How to embrace winter
Do you struggle with the plummeting temperatures and lack of daylight? Perhaps you associate winter with feeling tired and low, and fighting off bugs. It doesn’t have to be this way. Take heed from our Scandi cousins who, with much tougher winters than us, have got the season well and truly sorted. In fact, the Danish tradition of hygge and its lesser-known Swedish equivalent mys, are both closely focused on embracing winter and looking at the positives you can take from it, including cosying up indoors with friends and family, and maximising your physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s just a question of getting prepared – and changing your mindset.
Eat yourself healthy
Move over, mince pies: there are plenty of nourishing winter vegetables to make the most of. ‘Green vegetables, including kale and Brussels sprouts, and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, turnips and carrots, all contain nutrients including vitamin C and betacarotene, needed to support your immune system,’ says nutrition consultant Ian Marber. ‘Fruit and vegetables are also high in fibre, which feeds good gut bugs important for helping your body fight off illness.’ Zinc (found in chickpeas and cashew nuts) is another immunity must-have – a review of studies found this mineral could cut your risk of viruses and may shorten a cold’s duration if you take it at the first sign of symptoms. Choosing the right foods can also help you to banish the winter blues. Hearty, warming meals help you feel happier and less lonely, according to research. One mys tradition is to invite friends over for an array of different soups – a great way of packing in warming seasonal veg and enjoying company.
In our ancient pagan tradition, winter was seen as a time to rest – just like the earth, before plants start growing again – and to take stock, says Katinka Soetens, an accredited priestess who practises meditation and sexual healing, and runs personal development courses. ‘Welcome the darkness as a time to reflect on your life,’ she says. ‘What no longer serves you? And what would you like to bring in when spring comes?’ Create a space for reflection in your home, even if it’s just a corner with a cushion to sit on and some candles (very hygge). Why not write a list of things you’d like in your life next year, whether that’s a new relationship or more time to exercise? Burn the list in a fire, or over a sink with a candle. This can also be a good time of year to build a routine of meditating, adds Soetens.
Start with ayurveda
Rather than seeing winter as a time of year to get through, ayurvedic practitioner Jo Webber from Pukka Herbs explains you simply need to address the imbalances the season can bring. ‘In ayurveda, the dominant qualities present during winter are earth and water which, depending on your constitution, can mean you become prone to chesty, mucus coughs and colds, or to cracking joints and dry skin.’ Keep your core warm from the moment you rise with heating, nourishing herbs, teas and lifestyle steps, she suggests. ‘When you get up, if you brush your teeth with the addition of stimulating oils such as cinnamon and clove, or wash out your mouth with warm water rather than cold, it will help clear the palate of congestion. Try to massage yourself a few times a week with warming oils such as sesame to offset aching joints, then take a warm shower.’ Swap coffee for an invigorating herb-based drink, Webber says. ‘Make your first drink of the day a sip of something warming and invigorating containing herbs such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon or clove.’
Read more: Discover your ayurvedic type
Darkness triggers the release of sleepy hormone melatonin, which is why most of us feel more tired in the winter. Instead of fighting it, follow your body’s natural instinct to hibernate, suggests sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley. ‘Have earlier nights and use the longer evenings to relax so you’re ready to fall asleep when you go to bed,’ he says. ‘Gentle yoga or soaking in a bath with essential oils works for a lot of people, but it’s important to find what’s most relaxing for you. It might be listening to rock music, knitting or reading a book.’
This may seem counterintuitive when it’s chilly, but it’s still important to get as much daylight as possible. Research from the Psychiatric University Clinic in Basel, Switzerland, found 50 per cent of people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) reported their depression lifted after just one week when they walked outside for an hour each morning. Even if you don’t struggle with winter depression, you’ll still benefit from a burst of morning light, as it helps reset the ‘master clock’ in the brain that governs the sleep-wake cycle, ensuring you fizz with vitality during the day and become sleepy enough at bedtime. Head into your garden for some early morning stretches, walk part of the way to work, or eat breakfast by the window.
Warm up with exercise
Getting active is a major mood-booster, so it’s a must if you’re affected by low mood and energy. Joanna Hall, fitness expert and founder of Walkactive, suggests making the most of those crisp days by wrapping up warm and stepping out for a brisk walk. ‘Hit the ground with the pad of your heel, roll forward through your foot and push up with your toes so they spread in your shoes,’ she says. ‘Accelerate from your feet and hips, not by swinging your arms. This gives you the maximum whole-body workout.’ Practise mindfulness to maximise the mental health benefits of exercising outside – pay attention to the sights and sounds around you. Can’t face heading outdoors? This could be the time to fall in love with hot yoga, or work out in your living room with YouTube trainers such as yoga inspiration Lesley Fightmaster and bodyweight meister Antranik.
Read more: Learn to love cold weather workouts