Building Healthy Habits for Mental Health this Winter
A little perspective into 2022 by Meghan Seipp:
I’ve always felt a natural pull within myself to “hibernate” during the winter months – a feeling that for many years I’ve been really good at ignoring. I have 3 kids, a job, a husband, laundry piles a mile high and what sometimes feels like endless responsibilities. How do I (or any of us for that matter) have time for introspection? It's always seemed like one more thing to accomplish on the never-ending to-do list.
It wasn’t until out of necessity at the end of 2021, I felt like it was time to change things up – a feeling I can only describe as self-preservation for my mental health. I won’t go into the details of the cause that prompted the change because I still haven’t untangled my emotions surrounding the situation, however the time for self-reflection and healing that I made space for in my life was well past due. At first going inward was hard and I felt guilty about not being quite so tuned into things, but then it felt darn good – so much so that I’m looking forward to continuing on a gentler path with my intentions for the New Year. If you’ve had any of the same feelings recently or if there’s been a traumatic occurrence that’s been weighing on you, consider setting goals in the New Year that better support your mental health. It does not mean that you will escape to-do lists (they don’t go away) or limit productivity (tasks will actually feel more rewarding and achievable). If anything, these next few months should be more life-giving and supportive – more of the way nature intended for us to lead our lives during this season. I hope if you have been feeling unsettled recently or if you need a gentle nudge into 2022, this post will speak to you.
I was told recently by someone I deeply admire and respect that humans are an integral part of nature. And despite our best efforts to establish a blueprint for the next year of our life come January 1st, it is actually quite the opposite of what we’re naturally intended to do. Animals hibernate in the winter. Plants hibernate in the winter. The sun <seemingly> hibernates in the winter. So why should humans be any different? Again, we’re part of nature, after all. Our culture doesn’t always support that longing, especially when the world seems to throw around “New Year, New You” phrases like the confetti released during the ball drop. Peer pressure from society encourages us to set unrealistic resolutions or come up with inspiring words we feel committed to uphold throughout the year. We feel rushed to accomplish tasks from the get-go and make promises to ourselves to do ALL.THE.THINGS. because that’s what productive members of society ‘should’ do. Meanwhile, after the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the only thing some of us really want to do is take a 2-month long nap. Also, if and when those aspirations fail, the fallout tends to be detrimental to our mental health.
That being said, it’s obviously a good idea to set goals for ourselves. However, before setting those intentions, perhaps we should take into consideration that winter is typically a time to slow down and conserve energy; and it’s not always the best time for taking on large-scale challenges and committing to overambitious goals. This may be more important now than it’s ever been considering many of us are feeling especially weary and run down due to the pandemic rollercoaster ride we’ve been on over the past two years. Rather than setting resolutions that will most likely not succeed within the first month or two of 2022, consider setting goals or intentions that are a little gentler and a bit more flexible, especially during the initial winter months. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that 2022 will most likely be a marathon, not a sprint. So, let’s start out of the gate slowly with intention and pace ourselves for the year ahead.
Something else that may not be taken into consideration when goal setting is that it’s also perfectly acceptable to modify our goals throughout the year to fit our current situations. How we’re feeling right now in the middle of winter grappling with another round of pandemic stressors will most likely not be the way we’re feeling in July when the sun is out, the weather is warm and <fingers crossed> covid-life has settled down a bit. While a new year is a great time to reset and reflect, it doesn’t mean that we will not evolve during the course of 2022; and our goals and intentions should hold space to reflect those developments. That means we can allow for those changes to occur, embrace them and modify our goals as needed. Keep in mind that the start of a new year is not our only chance to change – every morning we are given the gift of a new day and a new chance. Let’s not be afraid to make adjustments that suit our needs based on the time of year, the situations that arise in our lives or any other reasons we see fit! Below is a list of ideas to set our goals/intentions around that are intended to support mental health, specifically during the winter months. However, they can all be modified as we grow and change – both in situation and in season.
Get more rest – The old adage of ‘early to bed, early to rise’ comes to mind here and it rings true! Put your phone on silent an hour before you plan on going to bed and get into a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. It can be simple - maybe wash your face, take a warm bath or read a book beforehand to unwind from your day.
Eat well balanced meals – Our bodies naturally crave certain foods in the winter and a lot of times we mistake those cravings by being too indulgent in comfort foods like pizza, cheesy pastas and hot chocolate. Not that those things aren’t acceptable in moderation, but choosing food with more nutrients such as vitamins (especially vitamin D), healthy fats and magnesium will help you achieve a more well-balanced diet. An alternative suggestion is to eat foods like soups, roasted veggies, citrus fruits and bone broth. Suggested goal for the winter months: I will cook a new soup recipe twice a month for my family from January to March. You might change this goal slightly once spring rolls around to focus on different types of foods that are more readily available during that season – a suitable goal adjustment!
Get outside most days – This can be harder in the winter months but it’s so important! Bundle up and go for a hike or go sledding with your kid(s). Stagnant energy can build up in the winter and along with that comes a deficiency in vitamin D, which can lead to seasonal depression. Getting outdoors is proven to be a natural mood booster no matter what the weather.
Move your body – This does not have to be vigorous exercise. It could be a walk, a gentle yoga practice or a few stretches. It could also be a long run, if that’s what fills you up. The only criteria are that it is warming, stimulating and gets the endorphins up. Depending on your starting point, you can set a goal for movement 2-3 times/week or even every day.
Consider a new practice for stress relief – Maybe it’s a home remedy like ayurveda, meditation or simply a bath with essential oils once a week. Or maybe it’s a service you seek out – psychotherapy, acupuncture or another type of body work (craniosacral therapy, reiki, massage, chiropractic care, etc). Stress will inevitably creep into your life at some point in 2022 (if it hasn’t already) so making a plan for how to combat it when it arises and knowing that you have the right tools at your disposal when you need them can help tremendously.
Let go of anything not serving you – This can be literally or figurately, or both, depending on how much junk you want to get rid of! Make a goal to clean out your closet or your kid’s toy room and donate your findings. Consider taking a closer look at how much you rely on substances like alcohol, sugar and caffeine to “fuel” your body. Too much of them can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. Lastly, be aware of what kind of thoughts and emotions you’re holding on to – frustration, resentment, anger, etc. Try to de-clutter your headspace and make room for new positive thoughts and experiences.
Prioritize person-to-person interactions over social media – This can be more challenging in the current climate, however it’s more important now than it has ever been. The pandemic has heightened our social media use and it can be used as a substitute for engaging in real life experiences. Make time for coffee with a friend or call someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile to catch up. Setting boundaries around your social media use is also a good idea because too much scrolling can be anxiety provoking.
Reflect and journal – I admit I’m not a big ‘write your thoughts down kinda gal’, but I started doing this for myself when I felt called to – whether the thoughts were good or not-so-good – and it helped. Reflecting on the past year is a good place to start if you're unsure. There were many highs and lows that came with 2021 and we deserve to give ourselves some well-earned recognition for getting through it all. If that doesn’t work for you, consider picking a one-word positive intention to start your day with. It could be the same word for a whole month - make sure you write it down so you don't forget it. Set an alarm once or twice a day (or maybe just once a week if that’s better for you) to dwell on your positive intention. Write down any thoughts that arise.
Dream and plan – This one is my favorite! Make 2 lists of places you want to go. For the first list, don’t worry about how far out of reach it may seem and don’t be afraid to DREAM BIG. Consider that you probably will not make it there in 2022 and know that it is ok. The purpose of dreaming isn’t the same as actually being able to accomplish it all. For the second list, make a more attainable travel or activity list with budget in mind. Maybe plan a trip for a short winter get-away to cozy up together with family or plan ahead to a spring break trip when you’re ready for a new awakening. Studies have shown that the simple of act planning a vacation or an activity can be a huge mood booster.
Mother Nature gives us the winter season as a time to rest, restore and reflect on all we’ve been through during the previous year. Perhaps we should take her up on the offer being presented and ease ourselves gently into the year ahead with intentions and goals that fully support us in mind, body & spirit. Don’t be afraid to start 2022 off by embracing the stillness of winter, promoting mental health over anything else and turning the focus toward our inner selves rather than the outside world. When we neglect the chance to analyze and self-reflect, our productivity in all aspects of life ultimately suffers. We are in the perfect season for the opportunity to do the introspective work so that when spring arrives, we’ll be ready to wake up with renewed energy and a fresh perspective. The possibilities for a new beginning are endless. But for now, consider this winter as a gift intended for ALL of us to enjoy. <3