My typical approach to winter is to power through – just keep going and it will soon be over! But this year is stretching my tolerance for winter about as far as it can go, and powering through just isn’t cutting it. We’ve had endless rain and weeks of gray skies – and now we’re in the middle of an Arctic blast.
On the rare occasion when the sun peeks out, I feel like dancing, cheering, and happy crying all at once. And when it disappears I fell myself sinking toward a funk.
This year, sucking it up and pretending that winter is almost over isn’t going to cut it. I need some winter self-care, and you probably need some too.
So if the cold and gloom are getting you down, here are four self-care tips that can help you feel more positive and energetic – while you wait for spring to finally show her sunny, beautiful face:
4 Winter Self-care Tips for Women
1. Get the right amount of sleep.
In the winter you need to balance getting enough sleep (which is hard for many women to do) with avoiding “hibernation.” Most people need 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep every night, but the shorter days of winter can make our bodies crave even more sleep, while also making it harder to sleep well. My friend, Elizabeth, for example, always has trouble sleeping between 9:00 pm and 3:00 am in January and February.
So strive for a balance. Make an effort to get at least 7.5 hours each night, and up to 8.5 if your body seems to be craving more sleep, but don’t stay in bed for hours just because it’s cold, gray, or snowy outside.
And if you’re having trouble getting 7.5 hours, take steps to improve your sleep health – turn off your devices at least an hour before bedtime, don’t work on stressful projects in the evening, go to bed about the same time every night, take some time to unwind at the end of the day, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
2. Eat whole foods and cut down on carbs.
Eating a healthy diet feels challenging at the best of times, but in the dead of winter it seems almost impossible. Once the holiday sugar fest is over, most of us gravitate toward rich and starchy comfort foods.
And why not? A nice cheesy potato soup or a warm piece of pie seems so much more appealing than a crisp salad when the temperature drops and the rain or snow won’t stop.
It turns out there’s a reason why we crave those comfort foods (besides the fact that they’re delicious!). One of the reasons you may feel bad in the winter is that your body may be producing less serotonin, a chemical that influences mood and appetite.
In response, you may crave sugar and simple carbohydrates, which can boost serotonin in the short term. But they also send your blood sugar up quickly, which can result in a blood sugar – insulin cycle that makes you crave more simple carbs and feel even worse.
In fact, because of lower serotonin, eating poorly in the winter can actually make you feel worse than eating poorly in the summer.
So this winter, instead of reaching for cookies and ice cream, put yourself on a healthy, whole foods diet. Start with simple changes to your typical diet and don’t deprive yourself of all the foods you love, but gradually work your way toward a healthier diet.
Eat some protein at every meal, and fill your plate with vegetables and fruit. Nutrition writer Julia Ross recommends eating enough fruits and vegetables each day to fill a one-quart container. She also recommends eliminating all white starchy foods for two weeks to see how you feel.
When you feel the need for sweets or starches, eat foods that contain complex carbohydrates, like winter squash, sweet potatoes, popcorn, and bananas. And don’t forget healthy fats, like nuts, avocados, and olive oil. They help you feel full and satisfied and help you stay out of the sugar-carbs-insulin cycle.
3. Get into the light.
Lower levels of light in the winter can make you feel sluggish or down in the dumps (they also can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression). One of the best antidotes to those feelings is to get more light, especially natural light. (If you’re suffering from SAD or another form of depression, talk to your doctor about using a light therapy box.)
So rather than holing up in a dim house or dark office all day, do as many things as you can to get into the light or bring the light to you. Turn on the lights, open shades or curtains, sit near a window, and spend time in rooms that offer more natural light.
Even better, get outside as much as possible. Even if the sun isn’t shining, natural light can help lift your mood. So bundle up and soak up some natural light as often as possible. If you can do it in the morning, within two hours of waking up, even better. But if not, just get outside whenever you can – every day if possible.
4. Get up and move.
At any time of year, but especially in the winter, getting up and moving is probably the very best thing you can do for your body, mind, and spirit. Exercise reduces anxiety and depression and improves your mood. It gives you more energy, helps you sleep better, and reduces stress.
And if you experience mild seasonal “blues,” walking in natural light for 30 minutes a day may be the key to improving your mood. (But if you experience more severe seasonal symptoms or depression, consult a physician, preferably one who’s experienced in treating SAD).
So schedule some time to get up and move your body every day. Go outside and walk or enjoy winter sports, even something as simple as sledding with your kids. Find free or low-cost exercise resources in your community – in many communities, you can walk for free in malls or rec centers. In my community, a large church allows everyone to use the indoor walking track in its family life center. Or exercise at home, using any equipment you have or free videos you access online.
Spring is coming, but we’re going to have to put up with winter for a little while longer. So don’t just try to get through it. Instead, try these four self-care tips and take care of your body, mind, and spirit in ways that help you thrive, not just survive, as you wait for spring to arrive.