Winter can be one of the most serene seasons, can’t it? Especially if you live in parts of Canada or the United States where your town or city is regularly blanketed by snowstorms and seems to come to a sudden and surprising halt… for a few hours at least.
For many, winter is a naturally restful, contemplative time of year, which makes it ideal for self-care practices that involve slowing down and taking extra time for ourselves.
What do I mean by self-care practices? Well, self care generally includes any deliberate or intentional actions you take to support your physical, emotional, mental and psychological health. It’s about taking as good care of yourself as you likely do for others (children, family, friends, parents, grandparents, pets, etc.) in your life.
In that spirit, here are a few (8!) of my favourite self-care practices for winter (and beyond).
#1: Regularly perform dry skin brushing.
The benefits of dry skin brushing are far greater than just skin deep (pun intended).
Especially because it’s no secret that cold temperatures and dry winter air tend to suck ALL the moisture out of our skin.
Dry skin brushing is a cheap, effective way to boost circulation, boost the lymphatic system, and exfoliate to remove dead skin and boost detoxification. You can brush the skin on the soles of your feet right up to the skin on your face (however, a special face brush is recommended for this and other sensitive areas).
Make this a regular self-care practice and you should start to experience many of these benefits first-hand.
#2: Dress for the weather.
Whether you’re going for a walk, shovelling your driveway, or engaged in more strenuous exercise like skiing or snowboarding, it’s important to dress for the weather.
I’m one of those people who, in the middle of February when temperatures have been -35° for days (or weeks), feels like I “HATE” winter.
And I probably do to some degree: everyday tasks take on an added layer of hassle when it feels cold enough to freeze the blood running through your veins.
When sub-zero temperatures hit, I regularly beg to be transported to California, Florida or anywhere else with reasonably warm temperatures. But the honest truth is that I also enjoy winter a lot more when I’m dressed properly for it.
Enjoy winter a bit more by dressing in layers, wearing protective clothing like hats and gloves, and don’t forget cozy socks!
#3: Go to bed an hour earlier.
It’s a common myth than we’re meant to sleep more in winter than at other times of the year. However, it is true that winter can have a profound effect on how and when we feel tired.
Our natural sleep and wake cycles are regulated by the amount of light we’re exposed to. Light suppresses our body’s production of melatonin, a sleep hormone that helps us feel tired.
So for many of us in northern North America, as the days get shorter and we’re exposed to fewer hours of daylight, our body is producing more melatonin and causing us to feel tired earlier in the day/evening than we ordinarily would in spring, summer or fall.
Ideally we should go to bed an hour or more earlier. This can help us remain in sync with our body’s natural Circadian rhythms as much as possible.
If sleep is elusive and/or you suffer from insomnia, check out my post Sleep habits keeping you awake? for more tips on healthy sleep.
#4: Consider supplementing with vitamin D.
In addition to getting outside more on sunny days, you may want to consider supplementing with Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a hormone that is crucial for building healthy bones, beating the winter blues and boosting your immune health. Supplementing with vitamin D can also be essential for many of us when we’re not getting enough sun during a typical cold and dark winter.
Talk to your primary care physician or health care practitioner about testing your vitamin D levels to determine optimal supplementation amounts.
#5: Take a walk.
Taking a walk in winter can help boost your energy, reduce stress, and give your cells some much-needed extra oxygen and fresh air, a welcome change from stale and often unhealthy indoor air.
Like dry skin brushing, walking also helps “pump” your lymph system, which is a fixed system responsible for circulating, removing and eliminating waste by-products from your body’s tissues and cells. It’s a surprisingly important system and unfortunately, without some form of exercise or movement, it has a VERY hard time doing its job effectively.
Like many forms of exercise, walking (in winter or any time) can help increase mental alertness, focus and concentration, as well as improve the length and depth of sleep. Plus, it will cut down on your winter beauty regime because the cold weather will give you naturally rosy cheeks!
#6: Warm up after that winter walk with a warm beverage.
When you feel chilled right down to your marrow, a warm beverage can help warm up your insides.
Here are a few healthy warm beverages to try:
- My Turmeric and Honey Chai Lattes (serve warm instead of over ice);
- My Hazelnut Hot Cocoa; and,
- Any kind of herbal tea.
My post on the 6 Top Herbal Teas for Health uncovers some of the health benefits if you’re curious about your tea’s potential for culinary nutrition. Hot broth or soup can also be essential for stimulating the digestive system and reducing dehydration, which many of us seem to be prone to during the colder months.
#7: Nourish yourself with foods that are in season.
In speaking with many friends and clients, I feel like the average Canadian has become disconnected from the seasons, which in my world genuinely influence how and what I eat, and in turn, how I feel.
As a nutritionist, this is healthful in some ways. A prime example?
Clementines and other citrus fruit (which doesn’t grow commonly in Canada any time of year, but especially not during the winter) may provide a critical source of vitamin C at a time when fresh, leafy greens are in short supply and high demand.
On the other hand, as a citizen of the world, I’m concerned about the impacts of so much international travel bringing foods from faraway lands to our dinner tables.
Foods are in season for a reason as some rhyming experts love to say.
In that vein, I encourage you to eat more warming, grounding foods during winter, such as cooked root vegetables like winter squash of all kinds, carrots, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, etc. There are so many ways to love these in soups, stews, chiles, and curries.
Cooking with warming spices like garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper can also help boost circulation, boost the immune system, reduce or eliminate mucus, promote sweating and detoxification, add antioxidants, and of course and valuable flavour to your wintertime meals!
You’ll probably gravitate toward these foods naturally instead of salads, smoothies and large amounts of cold or raw vegetables.
- Super Curried Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
- Hearty Wild Rice, Butternut Squash and Turkey Soup
- Green Tomato Lentil Curry in a Hurry
#8: Do nothing.
There’s a tendency in warmer months to go-go-go all the time. Lots of social events, lots of outdoor activities and lots of running around. Winter, however, can be the ideal time to just do nothing.
Recover your energy.
What are your favourite ways to take care of yourself during winter?
Life is a plate… Eat up,