Depending on where you live in the world, winter may or may not be a big deal. Here in Scotland, while we don’t typically experience heavy snowfall and absurdly cold temperatures, what we do get instead are months (and months) of very little daylight, it almost always raining even when it actually is daylight, and a colour scheme that features 17 shades of grey and bleh. It can be kind of tough. And then, once you get to the point of it being tough, you realise it’s only November, and it’s only just getting started.
So, why is it so tough?
We have electric lights, we have central heating and waterproofs; we’re not exactly camped out on the hills at the mercy of the elements here. For some people, clinical depression and S.A.D come into play of course – and just to clarify, while I have a long history with clinical depression that is typically worse in the winter months, I have never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) – so know that this post, as ever, isn’t intended as medical advice, just well-intentioned stories of experience and some suggestions.
I think there are a few reasons why it’s tough, especially here in the UK:
- Looking out the window, words you might use to describe the view in winter might be “bleak”, “grey”, “lifeless” or something like “grim” – none of these words really hold positive connotations. We don’t get a lot of the blue skies, and crisp frosty mornings – it really is months of dullness, or as we would say in Scotland, it’s dreichit.
- It’s all everyone talks about (Or at least it feels like it). I go into the Post Office and the lady at the counter greets me by grumbling about the bloody rain being on again. I call my Dad, who regales me with a story of how he had to put the lights on before 4pm (that’s BEFORE 4pm, Kitty). Even if you yourself are trying not to focus on the rain and the wind, it is constantly discussed and put to you – and it is almost never in a positive light.
- It feels like it makes your world shrink. Some of this is real – like for me, as a petite woman, I can’t go jogging in my local area in the dark… so that’s anytime before 8:30 and after 15:30 then. Wow. And some of it is more of a perception, I think. A lot of the things we might enjoy or fill our time with in the lighter months, suddenly aren’t so enjoyable or viable. It’s all too easy to fall into a rut of just sitting in front of the TV every night.
So, how can mindfulness help?
I think there’s actually a few ways that practicing mindfulness can help us not just endure, but in fact, thrive in the winter months. If we apply some of the core principles of mindfulness, like slowing down and practicing awareness, and focus them on the winter season specifically, I think we can make a big change in the way we perceive and therefore experience things.
- I think it can be easy for winter to seem to represent death, or the end. The trees are leafless, so many animals are hibernating – or keeping a low profile – and we ourselves may feel sluggish in the cold weather. I like to take the time to re-enforce the idea of winter, not as a time of dying, but as a time of resetting. It can be a time for looking into ourselves and doing some resetting of our own – of using meditation, and the wonderful stillness that winter brings, to work on closing some now un-needed chapters within ourselves, and preparing for a time of growth, of blossoming and of change.
- Winter is easily seen as a time “without”. Without sunshine. Without warmth. Without the buzzing of bees or the fluttering of bats. It can be easy to feel that winter has a lot “wrong” with it; as if Summer is our norm and somehow winter is the antithesis of that. I find that it helps me to focus on the idea of impermanence – that everything is fluid and without a fixed state. Like the seasons, like my thoughts, my feelings and my very existence. The cycle of the seasons creates balance, and we can relax and know that this cycle will continue – whether we moan and resist and fight it, or not. Winter may feel difficult sometimes, but as with all struggles, it will pass – and I think being mindful of this fact can be a big help in keeping things in perspective.
- Create light and joy for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned above, I am usually all for trying to embrace winter for what it is and to love it, but sometimes, as the rain lashes against the window and the wind howls, it can be nice to draw yourself inwards instead. Close the blinds, light some candles or fairy lights (or, “winter lights” as my dad insists on calling his), make a hot beverage and take time to be still. At these times, I like to meditate on feelings of gratitude – which can be abundant in winter, if we give it a little thought. That I have a warm, safe house to retreat into, that I don’t have to worry about a bad winter leaving me without enough food, that I can have the time to simply sit and breathe when outside the weather is in such chaos – all of these things are huge blessings, and I do my best to stay mindful of them throughout the season.
- Keep busy. As we spend more time with ourselves, perhaps reflecting more than we do in the busy Summer months, pay attention to ideas that may spring up. Winter can be an excellent time to pursue a hobby. I’m not suggesting that November 1st you go out and buy a shop’s worth of yarn or anything, but, if we slow down mindfully – rather than zoning out in front of the TV each night – we may find we have time, and the desire to learn something new, or return to neglected creative practice – whether that’s baking, playing the drums or crochet.
But, we’re all still human…
Let’s be honest, while the points I’ve listed seem (I think) sensible and fairly logical, we’re all human and we will all still have days where we show up at work soaked to the skin, or when our heating breaks during the coldest week of the year. And what then?
Yup, winter does suck sometimes. It just does, and honestly, I think it’s perfectly okay to feel that way – the one suggestion I would make though? Don’t be the person that greets strangers on the street with a “morning, horrible day, isn’t it?”. Try and remember that most people struggle with the long winters here, and honestly, contributing to the constant moaning about it isn’t helping anyone – although I’ll hold my hands up and admit I totally do this myself sometimes. I’m not suggesting you stand there in torrential rain and gale force winds with a slightly manic smile on your face as you declare, “BEAUTIFUL DAY ISN’T IT!?!?”, but rather that, when possible, we adopt a Thumper approach. You know, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all – about the weather or lack of daylight, anyway.
I hope you found this post helpful, or that it gave you some food for thought. I’d love to hear from you on what your winter experience is like – are winters hard where you live? Have you typically struggled a bit in the winter months? Do you have any suggestions for me, or other readers, as to what we might try?