I find winter to be a particularly difficult and daunting time of year. The combination of shorter days and major drops in temperature leaves me feeling pretty overwhelmed and defeated most of the time. I mean, it just feels more difficult to do anything when the weather outside is brutal — even heading to the store, not to mention getting on the subway for work, or trying to go for a jog. I can't help but wonder, does cold weather cause stress? As it turns out, it's possible that it does.
First of all, it's no secret that the winter weather can cause seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, and increased stress levels can, indeed, be a symptom of that. According to Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder is defined as a mood disorder that returns seasonally. It is believed a lot of these symptoms come about because of decreased exposure to sunlight and the impact that has on the body's circadian rhythm and ability to produce serotonin and melatonin. This can affect not only your mood, but also your motivation and energy levels. Moreover, it can lead to feelings of hopelessness, and it can even affect both your sleep patterns and your appetite.
But when it's freezing outside, it's kind of a challenge to find reasons to go outside and soak in what little sun there is. So, if you, too, are someone who's really feeling the toll the cold weather can take, be sure to amp up your self-care game and incorporate a few of these stress-relieving tips to ease that icy edge.
Not only can the cold weather be mentally and emotionally taxing, it's also really hard on the body. People get sick more frequently during the winter months, which means the impulse to slow down and hibernate a little can actually be a really good one. Intentional time for relaxation and de-stressing is really important to ease the effects that winter stress may be causing on your emotional well-being and your immune system.
At the end of each day, allot yourself some time to really unwind with things that make you feel your best. Take a bath with epsom salts, perhaps, or give yourself some time to read for a half hour after you put on your pajamas.
When I'm stressed out and feeling as though I'm not on top of things, I often become really internally hard on myself. Not surprisingly, this only compounds feelings of stress, and as you might imagine, that's really not good for your overall well-being or self-esteem. So when you're feeling overwhelmed by all the things you might not be doing as a result of the winter weather, practice being kind to yourself.
When the negative thoughts or the ever growing to-do list starts moving like a hamster wheel in your brain, just take a deep breath and do what you can in the moment to distract yourself and change your thinking patterns. Tape up kind messages on your bathroom mirror. Practice a five-minute meditation. Keep a small book filled with messages that comfort and inspire you.
OK, so maybe you're normally able to get to that exercise class before work, make yourself a great dinner, work on a creative project, and do something with friends, all in one day. When the winter stress is upon you, though, having a long list of daily to-do's might simply not be as doable. That's totally cool! Just revise your goals a little to account for things moving a little more slowly, and with the knowledge that your energy levels may be a bit lower, too. Maybe make the goal of exercising three times a week instead of your normal four, or task yourself with tackling only one small chore a day instead of cleaning the entire apartment in one afternoon.
And if you're not one for a to-do list at all, maybe now is the time to start! Again, set small goals for yourself with the intention of getting out of the house, or of doing something that provides you with a feeling of accomplishment.
Having a good social support network — aka spending time with loved ones and friends, or people who just simply get you — is really important. Studies show it has a huge impact on your overall well-being, but particularly any symptoms you have as a result of stress, anxiety, or other emotional or mental health issues.
While some days it feels impossible to venture out on a dark night to show up at your friend's concert, try to do it anyway. Or if it's just too much, consider having a buddy over for tea, bake some cookies together, and simply enjoy one another's company.
Exercise, in whatever form it takes, will forever be an effective and healthy approach to handling stress. While it can definitely be more difficult to motivate yourself to move in the winter, doing so is going to help you keep those stress levels under control, as exercise boosts your mood and energy levels, even if you go into the workout feeling kind of meh about it at first.
Whether it's an aerobics video in your living room, or a seriously brisk walk around the park, make time for movement every day, no matter how big or small.
Now, I don't know if there's necessarily any science behind this, but I've personally been making sort of fun, rather witchy little rituals for myself, mostly as a way to give myself time each day for breathing, meditating, and setting intentions. But I make it fun! I burn sage, I light a candle, put on some funky meditation music, and I do some journaling or even a bit of sketching. I behoove you to try this, my friends, in whatever creative form it might take for yourself! It just feels good to spend time intended to get in touch with you and only you.
Happy winter! I promise you, you will make it through these next few months.