Winter Self Care
It was quite a shock entering the Swedish autumn. Mostly because the darkness creeps up on you. Before long you’re a blubbering mess in the foetal position unable to summon the enthusiasm to make your own breakfast. Despite being aware of my own mental health issues and how to recognise them and care for them, the effect of glum weather and shorter days is different. Treatment might not always be as simple as upping your meds- at this stage, I have realised that anything beyond what I am taking results in my immediate disposal of fear processing and an uptake in whimsical risk-taking.
My discovery of Swedish sun-rooms was a revelation. Although I had witnessed Broad City’s Ilana Glazer plunging her head into a strategically placed light-therapy lamp in the freezer room of the restaurant she worked in; I never realised how important sun was to human wellbeing. The lack of sunlight is supposedly linked to a scramble of the circadian rhythm and melatonin levels. It ultimately means that you display depressive symptoms like a lack of energy, restlessness, and crippling numbness until the sun comes back.
It’s quite difficult to tell what percentage of my mood was lifted by the placebo and novelty of witnessing a sun-room, but it certainly felt as though it restored me to factory settings.
In gloomy times, it is increasingly important to take care of yourself and pay attention to your state of mind. Beyond facials, candles and chocolate; there are some behaviours that can help to hold onto summer good time feelings.
Noticing Your Tech-addiction
Allowing yourself to get bored from time to time can help you think properly. It doesn’t sound fun I know. But there are so many buzzing noises and shiny screens on a constant, unpredictable loop that the endless stimulation can result in irritability and an intolerance for silence. Have you ever noticed yourself reaching for your phone automatically when a lull occurs in a movie or there is a small break in-between tasks? It can be because our phones and laptops have been designed to be addicting. If I notice myself growing addicted to screens, it usually means a part of me is unhappy and I begin a proverbial cast-away of my visual exposure to my phone.
I start making an effort to only do one thing at a time. If I am watching a movie, I only watch the movie. I don’t swipe at faces on Tinder, I don’t watch Instagram stories or soak up the cuteness of well-dressed, fluffy dogs.
Before bed, I try as much as possible to consume entertainment that doesn’t involve looking at a screen. Like podcasts, ted-talks, audio-books and music. For me, this is important as I spend much of my day typing on a computer.
I would even go as far as to suggest going for a walk without music or if you’re daring: without a phone. It can help to slow your mind down so that you can process what’s going on in your life. I do, however, understand that this is not an option for some people that hate low-energy exercise like walking and yoga. Sorry, but I may not be the best person to consult on self-care technique.
The video below provides an excellent explanation for how this is done and how you can combat this through setting changes on your phone.
Paying attention to your surroundings can be unexpectedly life-changing. One major habit I realised I had picked up was fixating solely on how I looked to other people. It’s a kind of self-objectification that can only come out of a patriarchal, highly appearance-focused environment like inner-city Sydney. In this sense, it is difficult to tell if you are feeling anxious or stressed because you have never thought to pay attention.
Simple mindfulness exercises can help connect with your emotional state and the way you react to events, people and the surrounding environment. It is also helpful to disconnect your thoughts and emotions from the context they are arising in.
If, for instance, a situation is making you stressed, pay attention to how that stress feels. Does it cause a knot in your chest? Or maybe it makes your head feel foggy. Or it might even make your muscles tighten up.
Being aware of these changes can help you notice emotions as they arise before they become overwhelming. It also prevents emotions and unhelpful thoughts from gaining power over your experience of the world.
There are really interesting studies and treatment programs emerging around mindfulness in treating chronic pain. This is not something I am an expert in, but this guy seems to be:
Hello Darkness My Old Friend
One of the final side-effects of winter that I am yet to encounter is loneliness. Although it is almost certain to hit me as the temperature drops below the point where I am willing to exit the house for the hell of it. There is not much one can do to solve this apart from social contact that I am aware of. So, caring for this feeling can be a matter of making the most out of the social contact you do get access to.
One thing that comes out of even the mildest forms of social anxiety is the urge to think of what you are going to say next whilst your conversation partner is speaking. Even for extraverts who are comfortable with conversation, they may not be able to listen to what another person is saying without being distracted by an awesome anecdote that just popped into their head that is way more interesting than the current direction of this ‘dialogue’.
I did one of the strangest courses at university called ‘Relationships’. Everyone enrols for the course because they think they are going to learn about sex and how to flirt or something from a sociological perspective. The reality is far from discussing sex, but it did teach me something really important about conversation and interacting with people. The following is an excerpt from a white dude called Martin Buber:
“As long as love is “blind” - that is, as long as it does not see a whole being - it does not yet truly stand under the basic word of relation. Hatred remains blind by its very nature; one can hate only part of a being.”
The point of this rather lofty, poetic quote is to demonstrate that we often make assumptions about other people and the things they say, even as they are saying them. It’s a kind of mental shortcut that we take regardless of whether or not we even like the person.
Attempting to properly listen to what a person says (especially if it is a person you think you understand more than anyone else on the planet), can help you to avoid jumping to conclusions about their intended message. It can also help you have better conversations with friends and loved ones as concentrating on what they are saying and how they are saying it makes conversations far richer and rewarding. As simple as this sounds, many people don’t actually listen properly. It is a skill you have to exercise throughout your life as the world you create becomes busier and more complicated. And it is important for self-care because it gives your relationships more depth and meaning.
This is one of the most interesting explanations of speaking and listening here:
Winter can have you feeling like shit. Not to mention if on top of that you are dealing with health issues, flu season and the impending stress of Christmas shopping. Paying attention and holding back from interrupting, swiping, and ignoring your emotions, can prevent you from exploding into a writhing mess.