PSA: Intentional Preparation Needed
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
Let's be honest, every Midwesterner knows that Winter is simultaneously beautiful, long, necessary, celebratory and a struggle. Winter is the time when nature rests, conserves energy and prepares to begin again come Spring. Winter is the time when our fore mothers and fathers prepared for shorter days and longer nights with food that would last, allowing for more rest and prepping the earth to blossom again. It requires an annual hunkering down into our coping strategies for stress, isolation and longer periods without sunlight or extended time outside. Every year we all adjust in some way. We tap into our resilient spirit, just like nature has taught us. Yet, I cannot help but feel that this Winter season will require a mixture of the tried and true along with the new and slightly different. We need intentional preparation.
Let's ask, "How are we going to do this?"
It may seem like a dramatic question, but this simple group of words express legitimate concern. A concern I continue to hear from therapy clients, friends and family alike. This is a good question to ask. It is not hyperbolic, weak or silly. It shows an awareness of the important preparation needed this year. The Spring, Summer and Fall have required an acclimation to change and new ways of thinking. The Winter will be a continuation of this pattern. And for some, perhaps those who live with depression, seasonal affective disorder and/or other mental health concerns, the pattern may feel even more anxiety producing. No matter your mental health status, personal beliefs, politics or the like, this year IS different. Pandemic life has taught many of us the value of taking stock, understanding what we need and activating into radical self-care to successfully maneuver through our daily life with safety and some semblance of normalcy. So...let's prep and keep it going.
Truth be told, we all have stress management skills but do not necessarily call them that or recognize how they serve us. For example, when I am feeling a bit locked in due to work and school from home, my chest tightens, I get a little irritable and feel like escaping away from others (no matter how much I love my family). My go-to coping skill for these moments is to take a walk around the block. It provides fresh air, gives me a little exercise and a moment alone. It takes all of 10 minutes and helps me let go of bad air, so to speak, and fill it with fresh perspective. I'll admit, I usually relegate these escape walks to times of better weather, but this Winter, they have to continue. Must continue. Parka, snow boots and all.
Think to yourself for a minute....
Do you have a regular habit or behavior that you engage in when feeling anxious, cabin feverish and/or in need of respite? Imagine yourself in that space; how does it make you feel? Lighter, spacious, a little more breath...perhaps grounded into the floor in place of hovering above it? This is the feeling of self-care. Those moments when the stress lifts, perhaps slightly or in large amounts. Either amount is worthwhile; especially during these times of continual stress. The reduction of the effects of emotional, physical and spiritual struggle is worth the effort at any level of relief.
Apart from this, the most important thing to recognize is that self-care is not always what pop culture tells us. Spas, weekly massages, hours to oneself or wellness retreats are not accessible to a large portion of people. Family responsibilities, cost, childcare, multiple jobs can all feel like barriers to self-care activities. I feel it myself at times. You do not have to go all out to take care of yourself. See my example above. A 10-minute walk around the block can be an act of self compassion and care. Let's look at a few more examples:
Waking up 15 minutes earlier to read or gently wake up
If you have a partner, asking them to bring you coffee/tea in bed when you are feeling tired
Arranging for a 20 minute recharge nap during especially busy days. Yes, this can work with kids! It took a couple of days for my 6 year old daughter to understand, but now she knows that Mom needs her "break" during the day in order to feel less irritable. Kids notice a difference when parents or grandparents are more rested. She also gets her own quiet time.
Short walks (of course longer if you have the time)
Sitting outside for a few minutes to get fresh air, repeat as necessary throughout the day
Asking a partner or child to brush your hair. Oh my gosh, it feels so good!
Of course this list is not exhaustive, but ideas to get us thinking about how to create self-care as a simple and daily list of tools we can pull from when needed. Use one...use them all, or use the self-care skills you have identified already. Let's take this unique Winter to practice asking for and receiving what we need. The main idea being that without options, the only option left is to feel overly stressed, burnt out and exhausted. We can aim for the stars while also taking our lesson from nature that conserving energy to put to good use can lead to amazing blooms in the Spring. Let's all aim to bloom well.