Do you ever feel tired when the seasons change?
There’s actually a lot going on when the seasons start changing–particularly from summer to fall and winter–that has a direct impact on us. But how often do we change our self care habits to reflect the changes happening in the environment around us? And after all, people aren’t machines. We don’t run the same way every day; we need variety!
The changing of the seasons, as we said, brings up lots of changes that can impact your daily life directly. These include things like:
Lack of sunlight: as the seasons change the days get shorter, which means we get less exposure to sunlight every day. This can impact both your mood and your energy levels; making you feel more fatigued than in sunnier seasons.
Lower temperatures: You know that feeling of wanting to stay in bed and do nothing when it gets cold out? When temperatures lower, that can reduce functions such as sensory feedback, dexterity, blood flow and more. And what that means is that cold temperatures actually DO physically make it hard to get yourself to do anything other than snuggle under your blankets!
Damp weather: As temperatures drop, so often comes damp weather. When there’s a lot of dampness in the air, that means there’s low atmospheric pressure. When atmospheric pressure is low, there’s an increase of movement in your bodily fluids which causes things like swelling and puts pressure on your nerves, as well as increases the fluids in your joints. What all of that means is when the weather gets damp, people often experience chronic pain flare ups, increased pain levels, stiffness, and reduced mobility.
But what does all of that have to do with mental health and self care?
At this point, many people are familiar with seasonal affective disorder, or seasonal depression. As the months get colder and the days get shorter and darker, people experience an increase in depression symptoms. But as we can see above, there are a lot of other considerations we need to make in the cold, damp months when it comes to our self care.
For example, we also now know that pain and emotions are very linked. So not only can the light and cold affect your mood and energy, you may find your mental health needs more intense care and consideration when you’re feeling physically unwell. Because when you’re experiencing long term, on-going pain there are real emotional impacts! Take this quote from the Augusta Pain Center:
“Pain is inextricably linked to emotions. In fact, physical pain and emotional pain exist on almost the same circuitry of the nervous system, with common brain systems involved. For this reason, it’s not surprising that the presence of chronic pain is often associated with emotional changes.”
And consider what we’ve seen throughout COVID so far; when your brain is in any sort of “survival mode” that’s using up energy you’re normally able to put toward things you enjoy or that stimulate your brain. You might feel like you’re just tired all of the time, because you’re working so hard at getting to your typical “equilibrium” when the environment around you is making that difficult.
So what does this mean for our self care?
Increased challenges means what was working before might not work right now–and that’s not a reflection on you. This is a time to be extra gentle with yourself and stop and reflect on how your needs might change as the seasons do. Do you think you’ll need more support? In what ways? Does your body have different needs as the weather and seasons change?
If you’re unsure where to get started, here are some ideas on ways to tend to yourself and update your self care routine as the seasons change:
Make time to stretch:
Like we said earlier, as it gets colder, our bodies react strongly! To help get your blood flowing and warm yourself up gently, try to start your day with some stretching. You don’t have to do anything intense, just roll out a yoga mat and throw on something warm and focus on your body for a few moments. Did you wake up with any aches? Can you do any stretches to balance those out?
Anticipate needing more rest & give yourself new ways to do it:
Some people dread the seasons changing because they know it’s when their energy levels are going to drop significantly. But resting doesn’t have to just be laying on your couch watching TV–though it can be, if that’s going to bring you joy and refresh you when you need it! But if you dread cold months because you get bored due to fatigue, try to find new ways to give yourself rest–because you will need it! You can do something like getting a massage, or trying a salt float. For more regular practices, maybe schedule a nap for the middle of the day if you’re able to–so when you’re done with your responsibilities at the “end” of your day you still have some energy saved up.
Adjust how you nourish yourself:
Warm beverages are a great way to get some heat running through your body. Pick a favorite and make it a habit to brew it for yourself in the middle of the day or after work! Along with that, we know that carbohydrates temporarily boost serotonin levels, so that’s why you might be craving heartier foods like breads and pastas in the winter! Use that to your advantage, and make a self care routine from your meals. Not only is cooking a big meal a great way to slow down and try some mindfulness skills, and a creative way to nourish yourself, you can also use it as a point of social support. Having a big pasta dinner on a regular basis with friends is a great way to tend to your physical, emotional, and social needs as the weather changes.