for Taking Care of Yourself in the Winter

1. Sunlight is essential, so prioritize getting it whenever you can. Maximizing exposure to sunlight (safely) encourages the production of serotonin and can reset circadian rhythms. The sun is also a wonderful source of vitamin D, which supports the immune system and metabolism. 

2. Since the sun starts to set earlier, invest in warm lighting for your space. Think candles. Elisha Knight, Senior Photographer at Thrive Market, suggests cutting overhead lighting and placing dim, ambient lights around your space. Overhead lighting is often bright, harsh, and cooler on the color spectrum. This kind of light mimics daylight and exposing ourselves to it keeps us up longer. Diffused, warmer lighting eases us into slumber. 

3. Try aromatherapy. A couple of drops of eucalyptus oil in a hot shower or a diffuser encourage relaxation and activate your senses. Smells jolt us awake and can help to focus your attention on what your body feels. 

4. A healthy dose of movement and cardiovascular activity, when conditions permit, encourages us to get out into the sun and simultaneously stimulate our serotonin receptors. Energy levels may drop in the wintertime, so even a brisk walk around the neighborhood with a warm cup of coffee can do wonders for your mood. 

5. Catch a cold? Nourish yourself with recipes that help your body. We love Lily Harris’s bone broth elixir, not only for its savory, complex taste, but also its ingredients like tocos and ginger, which are packed with vitamins and anti-inflammatory properties. Megan Mitchell’s citrusy, warm wellness tonic is also great for a fresh, spicy hit of antioxidants.  

6. Need a little extra boost of immunity? Take some Beekeeper’s Natural Propolis throat spray for sore throats and persistent coughs. A dose of Garden of Life’s Raw Vitamin C or MaryRuth Organic’s B12 and D3 can help to support your immune system.

Reframing Your Mindset for Winter

Winter is not an easy season to weather. The days are dark and cold, the trees wither, airports are packed, snow gathers on roads. Instead of dreading what comes, the way to address these changes is to approach them with grace. It is okay to be less productive. It is okay to be tired this time of year. 

Self-care is put on opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s either a luxury we need to earn or simply a waste of time. We end up deprioritizing our health — believing in some false hope that we can overtake the season, only to be broken by the end of it. Time spent taking care of ourselves is not time wasted. 

Winter is not an abstract event that happens to us. We are quite literally participants inside of it. To think about “mastering” or “conquering” or “pushing through” the winter is a privileged position. We, at some point, will be humbled before our biology. So let us take a cue from Mother Nature and chill out. 

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Jon Kim

Jonathan Kim is a writer and poet living in Southern California. He loves cheese and pickles.

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