Winter: A Time for Renewal
There is a quiet, stillness and peace that comes with the winter months. It seems that once the holidays are over that everything slows down. The natural world around you is at rest, quietly preparing for the new spring, and the hustle of the holiday season is replaced by people retreating quietly to their homes for a period of recovery. When you look at nature, you see that many animals will either hibernate, migrate or change their patterns of behavior to focus their energy solely on finding food for survival. There is no question that winter is a time of rest and recovery before the onset of spring. Depending on your personality type, the slowing down of the world around might seem like pure bliss, or it might feel uncomfortable and unnatural. The slower rhythm of winter can be so unbalancing that it often leads to seasonal depression that can range from mild to severe. Regardless if you love the short days and long nights of winter, or if you spend the entire season just waiting for it to be done, it is important to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. Some of the best ways to do this involve honoring the spirit of the season and using it to make positive and refreshing changes in your life. Here are a few ways that you can nurture your spirit and care for your body during the quiet, transformative months of winter.
Renewing Your Body and Staying Physically Healthy
During the quiet, slow months of winter, it can be easy to let your regular exercise routine fall to the side. The shorter daylight hours make it seem like there is just not enough time, and once night falls your body naturally starts to slow down, making you feel less like hitting the gym and more like hitting the sheets. However, keeping up with a regular fitness routine is one of the best ways to raise your energy level and lift your spirits. Exercising on a regular basis can help you:
- Loose those few holiday pounds that snuck on in spite of your best efforts
- Help you sleep better, which in turn will help fight off winter grumpiness and brain fog
- Give you natural energy to get you through the day
- Increase circulation which will give your complexion a natural, healthy glow
- Help you reach your health and fitness goals
- Keep you flexible, which is especially important in the winter months when you might be more prone to falls and winter sports-related accidents
- Release endorphins; those beautiful feel good chemicals that brighten your mood and give you a more optimistic perspective
A good way to make regular exercise a more inviting prospect is by changing up your routine a little during the winter months. Take a step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. Is there a class you have wanted to take, but have shied away from? Are you a high intensity type of person but have always been curious about yoga? Does the thought of a brisk wintery jog intrigue you but you tend to stay indoors? Push aside what is holding you back from trying something new and commit to at least two weeks of a new form of physical exercise that interests and excites you in some way.
Harsh weather and dry indoor heat are a combination that can rob your body of vital hydration. Combine this with the fact that many people tend to cut back on water consumption during the winter months and you end up with a recipe for dehydration. Given that the average human body is made up of sixty to seventy percent water, being dehydrated can affect you on many levels. Signs of mild dehydration include:
- Lack of energy
- Dry skin and lips
- Inability to focus
Water is also essential for flushing out toxins and aids in the absorption of vital nutrients. You can help to renew your body and prepare for the year ahead by making sure that you keep yourself adequately hydrated during the winter months. Here are a few tips for making sure you get enough water on a daily basis.
- Limit caffeine. The caffeine found in coffee, tea, soda and even hot chocolate has a diuretic dehydrating effect on the body and can counteract all of your water drinking efforts. Limit caffeinated beverages to just one or two a day, and for each ounce of caffeinated liquid that you drink, make sure to take an equal amount of water.
- Drink half of your body weight in ounces. You have probably heard of the eight to ten 8 ounce glasses a day and that is a good place to start, but for some people it might not be enough. Take your body weight in pounds, divide it by half and drink that many ounces of water per day. For example, if you weight 120 lbs then your bare minimum should be sixty ounces of water, however if you weigh 180 lbs, then you need to be drinking at least ninety ounces per day.
- If you dislike plain water, try flavoring it with fresh fruit slices, or herbs.
- Carry around a bottle of water with you wherever you go.
- Don’t neglect other sources of water. Fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in water content are great sources for adding to your daily intake.
If wintertime skin has you down, use this opportunity to add healing and restorative elements to your skin care routine. If you take proper care of your skin during the winter, you can emerge from the winter months with a new, fresh complexion. Use this opportunity to protect your skin against harsh winter elements and help undo a year’s worth of damage:
- No matter what your skin type, when the thermostat starts to drop, your skin needs extra moisture. The temperature and air differences can be so harsh that even going from indoors to outdoors, and then into your car can take its toll. Choose a moisturizer that is ideally suited to your skin type.
- Renew while restoring. Choose skin care products that contain ingredients that will help you shed dead skin cells, while encouraging cell renewal and building up your skin’s underlying support network. Consider ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids and green tea extract.
- When you were a child, your skin naturally renewed itself once every fourteen days. As an adult, the rate begins to slow down to the point that it takes twice as long by the time that you reach your thirties. You can help speed the process along by exfoliating once a week to remove dead skin cells and impurities. Use an emollient body scrub in the shower and a gentle exfoliating cleanser like our Ancient Orient Dermafoliant for your face.
Most vitamins cannot be produced by the body and therefore we must get them through our diet. Vitamin D is unique in that it is not only difficult to find in food sources, but your body can produce it…with the help of sunshine. Because vitamin D is not readily available in a variety of foods, many people become vitamin D deficient during the winter months when exposure to natural sunlight is limited. A lack of vitamin D is one of the primary factors believed to be behind the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder, both of which can severely interfere with your outlook and quality of life during the winter months. By keeping up your levels of vitamin D, you can help to bury those feelings of sadness and negativity and instead focus on the process of renewal that comes before the spring. Try these strategies for making sure you get enough vitamin D.
- Take a supplement. Vitamin D supplementation isn’t for everyone, so I suggest running it by your doctor and possibly getting a test to see if you are deficient. The average adult needs between 600-800 IU of vitamin D per day, although some research is looking at the possibility of that level being much higher. Most experts agree that vitamin D3, which is the type that your body makes from natural sunlight, is the best supplemental form to take.
- Get as much exposure to natural sunlight as possible. During the winter this can be a challenge, so try taking walks outdoors between noon and 3 pm. Sit by the window whenever possible and keep your blinds or window coverings open during the day.
- Eat foods that contain natural vitamin D such as fatty fish including mackerel, tuna, sardines and herring. You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods such as whole milk and many breakfast cereals and grains.
- Think about purchasing a “sun lamp”. This is a lamp with a special type of light bulb that puts off the same spectrum of UV rays that your body uses from the sun to produce vitamin D on its own. Just a few minutes a day near this type of light is often enough to help bring vitamin D levels back within the normal range. Resist the urge to visit the tanning bed, however. These can harm your skin and increase your chances for skin cancer.
Renewing Your Spirit and Staying Mentally Healthy
Say Goodbye and Then Hello
There is quite a bit of truth to the saying that you have to clear out the old to make room for the new. Now is the perfect time to take account of what you have in your life, what no longer serves a purpose and what you would like to bring into your life. Making these changes can be difficult. One way to help inspire you to make postive change is by performing some type of ritual or transformative act where you say goodbye to that which no longer serves you and in some way invite more positive influences into your life. This might be as simple as making lists as daily reminders, or it might be something more difficult such as joining a support group or directly confronting certain people in your life.
Take It Easy
One of the best ways to renew your spirit during winter is by giving yourself permission to just relax and be at peace with the slower pace of life. Use the winter months to reflect and focus your energy inward. Some simple and restorative winter activities might include:
- Switch your fitness routine to one that slowly warms and stretches the body rather than aerobic activity. Try yoga, Pilates or a regular stretching routine.
- Get a massage or other spa like treat that helps you relax.
- Indulge your creative spirit. Are you a painter, writer, musician or do you wish that you were? Each of us has a creative spirit inside, even if you think that you don’t have much talent. Getting in touch with this creative side helps to open up new pathways of thought and behavior in your brain. Try your hand at a creative activity, but don’t place any expectations upon yourself. If you want to sing, then sing loud and don’t worry if you are in tune. If you want to write poetry, just get it down on paper and don’t worry about the perfection of the structure.
- Give yourself permission to curl up on the sofa with that pile of books you have been meaning to read.
Clear Out Clutter
Spring cleaning is a yearly ritual that many of us perform. The point is to clear out all of the clutter, dust and unneeded things that have accumulated during the year. While it is a lot of work, the end result is a clean slate that feels wonderful. There is no reason that you have to wait until the first thaw to get started. In fact, clearing the clutter can help to eliminate some of the negative feelings that you might be feeling during this time of year. Get your home, office or even your car ready for the coming spring by clearing out what you no longer need or want. The strategy is pretty simple:
- Make three piles labeled “Keep” “Donate/Give Away” and “Trash.”
- Does it give you joy or do you use it for its intended purpose on a regular basis? Keep it.
- Is it something that still serves a function, is in good condition, but you either don’t like it or just never use it? Donate it or give it away.
- Is it old, worn and serves no purpose to you or anyone else? Trash it.
The key to getting through the winter months is to embrace the seasonal and emotional changes rather than fighting against the natural, slower rhythm. Winter brings about both the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is a time to reflect and be thankful for the good things in life, while at the same time preparing ourselves to shed the old so that we may welcome in the season of spring and the renewal that it brings with it. The key to making it through winter is by honoring the season and your spirit by slowing down, reflecting and preparing your life for the fresh blooms of spring.