A recent article by Huffington Post Canada discussed the challenges maintaining our mental health during the winter months. Indeed, this can present a significant challenge, especially if you already live with a mental illness. As a mental health professional, it made me think about my favourite self-care practices during the winter and how effective they truly are. As such, I wanted to share them in the hopes that you find them helpful as well. So, here’s my top nine self-care tips for getting through the winter.
Taking a nap
Seriously, even just a 15-20 minute “cat nap” can do wonders for my energy and stress levels. I find it helps right before I do something that requires a lot of energy, such as: going out for an event; starting a big task (or during one if I’m fading); or right after I get home for the day but before I jump into the evening routine of cooking, cleaning, lunches, parental duties, etc. The key is listening to my body and allowing myself to provide it with what it needs. Sometimes, I need to enlist help to make this happen, such as asking my partner to watch the puppy or take on a time sensitive task. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it (or to offer help if you are feeling great and you know someone who could use it).
If you find that you’re consistently not getting enough sleep at night, research shows that catching up with naps is essential to your overall health and wellness. So, next time you’re feeling bad about it, just remember, it’s the doctor’s orders!
Don’t worry if, like me, you typically can’t fall asleep when you nap. I can attest that just resting my body and mind in a quiet and dark space is enough to add a little life to my battery, which is usually enough to push me through until bedtime.
Side note: Why do we call it a “cat nap” anyway? My cats have NEVER had a 15 minute nap in their lives. They sleep alllll the livelong day.
I cannot overstate the importance of spending time with the people who fill my metaphorical cup. Recently, I’ve made it a habit to look for opportunities to connect throughout each week, including setting up games or movie nights with my family or going out to events and hang sessions with my friends. I’ve even started making phone calls to my pals when I am doing work around my house, transforming an otherwise boring task into an enjoyable one that seems to just fly by. Now, that’s #lifehackin! No matter the activity, however, I always feel energized and warm after connecting with the people I love.
Spending time alone
In direct contrast to spending time with the people I love, I find it equally (if not more) important to spend some good ole quality time with me, myself, and I. I would argue that the relationship you have with yourself is the single most important one in your entire life. After all, you are the person you will spend most of your time with. As such, make time for the things that make you, you! For me, this means reading while drinking tea, playing the guitar and singing, gardening (yes, even in the winter), knitting, having a spa day (well, a spa moment, anyway – I give myself a facial and paint my nails), taking a bath (complete with a bath bomb), watching TV, and writing.
Eating soul food
I am a bonafide foodie. I love cooking and eating, especially for and with the people I love. My Mom was the same way. She was the master at gathering people around a meal of soul food and, man, was it always delicious! I find the winter is especially when I need to load up on the kinds of foods that warm my body and my soul, such as hearty and rich soups, favourite childhood meals, and anything with potatoes. Oh, give me ALL the potatoes.
I think this one generally goes without saying, but take stock of your day. How many time’s did you experience a real LOL today? Sometimes we get so deeply entrenched into our routines that we forget to pause and smell the proverbial roses (or laugh at them, in this case). I like to make a little time to do things that I know will make me laugh every day. Another episode of Brooklyn 99, anyone? Captain Holt is a surefire way to get in a hearty belly laugh any day of the week.
Making it fun
There are definitely aspects of daily life that are mundane that, nevertheless, need to be done – dishes, laundry, toilet scrubbing? Ugh, on all accounts. Such is life though, right? But, what if we did simple things to make these activities, dare I say, fun? At the very least, slightly more enjoyable. As I mentioned under “Connecting,” I like to make calls to my people during these tasks. But, for some reason, everyone is not on the same schedule as me! Go figure. As such, I don’t always score in finding someone who can chat with me for an hour on the spot. My favourite back up option is putting music on that I can sing and dance to. It works like a charm!
Getting active (just a little, I promise)
I know, I know, we ALL know this one by now, and just thinking about it can send us down the shame spiral. Who has the energy or the time? I’m not here to add to the shameful feelings. I am the absolute last person you are going to see with endless snaps of my fantastically active life that are fit for the cover of Shape magazine. However, I did do a lot of research on exercise and health during my undergraduate degree and, you may be surprised (and even pleased) to learn that you don’t need to be a cross-fit level athlete to reap the health rewards of getting active every day.
Research shows that all you need is 30 minutes of moderate activity per day. This includes any activity where you could carry on a conversation comfortably but you would find it difficult to sing. The best part is, you can even break up the 30 minutes throughout the day – 10/10/10 or 15/15 or whatever works for you! Getting moving has a dramatic effect on mental health and overall energy, which I seem to have a lot more of when I am sure to engage in the other six things in this post.
Personally, I enjoy walks with friends (this also hits the connecting and making it fun points above) and going to the gym and watching something funny while I do some cardio (this also hits the making it fun point). I love it when activities hit multiple points!
Whatever you choose as your self-care practices, the key is to seek balance. I find people tend to overly prioritize activities that only impact the physical aspects of their health (i.e. getting more exercise, drinking more water, making healthier food choices, etc.), but we should be aiming for balance across the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual domains of health, because all of these are equally important to our overall health and wellness. For ideas, click here.
Aiming for quality over quantity
Lastly, I want to stress that it is far more important to aim for quality over quantity when it comes to self-care practices. Your self-care plan can quickly become something that you need a self-care break from if you are too rigid about it or if you have predefined expectations about what self-care “should be” or “should look like.” This is a quick path to failure and is totally counterproductive. Aim to fit small moments of self-care into your day that make sense for you and your life. Forget what everybody else is doing. You don’t need to be carving our hours a week for this. Five minutes goes a long way. So, be kind to yourself and just take baby steps. You’ve got this!
What are some of your favourite self-care practices in the winter? Please share them below.
Tina Cumby, MSW, RSW, is an independent writer and creator of free content for mental health professionals. She has been employed as a social worker for four years and has another year of case management and policy development experience. She works primarily with adults living at the intersections of poverty, disability, and trauma at all levels of practice (micro, mezzo, and macro). Tina is particularly well versed in social work case management and student supervision.