Tuesday, January 17, 2023

 Intentional Self-care for the Winter Doldrums

by Olivia Ruffin, MS, LPC

As the excitement and cheer of the holidays come to a close, friends and family go back to their homes, and it’s time to get back to reality, it can be difficult to find balance in our ordinary schedules. In addition, for those who experience loss, negative experiences, or struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) the winter months can present as a physical and emotional challenge. So as not to get stuck in the “New Year, New Me” wave, here are some tips that can help increase self-care through the winter months and support new experiences, self-compassion, and inner peace.

Live-in alignment with the seasons

“Slow down and enjoy life. It is not only the scenery you miss by going too fast — you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” Eddie Cantor

Winter is a time for hibernation and to slow down and reflect. It can be difficult with our ever-growing “to-do” list and social pressures to resist the urge to take on new projects. It can be hard to shift our focus from a doing state to one of rest and reflection. The key is to give yourself permission to slow down. A few steps you can take is to practice saying “no”, especially to events and activities that you find draining. I like to support my clients in developing a sense of serenity by practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose, which creates an opportunity to experience happiness and joy. The practice of mindfulness can include guided meditation, practicing gratitude, observing the activity around you on a nature walk, or singing your heart out in the shower. One of my favorite activities to do with clients is to create a gratitude jar; as they accumulate the collection, they are reminded that even on our toughest days, there is still goodness in our world. Developing your own brand of mindfulness is what makes the experience fulfilling and unique.

Maintain a healthy seasonal diet

“In Chinese Medicine, the season of winter is thought to be the most yin of seasons: dark, cold, and slow; a time of conserving energy, rest and stillness, with our qi moving deeper inward to help keep us warm.”-- Jayne Whitman

Chinese medicine teaches us to live in harmony with the seasons. The best method to keep our bodies in balance in winter is to have a mainly warm diet with foods available in the session. To find out what your body needs, stay up to date with your doctor's visits and maybe consider working with a nutritionist. If you struggle to be creative in the kitchen, working with a nutritionist can be a great support to increase confidence and knowledge about foods that bring you joy and keep you satisfied. Sometimes the best medicine starts with what's on the plate.

Revisit a hobby

Hobbies have great benefits for your mental health, whether it’s creative, athletic, academic, by yourself, or with others. Hobbies help us to slow down and unwind. Hobbies also help us to reduce stress, increase mood, and boost creativity. Revisit the joy of reading or try listening to an audiobook and allow yourself to be swept away by the story. Maybe you'd enjoy learning a new skill like crafting, cooking, or learning to play a musical instrument. These are all methods to not only practice mindfulness but bring back simple joys. Does a hobby come to mind? Don't be shy. Now could be the time to enjoy it again.

Stay connected

Just because the holidays are over doesn't mean the fun has to stop there! Staying connected to others is a great way to beat the loneliness of winter. If you are feeling healthy and confident, maybe get back to in-person activities like attending faith-based events, meeting a friend for coffee or dinner dates, or finding friends through new experiences on Eventbrite or Meetup. These are all methods to keep and find meaningful connections.

Intuitive movement

“Intuitive movement is the practice of connecting and listening to your body to figure out how it feels and what type of movement it needs that day.”-- Rachel Harley

I support my clients with the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skill of opposite action. We all have that nagging feeling, “I should get up and move,” but what you might not know is that “should statements” motivate us with guilt or shame.  While that can sometimes get us started, rarely is that movement or change enjoyable or sustainable. Learning to settle into your body and asking yourself what movement would be fulfilling for you right now could be the key to unlocking sustainability and creativity. From yoga to dancing to playing with your kids in the snow, noticing if it feels good to move your body differently is what counts!

Although the winter months can be cold and gloomy, that doesn't mean your self-care routine needs to suffer. By living in alignment with the season and slowing down, staying warm, and reflecting through mindful engagement, you can increase joy and connection even in the middle of winter. If this sounds like a new resolution you can get behind and you need support to get started, then I might be the therapist for you! Let's get connected!

Olivia Ruffin, MS, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor that works with teens and adults. She specializes in working with individuals with anxiety, depression, and life transitions to cultivate joy and develop helpful and relevant strategies to empower clients with concrete tools for lasting change. To connect with Olivia, please call 267-434-1030. Learn more here

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