Head To Toe: Why Winter is the best season for some self-care by Dakota Murphey
The winter months can take their toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. Our skin becomes tight and flaky as we deal with the dual effects of low temperatures and drying central heating. Our hair is more prone to split ends and dullness. And when we’re wrapped up in layers of cosy clothes, it’s easy to neglect our bodies by gorging on stodgy comfort foods and sweet treats. With fewer opportunities to be outdoors and less of an incentive to stay fit, it’s no surprise that many of us end up feeling that we have lost our spark. For some, it goes even further; an estimated 2m people in the UK suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - also known as the winter blues - which is brought on by lack of daylight and can leave sufferers feeling exhausted and depressed.This means winter is one of the most important seasons for us to practise self-care. It may be a much-repeated buzzword but committing to spending time looking after ourselves physically and mentally is one of the best ways to ward off the harsher effects of the season. By taking time to focus on what we need to maintain or improve our wellbeing we can become healthier, happier and more resilient. And it doesn’t need to be a chore - spending as little as an hour every day on it will soon bring positive results. Here’s what you need to know…
What is self-care?
Self-care is, as it sounds, the practice of consciously looking after oneself by doing things that preserve or improve mental or physical health. It can be as significant as starting and maintaining a daily meditation practice or as small as taking five minutes to enjoy a cup of tea in peace; the point is that you make an effort to tune into your individual needs and attend to them.
Why does it matter?
Engaging in a self-care routine has been clinically proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression, reduce stress and increase happiness, among other benefits. It can help people to adapt better to change, build stronger relationships and recover faster from setbacks. It’s also great for physical health as it usually involves committing to regular exercise, making healthier choices in what we eat and attending to any minor niggles or concerns before they become more serious.
What counts as self-care?
The great thing about self-care is that it is as unique as you are. We all have different needs and challenges and what you require to feel cared-for might be different from day to day or month to month. The key is to focus on your own physical and mental health; there is no one-size-fits all solution when it comes to self-care. With a hectic working life, you might benefit from a bespoke aromatherapy session to rebalance mental stress, while someone else might need innovative podiatry care to help them get back on their feet.
So it’s important to take time to tune into your body and pay attention to what it’s missing, whether that is more sleep, a good chat with a friend or just a long, hot bath. But if you’re in need of inspiration there are a few things that make nearly all of us feel better. These include:Getting out in natureIt may sound simple but when the temperature drops it’s all too easy to find ourselves slumped on the sofa bingeing another boxset. Getting outside is a quick and easy way to feel reinvigorated and refreshed. It’s also great for topping up vitamin D, which can become depleted in winter due to the lack of bright light. Take a stroll to your nearest park and spend time paying attention to the wildlife and trees or just sit in your garden with a hot drink watching the clouds drift past.
We all know we should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week. But that doesn’t mean we do it. Busy lives and dark evenings can make it harder than usual to pull on those trainers but even a brisk walk or five minutes outside with a skipping rope can help to improve brain health, reduce the risk of disease and strengthen bones and muscles. Even better it will give you a hit of feel-good endorphins to help you power through your day.
Taking the time to cook from scratch can be a calming activity in itself, especially if you can train yourself to spend time noticing different colours and textures of the ingredients. Making sure that what we eat is doing us good is also a sure-fire way to give our bodies what they need. That doesn’t mean we should only eat salad and brown rice, of course. A simple home-cooked stew or a healthy veg-packed chicken soup can provide high levels of comfort and warmth without compromising on vitamins.
Relaxing and switching off:
The importance of downtime can’t be understated. Relaxation not only reduces blood pressure but also improves blood flow, as well as calming the mind and improving areas from memory to digestion. But it’s important to understand that an exercise is only valuable if you genuinely find it relaxing. If you adore face masks and manicures, you’ll know these are great ways to relax. Instead you might find it calming to switch off with a film, read the latest about your sports team or go out to see a show by a favourite comedian. Whatever you choose to do, try to make sure you’re not distracted by stressors such as emails or phone calls. Getting fully into ‘flow-state’ - where we become so absorbed in what we’re doing - is key to experiencing the full benefits of relaxing.
Why is winter a good time to start a self-care routine?
Getting through the cold months can be a slog but by bringing some self-care principles into your routine you’ll find you have more energy, a better outlook and you remain in good physical health, leaving you ready to start the new year with a spring in your step.