Woman in Snow

Three Tips for Winter Self-Care

By Morning Light Christian Counseling

The holidays are finished, Christmas decor is packed away until next season, and a somewhat “normal” routine is being picked up after the strange pandemic holiday season. But even with the opportunity for a fresh start in 2021, the winter can still prove challenging for mental health.

Whether the decreased amount of light, colder temperatures, or a loss of merry bustle brings you down a bit or you struggle with full-blown Seasonal Affect Disorder, this time of year is challenging for many.

Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) hits mainly in fall and winter and according to the American Psychiatric Association, about five percent of American adults are affected, with females and young adults being more susceptible. Decreased light affects the body’s circadian rhythms and serotonin levels, and after a year of isolation like never before, the natural bent to withdraw this time of year may result in more intense winter blues.

Therapist and owner of Morning Light Christian Counseling Katie MacDougall shares this perspective:

“Preemptive, preventative counseling is always my favorite type of counseling. While reaching out after you are at the point of desperation is totally okay (sometimes we just don’t know how bad things are until they’re really bad), reaching out when you notice any sign of SAD (or any other mental health issue) is best. 

Counseling tends to be more effective when you aren’t at your lowest low. Then, skilled therapists can give you practical tools to get you out of your winter blues before you are too low to apply the tools we give you. Sometimes SAD is also just the tip of the iceberg of problems in a person’s life. If that’s you, therapy can help you identify those root issues and work through them in conjunction with tools to help you feel better as you work through the hard stuff.”

How can you prepare mentally and emotionally for this time of year? What steps can you take to ensure quality self-care this winter? By listening to your body’s needs and anticipating troublesome areas, you can engage in healthy and practical self-care this winter, pandemic or not, by remembering ABC: Anticipate, Build, Connect.

Anticipate the Challenges

Winter comes around at the same time every year. If you know that historically you struggle in these winter months, take Katie’s advice and initiate some preemptive self-care in the new year. You can do this by pre-scheduling with your therapist or scheduling other appointments that boost your mood like a manicure or a massage. Or maybe you take the opposite approach and build in extra margin during these months to allow for more reflection or time with family.

Instead of wishing your mind and body reacted differently during this time of year and fighting against it, anticipate those times of struggle so you have the help and structure already in place. Your future self will thank you.

Build in Something New

Don’t underestimate the power of having something to look forward to during this time of year, no matter how small it may be. An easy way to incorporate this into your routine is simply by trying a new recipe, a warm drink, a puzzle, or a book. When it comes to recipes, this is a perfect time of year to try a spicy hot chocolate or a curry. Pick new foods that invite you in and engage your senses. 

This is also a good time to pick up a new hobby, or even resurrect an old one that has brought delight to your soul in the past.

Connect to Your Body

Your body is your only vehicle to move through this life, so when it’s telling you something is off, pay attention. Movement and exercise will boost serotonin and improve energy levels. If you are suffering from SAD, you may find light therapy beneficial.

Engaging the senses will also help you feel grounded. Especially if you are battling with a loss of taste and smell from Covid-19, focus on engaging the senses that are working: sight, touch, and hearing. Wrap up in a soft blanket while sitting in front of a fire and pay attention to the crackling wood. Take an extra moment to revel in the winter sunrise. Make a new playlist for your commute or workout. And don’t overlook staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.

While this may be advice you’ve heard before, don’t brush by it. The fact that it’s often repeated means we need to pay attention and take heed. You only have one body and residing in that body already introduces certain limits. We get into trouble when we think those limits don’t apply to us which in turn erases the margin for our rest and sanity.

“Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.” (Ps. 74:16–17 ESV)

God provided nature with certain boundaries, giving set times for growing and maturing and times to rest and gear up for more growth. The seasons also act as natural boundaries for us humans. Don’t fight against those boundaries; rather, learn your place inside of them and take care of your mind and body so it can not only survive but thrive during the winter season.

Is the winter season hitting harder than anticipated? Call our office or reach out online to schedule an appointment with one of our qualified therapists. We are here to support you through all seasons of life.

If you or someone you love is lying in bed all day, not eating or sleeping, or suddenly not interested in living, it is definitely time to reach out. In fact, it is important that you reach out today. If you or a loved one is voicing thoughts of suicide, close this blog now and call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org).

About the Author

Katie MacDougall holds a Master of Divinity with a specialization in Counseling from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as well as a Bachelor of Science from Oklahoma City University. She is an ​Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Certified Therapist, which is a research-based method to help those suffering from traumatic events.

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