How To Embrace Winter (by a summer lover)
I love the sun. I love sunbathing and warm weather and summer dresses. Winter has always been a challenge for me, but this year I'm mindfully changing my attitude.
Read on to find out how.
Step 1: Acceptance
Winter isn't going anywhere - unless I move to Costa Rica (and I have genuinely considered this in the past) - I'm going to experience Winter every year. Hating it is, frankly, a waste of my energy and resisting it is futile. It's happening whether I like it or not, so I may as well learn to like it!
Acceptance is simply the opposite of resistance; it is allowing what is. It is letting things be. For me, this is a huge part of what creates a sense of inner peace.
So, I accept that it is winter. I also accept that it's not my favourite season and that's OK. I am saying 'yes' to winter so that I am not closed off to what it can offer me.
Step 2: Change the narrative
I've always said "I'm a summer person" and "I don't like winter" - writing off a huge chunk of the year and a huge chunk of my life. That's quite shocking for me to think of it like that. Now I'm trying to say "I'm learning to love winter" and "I prefer summer but maybe winter isn't so bad". This is called 'growth mindset' - it's less rigid and more positive than my old narrative.
I'm watching myself in case I slide into 'moan mode' - it's OK to say that I'm cold or if I'm struggling with the weather but negative stories like "this would be better if it wasn't as cold today" are off the table. They make me feel low and don't change the situation for the better.
Step 3: Notice beauty
So far the best thing about challenging myself to embrace the cold has been my frosty morning walks. I've seen some stunning sunrises (at a sensible time; in summer I'm never up early enough) and found crunching the frozen leaves under a clear blue sky a wonderful way to start the day. Being mindful as I walk has shown me all the beautiful details in nature that I had previously ignored when I told myself it was "too cold" to go out or marched home, head down in a state of resistance and negativity.
Step 4: Find the light
One of the things I've found most difficult in wintertime is the lack of light. So this year I've made a point of making the most of sunny days - going out for a walk, no matter how short, even if I don't really feel like it. I'm yet to regret going on a walk. I've also been attending lots of light shows with friends such as Christmas at Dunham and Lightwaves. These events have given me real moments of joy and connection.
Last month, after several rainy days in a row we had some gloriously sunny days that I really enjoyed. I had a moment of awareness when I realised I was enjoying the sun so much because it had been rainy for a while beforehand. So now, my new thing when we have a period of grey, rainy days is to say to myself "this is going to make the sun feel so sweet!".
The darkness is what makes the light so special - we need the contrast, and up until now I hadn't be grateful for the role dark days play.
Step 5: Slow down
Nature has seasons for a reason, and we are part of nature. Something we too often forget. We cannot 'bloom' - be super active and productive - at a constant rate all year round. A phrase I have become attached to over the last year or so is "rest is a part of productivity". If we don't rest, we burn out and then we don't function at all.
I think a big struggle with winter is that we're trying to be too active, resulting in us working against our bodies and nature. It's so hard to slow down sometimes, even if we want to, because the world is going so fast around us. But this is what makes us sick - from coughs and colds to stress and depression.
I'm working on finding a balance between remaining active (not going into a total slump) and allowing a slower pace to take hold so I can honour where my natural energy is at. Being honest, this is a challenge for me - I'm a work in progress just like everyone else!
I saw a beautiful post on the need to go inwards in winter by Brigit Anna McNeill that renewed my enthusiasm for learning from nature and my own inner wisdom - it's time to rest, reflect and renew.
Step 6: Embrace all things hygge
I'm sure you've become aware of hygge by now, but if not it's pronounced hoo-gah and is a Danish term for cosy, simple pleasures that are not emotionally overwhelming. It's candles and log fires and warm drinks and gentle conversations. It's all the things that are easy to love about this time of year and that we probably don't make enough time for. It's also very compatible with being mindful so I'm totally here for it.
I love a scented candle or some essential oils, a warm blanket, cocoa and a good book so I don't need much convincing on this. Once you've mastered the slowing down, the hygge life is an absolute dream!
Step 7: Sunshine replacements
Natural sunlight is vital for both our physical and mental health, obviously it's not always available this time of year. I've set an intention to get out for a walk for as long as my schedule will allow on days when the sun is out - so far it's making a big difference to my mood and I feel less resentful of the darker days.
The NHS suggests taking vitamin D supplements during the winter, especially if we spend a lot of time indoors. I take them a couple of times a week on days when I'm not outside much or the sun does not have his hat on. Do your own research to see if this is right for you.
I admit I am partial to the odd sunbed session - not that you'd know to look at me! These are brief and infrequent but I like to lie down and imagine myself on the beach in Greece and properly thaw out. There are risks associated with long term/frequent sunbed use so do read up and see if it's OK with you.
Step 8: Don't hate, meditate!
If the dark days get me down or the festivities leave me frazzled, I'll be heading to a quiet space for a few minutes (or more if possible) of mindful meditation practice. This is time to just be, instead of do. Time to observe my thoughts, show myself compassion and find the peace that rests inside, buried under a layer of to-do lists, judgements and expectations.
I recommend saving some favourite guided meditations for when you need them - I use insight timer and Buddhify apps.
Mindfulness practice brings me back to the present moment - it's an antidote to the "I can't wait until summer" thoughts in which I can find myself unthinkingly wishing my life away. My life - and yours - is happening right now, and there is plenty to notice and appreciate right now, if we pay attention and accept things, and ourselves, just as they are.
"Wisdom comes with winters" - Oscar Wilde