How mindfulness helped me through winter
It's so lovely to see spring emerging in my patch of the planet. I've never been a fan of winter. It's dark, cold, there are many more damp, grey days than crisp, bright ones. And it stretches on, it feels like the longest season even if it isn't. The start of winter is eased by having Christmas to look forward to but once we're into the new year it's always felt like winter is stretching out in front of us, with spring a very distant prospect.
But this winter has been different. This winter I consciously, intentionally and mindfully changed my attitude to the chilliest season.
I decided that I wasn't going to wish winter away, spend my time grumbling about the dismal weather and the days when it doesn't get properly light, or will time to pass and spring to hurry up. Instead, I decided to focus on the season I was in, to be with winter, secure in the knowledge that it will pass eventually and that spring will come when it's ready. While the lines between seasons are blurring, and the seasons themselves are changing in some of their characteristics, I know for sure that winter will not last forever, just as spring, summer and autumn don't either. So, rather than wishing time away, it's a precious commodity after all, I embraced winter. And as such, I found it easier to deal with, I complained less, I felt lighter and much less fed up than in previous years.
So, how did I do this? Well, a few things…
I let go of what I couldn't change and focused on what I could. I recognised that winter will last for several months, there's absolutely nothing I can do about that, but what I can do is change my attitude towards it. So I let go of the resentment. When I woke up to yet more rain and the sky staying dark all day, and I felt my mood beginning to reflect the dismal weather, I employed self-compassion and mindfulness. Getting irritated by my own mood wasn't going to help. I told myself that my reaction is understandable, that it's okay to feel that way. I also told myself that this is winter in the UK. It's dark and it's wet and it's cold because it's winter. And that winter is one season, it will come to an end and then spring will take over. This season, this weather, these feelings, will not last forever. This day is wet and grey, I got soaked on the dog walk, and now I'm indoors, dry, warm and with a cup of tea. I gave my attention to what was real and true in that day, not rewinding to the previous grey days or fast forwarding to the future and how long winter could continue for.
I went outside every day into the light (okay, semi-light) and nature. Having a dog means you go out every day, whether you want to or not, it has to happen. And even when horizontal rain is soaking me or it's so cold I can't feel my face, I know that being out in the fresh air, getting as much light on my face as is possible in the northern hemisphere in winter, and walking through nature, is good for me. Fact. There are numerous studies that show the benefits to your mental as well as physical wellbeing.
I made the effort to connect more with other people. It's well documented that human connection is fundamental to our wellbeing and happiness. I began volunteering one morning a week at my local food bank. I work at home and winter makes me want to hibernate so it got me out of the house and talking to new people. I also put energy into connecting with more people online through social media and my work. I ran an Instagram photo project for January with daily prompts, #SavouringJanuary2017, you can see the pics posted by everyone who joined in here. It encouraged us to be more mindful of each day and to focus on positives rather than negatives in the month. And I created a free seven-day e-course called The Warm Embrace, which was all about easing into the new year with self-kindness. At the start of each year I find the pressure to set resolutions and goals, start an exercise regime, change how I eat and attack the year with gusto really quite overwhelming. I was pretty sure there were other people who feel the same way (turns out there was a LOT) so I created the free course just for January to help us all start the year gently, with compassion for ourselves.
I embraced all the elements I dislike about winter. And then I flipped them into something I like. I combated the long dark hours by lighting candles every evening. We lit a fire every night as well, it warmed us literally and cast a warm glow into our home. Plus, I love fire gazing. I included a little hygge in my life. I fought back against the cold by wrapping up in my cosiest clothes and indulging in my love of scarfs by wearing one every day. I donned full waterproofs when walking the dog in a downpour, I didn't care how odd I might look because I was dry underneath them.
I stepped up my mindfulness education. I took a mindfulness course with Bangor University which helped further cement the mindfulness and meditation practices I've already incorporated into my life. Beginning each day with a meditation helps to ground you in the present. Taking a few minutes throughout the day to pause and be mindful of what's happening, what you're thinking and feeling at that moment, gives you more of a sense of calm and focus than if you motor on all day without stopping to check in every so often. And every day, as I have done for several years, I write three things I'm thankful for each night in my gratitude journal before I go to sleep.
Now, until the last paragraph I've barely used the word mindfulness in this post, even though the title is 'how mindfulness helped me through winter'. While mindfulness meditation is something I specifically decide to do for however long each day, being mindful in life is more about increasing your awareness as you go about your day. It's about noticing the thoughts running through your head, the stories you tell yourself, the ways of doing and being that are out of habit rather than intention. When I lit candles and wrapped a soft, pretty scarf around my neck I was being mindful. When I volunteered and created The Warm Embrace I was acting with intention. When I walked the dog in freezing rain I did so with awareness of the benefit to my own wellbeing as well as my dog's.
By incorporating mindfulness into my everyday life I'm better able to be more intentional about how I want to feel, think and act. Which is why this winter I've been more mindful of how I feel about the season and my attitude towards it, and so I could take action to change how I deal with winter. It's an ongoing process, increasing my awareness of how I go about life is something I will be working on forever more, I'm sure. And being able to see how it can bring about real change and benefit my wellbeing encourages me to continue incorporating mindfulness into my life as we move into and through each coming season.