The Ultimate Winter Self-Care Guide
Your source for beating the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder.
"Winter is coming."
If that Game of Thrones reference shook you at your core, then keep reading. When winter comes to your mind, what do you think of? Is it snow, Christmas, or warm winter fires? Or perhaps exhaustion, a lack of motivation, or even poor mental health?
If the mere thought of winter brings you to dread, you're not alone.
Winter tends to impact our mental, emotional, and physical health negatively. We NEED sunlight to function properly. And winter forces us inside while depleting daylight hours. The sun gives us essential vitamins and allows our bodies to produce serotonin and melatonin. Sun deprivation has many adverse effects on us, including:
- Irregular sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm)
- Low energy and productivity
- Mental illness such as seasonal affective disorder
- Weakened immune system and bones
- Weight gain
- And more
Winter can have a harsh impact on all aspects of our health, leading to the winter blues and possibly its more severe form, Seasonal Affective Disorder. This leaves us questioning how to take care in the winter season or how to stay happy during the winter months? While yes, self-care tips are helpful, they will do you no good if they're not implemented consistently throughout the harsh winter months.
In this guide, we'll walk you through the fundamentals and importance of self-care during winter, offer a few winter care tips, and a step-by-step method of implementing your custom winter self-care routine and plan.
What is self-care, and why is it important?
Self-care is the act of taking care of one's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. This vague term has many applications as it can be as simple as brushing your teeth and exercising or as complex as seeking cognitive behavioral therapy. In short, self-care is the act of being mindful of your own needs and fulfilling them.
"In the same way you wouldn't ignore the oil light on your car, you shouldn't ignore the cues your body is sending you."
Self-care is vital to your overall health. It acts to relieve stress and ensure your mental, emotional, and physical well-being are intact. Poor self-care can lead to poor health and a depleted quality of life. As Rebecca Dolgin puts it, "Self-care, and its close cousin, self-help, are about being in tune with what your body and mind require to function optimally. In the same way you wouldn't ignore the oil light on your car, you shouldn't ignore the cues your body is sending you." The foundation of self-care lies in understanding your body's needs. This means being self-aware of your physical, emotional, and mental needs.
Planning and starting early enough is vital to winter season care. It's essential to start your routine in September when days get shorter and continue through April. Doing so will help curve the effects of winter on your body and make it easier to implement. Starting too late can make this process much more challenging as you'll feel less energy and motivation.
Step 1: Identify Your Challenges and How You'll Solve Them
Before you create your survival plan, it's crucial to identify the key challenges and struggles you typically face during the colder months. Doing so will give you the fundamental problems to focus on alleviating.
No one's struggles are the same. Some might struggle with their energy levels and sleep, while others may have a more intense experience and face mental health struggles. Start by asking yourself, "what do I struggle with during winter?" Here is a list of common challenges:
- Low energy levels
- Poor sleep quality (not enough or the inability to go through the stages of sleep)
- A lack of motivation
- Poor diet (binge eating, not eating healthy foods, or not replenishing lost nourishment from being inside)
- Depleted mental health (you might have the intense version of the winter blues known as seasonal affective disorder)
Once you've identified your challenges, it's time to select a few methods of alleviating your winter pain. As mentioned earlier, there is no "one size fits all" solution. Below, we've highlighted a list of winter self-care ideas proven to beat the winter blues.
Tips for Beating the Winter blues
- Get eight hours of sleep per night and keep a consistent sleep schedule (try these sleep tips)
- Brighten up your environment with better lighting
- Add bright light therapy to your morning
- Add indoor plants to your environment
- Eat foods that'll give you a boost of energy (fatty fish, dark chocolate, bananas, oats, berries, nuts and seeds, etc.)
- Exercise for 30 minutes three days per week
- Get involved in your community
- Spend time outside
- Watch funny shows and movies
When you're working out these ideas to get through the winter blues, it's vital to ask yourself these key questions:
- Do I see myself using this approach? If you don't have an interest in something, chances are you won't do it. Getting some joy from an activity is vital to ensure it's implemented.
- Can I afford it? Implementing a tip is pointless if it causes financial stress. This is a crucial thing to consider.
- Am I overloading myself? Choosing everything on this list can be tempting, but it can lead to burnout. Start small and see how you handle it.
- Do I have time? Time management is a crucial player when adding any new routine. Making time for self-care is essential, and so is making a routine that fits your schedule.
- What's worked in the past? Going off experience is an excellent way of identifying what works.
Being strategic in your planning is vital when overcoming the winter blues. It's important to consider whether you have seasonal affective disorder or the winter blues. While seasonal affective disorder self-care is similar to self-care for the winter blues, SAD is more intense and more likely to require cognitive behavioral therapy.
Step 2: Create Your Daily Self-Care Checklist
Now that you know what you struggle with and have an idea of what will help, it's time to put those tips into action. Your daily self-care checklist will include the key tactics you identified in step one to fight your winter blues. It will be your "go-to" and give you structure and ensure you're taking the necessary steps to overcome your challenges. Not only that, but it will make things a lot easier on those days when your winter woes are at their peak.
Jessa Pangilinan of Happier Human puts it perfectly: "A self-care checklist serves as a guide to help you maintain your designated habits. It is meant to help you monitor yourself and see whether or not you are complying. It is also intended to help you track your progress and revise your plan accordingly if needed."
"A self-care checklist serves as a guide to help you maintain your designated habits. It is meant to help you monitor yourself."
It's important to note that your initial checklist might change as you go through it. You might notice some of the things on your list aren't adding value, or you don't have any interest. Be aware of any items on your list that don't fit well and replace them.
Here are a few "dos" and "don'ts" when making your checklist:
- DO include your sleep schedule. It's a universal rule that you should get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Ensuring healthy sleep habits is a core area of self-care.
- DON'T add too many items to your list. It's best to start small and add as you go. Adding too many things can leave you overwhelmed.
- DO keep your checklist where you're most likely to use it. If you are a tech-head, many apps like Google Tasks and Evernote make to-do lists. If you're more traditional, keep a journal with your checklist next to your bed or on your desk. Regardless of where it is, your checklist should be easily accessible.
- DON'T add sabotaging activities such as alcohol, social media, or retail therapy to your self-care list. These items can do more harm than good.
- DO consider your work hours. If you're a morning person, it might be easier to tick off items in the morning and vice versa.
- DON'T keep doing items that don't help. Your self-care routine will change. Specific tactics might work for a while and stop working with time. Don't be afraid to throw items out.
Self-care can vary depending on the person. Your winter routine might focus more on fitness while another person reads and writes. Everyone's needs, schedule, and lifestyle will vary. So will their self-care routine.
Step 3: Create Your Calendar of Winter Activities
As days grow colder and become shorter, it can be almost instinctual to hibernate. One method of combatting these feelings is a tactic called behavioral activation. This is the method of scheduling positive activities that will boost your mood.
Therapists frequently recommend this tactic to depressed patients as it helps break them out of their cycle and boosts their mood. The idea is that the simple act of scheduling an activity may give them something to look forward to. Not only that, but when they engage in the activity, it can give them an even more significant boost in mood compared to unplanned activities.
Take this method a step further and plan out your entire winter, or at least a significant portion of it. Creating a calendar of winter activities can give you structure and make things easier to handle. Here are a few ideas to help:
- Plan a vacation (it can even be a local vacation)
- Go to the spa
- See a movie with friends or family
- Volunteer in your local community
- Check things off your bucket list
- Join a club that meets frequently
- Plan out a more extensive project such as a home modification
If your motivation depletes during winter, make sure you add one-time or monthly tasks. This might be housework (such as cleaning), doctor appointments, and future events/obligations. Add these to your calendar to keep yourself organized and motivated to stay on top of your to-do list.
"If You Fail to Plan, You Are Planning to Fail" — Benjamin Franklin.
While not the most exciting activity, planning can make a massive difference in your quality of life during winter. Your self-care is vital to your mental, emotional, and physical health. And disregarding it, especially during winter, can deplete all three of those core areas.
About the Author
Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.
You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.