Surviving or Thriving this Winter?

A late December Wander on Dartmoor, Devon

A late December Wander on Dartmoor, Devon

Winter in the UK can be an emotional sink hole, as an Aussie I’ve found it almost unbearable at times. I’ve fallen into some deep dark gorges in previous years, and even if you’re a born and bread Brit, the heaviness of the grey days and lengthy nights can really suck the life out of you.

I feel if we didn’t live in the upside down world we do, our natural reaction to this, in the wild, would be to either migrate somewhere warm and sunny or retreat into hibernation and fully rest our weary souls. However, these solutions aren’t a practical option for most of us. The capitalist society that we live in would simply collapse if we all just decided to look after ourselves and focus on an integrated and harmonious co-existence with the cycles of the seasons.

There are some very simple yet powerful things you can do to improve your emotional wellbeing at any point in the year, however they may be particularly helpful if you’re struggling with the winter blues.

The inspiration for this post comes from my determination to overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder this year. I’m familiar with the despair that rears it’s ugly head when the depths of depression threaten to drown out rational thoughts. I also call upon the wisdom gained from my many years of working in a professional capacity with people who suffer from severe and enduring mental health challenges (my clients and students teach me more than they will ever know).

Here’s a list of easy and enjoyable ways to boost your brain, connecting all the circuits, firing up all the synapses and neurons it needs to keep you from the downward spiral…

  • Moooove Your Body

    This is obvious, everyone knows it and for that reason it gets the top spot! Exercise pumps up your endorphins, stimulates the growth of new neurons and increases nerve growth factors like BDNF (steroids for yo brain baby! )

    Your brain lives in your body - healthy body | healthy brain.
    Change up your exercise routines by working different parts of the body and brain!
    TIP - Set yourself a goal or exercise with a friend to keep the momentum going!

  • Get Out of Your Box!

    We spend over 90% of our time inside, cooped up in stale air with unnatural, often fluorescent light. Admittedly, during winter there are less hours of opportunity to be bathed in natural light, but you can make it happen. Go for a wander on your lunch break and reintegrate your cells to the rhythms of nature. Electricity is a very recent invention in the big scheme of human evolution, our body-mind still responds best to the big ol’ blue (or even grey) sky.

  • Sleep More (yes! permission to have a lie in)

    How good is bed?! The best. So get in it. Without your laptop or phone. Did you know that less than 7 hours sleep each night is actually considered sleep deprivation?
    Cultivating a healthy sleep routine starts the moment you wake up… let that sink in.
    It’s simple, exercise and eat early in the evening and turn off your screens at least an hour before bed, try to be in bed by 10pm.
    Try it, two weeks, and see how you feel. What have you got to lose? Netflix ain’t going anywhere.

  • Get Some Hugs or A Nice Massage
    In the era of texting and technology, many of us are starved of physical touch. Human connection, a simple hand resting on your back or a heartfelt squeeze, lifts our spirits immensely. Go grab someone and hug the shit outta them!

    Failing that, or in addition to it, book in for a nice massage! Improve sleep, activate painkilling endorphins, release oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, whilst decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.

  • Limit Your Screen Time
    Specifically social media, it’s just not good for you. The mindless scrolling, comparing your insides to others outsides. Sure it has some benefits, but the bad outweighs the good for me. It’s addictive and sneakily steals your time.

    Time. That thing we all whinge about not having enough of? That thing we can’t get back when we’re laying on our death bed, you think you’re gonna wish you spent more time on instagram?
    Time that could be better spent doing the things you love with those you adore, that includes yourself.

  • Get Social… in the Real World!
    Connecting in person with a tribe of like-minded people who love and support you is the best thing we can do for our emotional health. We get boosts of oxytocin and serotonin when we are in good company, feeling loved and safe is paramount to our . So go organise a dinner party, book a holiday with some mates or make plans to see a gig. Go have some fun!

  • Start a Creative Project
    Painting, dancing, knitting, singing, drawing, pottery, writing, a foreign language, an instrument - what is it? That thing you’ve always wanted to learn? Go do it! This January, I knitted my first hat! I’m super stoked on it and proud of myself. I feel good and that’s the point. Go get after it.

  • Dry January
    Alcohol is a depressant. The more aware I become of myself and the older I get, I increasingly notice how it affects me negatively for days afterward. If I have just a couple of pints or glasses of wine over the span of a week, my mood plummets the following week. It’s simple science. While in the act of drinking we usually feel great, but sadly the consequences are inevitable, it’s gonna numb you out and get you down on life.

  • Book a Holiday in the Sunshine
    Have something to look forward to… imagine yourself sitting by or in a body of water, hear it. The gentle lapping of waves. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Smell the coconut sunscreen and taste the refreshing beverage, whatever you want it to be, that’s just been put in front of you. Bliss.

  • Develop a Gratitude Loop
    It doesn’t have to be anything grand or major, but each day gives us a plethora of experiences, people and places to be grateful for. Recognising these on a regular basis, helps us to rewire the negative bias of our problem solving brain to see the forest for the trees. A few calming breaths, the sun peaking through clouds to warm your face, your partner making you laugh. Simple, yet profound moments, appreciated make for a more content existence.

  • Learning Interdependence
    Ask for help, tell someone how you feel. If it gets bad, don’t be too proud. All too often I’ve been lost in the black and white filter of negativity and utter numbness and I’ve resisted telling even those closest to me. But with practice I’ve gotten much better at it and those around me are always ready and willing to offer support. Don’t underestimate your loved ones, they’ll be there for you. But you gotta let them know.

I love the beginning of a new year, the feeling of fresh potential and possibility. It’s a time to reconnect and commit to your core values. I’m not inspired by the ‘new year, new you’ slogan. That’s not what it’s about.
I am still me. Same struggles, same baggage. But I’m energised by contemplating what the year may bring and how I can dedicate myself to being the best version of me, right now.

This list above is helping me to keep my head above water this winter and I hope it inspires you to do the same.