With winter comes many wonderful things: white dusted landscapes, hearty home cooked meals, and time to tackle projects that are pushed to the side during the busy summer season. While the winter can be beautiful in so many ways, it can also be a challenging time for our emotional health. This is why taking time for self-care is so important. As the daylight hours shift, remember that health is not simply about exercising and eating well. It also includes making time for mental wellness.
It has been two weeks since we turned our clocks back, and if you’re anything like me, you’re beginning to feel the effects of the shorter days and slower life. This winter, make a point to focus on maintaining your mental health as much as your physical. Some days it may take little effort to maintain mental strength, while others we must pull from our toolbox to find ways to foster our emotional health.
Despite what we see on social media, self-care is not always bubble baths and face masks. As you will see in this post, it can be a slice of apple pie, a moonlight stroll, or an afternoon spin class. It’s not always easy to find the motivation or strength to get up and do these things. There are times when self-care takes effort and a little self-parenting to initiate. So how do we know what’s best for our individual wellness? As long as your activity of choice improves your mood, brings you enjoyment, and leaves you energized, it’s the right choice for you.
Tips for building your toolbox for mental wellness
1. Move: We’ve all heard of a runner’s high, and it’s not a myth. High intensity workouts release endorphins which in turn signal the body to release hormones that help boost our mood. While this instant release of endorphins and quick boost in mood is helpful, there are also immense benefits to sustained low intensity exercise as well. Low intensity exercise supports the growth of nerve cells allowing better connection and communication between cells improving mood for a longer duration.
I encourage you to think about exercise as enjoyable movement rather than a workout that is mental struggle. That kind of fitness will in no way boost your mood and or aid in motivating you to return. Instead, find a form of movement that you look forward to. Experiment! There are so many activities out there to try, and it’s important to find some sort of movement that will keep you coming back.
2. Eat Good Food: It is natural for your appetite to increase and to crave warm dense foods as the days get colder. Calories are energy, and we need more energy to keep warm during these colder months. While it’s normal to crave these foods, it can also be common to feel guilt and shame for enjoying these foods. Know that your appetite is a strong indicator of what your body needs so don’t fight it. An increase in appetite is a normal response to colder temperatures and the need for nutrients.
Embracing our hunger and enjoying these meals without guilt can boost our spirits, if we allow it. Restricting the foods we gravitate toward for the hope that is will improve our health isn’t self-care. Limiting meals to cold salads when craving a warm bowl of chili and cornbread isn’t going to help anyone feel satisfied or happy. Instead, listen to your cravings and allow yourself to fuel your body with the food it is telling you it needs. Embracing this idea will allow you to quiet the signals of hunger and cravings that run through your brain. I know it can be scary to eat pasta alfredo, or grilled cheese with creamy tomato soup, but if your body is asking for these foods it’s important for both your physical and emotional health to enjoy them.
3. Get outside: The cold short days are pretty successful in pushing us indoors, but there is immense benefit to lingering outdoors a little bit longer. Making the time to be outside, whether it is under the sun or the moon, can improve both mental and physical health tremendously. Simply spending a minimum of 20 minutes outdoors daily can help brighten your day and increase your mood. In addition to the mood boosting benefits, a little exposure to nature has been shown to increase productivity and creativity, reduce pain, and decrease blood pressure. Who knew a little stroll outdoors could do so much good!
Minimal daylight may make it a challenge to carve out time to get outside and get the self-care we need, but don’t let that stop you. Consider a 10 minutes walk during your lunch break, a long walk on the weekend, or choosing a parking spot that is farther from your destination to get that bonus time outside. It’s not always easy to want to peel yourself from a warm house to step out into the cold, but the effort will be well worth it.