Today’s guest post comes from Dr Sarah Blackshaw; a clinical psychologist who works with physical health difficulties. In this post, she looks at the topic of winter self-care.
So self-care, right?
We’ve all heard of it, we’ve been told it’s a good thing, and we’ve even made some tentative steps towards it – in the summer. The warm nights and bright days made it seem so much easier to get up and go. But now the nights are drawing in and it’s colder than the icicles hanging outside your bedroom window, how are you supposed to continue with looking after yourself?
Never fear, I’ve got some tips!
Keep it simple – so obvious, and yet always overlooked. Dark, cold months are unlikely to be the best environment for you to start a punishing new outdoor exercise routine, or take up something that requires you to be a regular attendee. Some people thrive in the winter months, but if you’re reading this article I’m guessing it’s because you struggle to think about how to care for yourself as the temperature drops. So dial back your routine a notch and focus on the most important things – hydration, nutrition, sleep and exercise. That’s where we’re going to focus our attention for the rest of this article, with a bonus section for “fun” things at the end!
Hydration – your body needs water, even in winter. You might not be sweating as much as you did during summer (or you might be worse – my workplace is hotter than the sun in winter due to the terrible air conditioning!) but staying hydrated is vital all year round. If the idea of drinking cold water in cold weather makes your teeth chatter, a favourite of mine is warm water with a slice of lemon. The jury is also still out on whether a good old cup of tea is hydrating or not, so if tea is your beverage of choice that’s okay too – just be mindful of your caffeine intake. And remember, your body needs hydration on the outside as well – body lotion and face cream is extra important in winter when the wind can strip moisture from your skin.
Nutrition – I don’t know about you, but when the cooler weather hits I turn into a carbohydrate monster! Hot buttered toast, chocolate and pizza can really be my downfall if I let them, as they can make me feel more lethargic and more likely to keep reaching for them to manage my blood sugar spiking and crashing. This can be a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it’s also just more likely as the temperature drops. It’s not like we want to eat cold salads in winter, but things like soups and stews can be a good way of getting in two or three of your five a day without much effort, and can help to stabilise blood sugar and mood. It’s a good idea to spend a bit of time one Sunday batch-cooking and freezing things if you can (maybe during those summer months before your energy starts to dip), so that when the carb cravings strike you only have to reach into the freezer.
Sleep – the big one! As it starts to get darker earlier you can feel more sleepy, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to go to bed earlier, to catch up on sleep you might have missed in summer. You’re likely to wake up even earlier still, throwing your sleep routine completely out of the window. Instead, make sure you stick to a relatively consistent bedtime and get-up time (yes, even on weekends) to maximise your chances of quality sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool but not freezing – this is where snuggly blankets and pillows come in – and get rid of any distractions such as phones and ticking clocks. Your body will thank you for a consistent routine and the opportunity to get a better night’s sleep.
Exercise – we all know it’s important (I’m writing this blog post in my workout gear rather than getting up and going to the gym) but in winter our motivation can suffer. Winter is a great time for wrapping up and exploring your local area, rather than pushing yourself into a painful gym routine that makes you feel worse. If you live somewhere with green space (a park or a forest) that should be your first port of call. If you’re already in a good routine with exercise, don’t stop now! Sleep in your gym gear, get a friend to go with you, whatever works – if it’s something you’re already doing, don’t let the cold weather derail you. Moving your body is a year-round deal, not something that’s confined to the summer months – especially in the UK!
Fun – of course, winter shouldn’t just be about getting yourself back on track with a skincare and eating routine. Make sure you make time for something that you enjoy, whether that’s a Netflix marathon or regular coffee with friends. Ideally, you’d pick something social, as we tend to see less of people when winter hits, and doing activities with others can be really beneficial to your mental health. But if you’d rather spend the weekend with a good book, that’s okay too – and remember, it’s not wasted time if you enjoy it.
So in summary, self-care in winter should combine hydration (inside and out), eating well, sleeping enough, getting some exercise, and doing something you enjoy (preferably something social). I think that’s more than enough to keep you going through to spring! Writing a list or checking things off each day can help to keep you motivated and to track your progress, and telling other people what your plans are for the winter can help them to keep you on the right track. Good luck!
A huge thank you to Dr Sarah Blackshaw for her useful tips on winter self-care. You can find her over at www.clinpsychsarah.com, or on Twitter @academiablues.
Do you have any helpful winter self-care tips? Let me know in the comments below.