With the accelerating workload during the fall and winter seasons, we tend to focus on hitting the deadlines and rushing through our to-do lists before the year's end. It's the time of the year when self-care becomes the least of our priorities.
However, it is more important than ever to practice self-care in the fall and winter seasons, since our energy tends to go down with less and less daylight we see each day.
After the summer holidays, we may have felt very energetic and relaxed, ready to come back to work and be productive.
Half-way through the fall, though, we may start feeling low on energy (1), become more easily irritated at situations, or people, and stop noticing the difference between weeks, as they seem to fly by faster and faster.
Our lives become a constant routine of going to work/school and going home.
Once we get home, all we want to do is to curl up in the blanket and to never leave the couch.
On weekends, we prioritize catching up on sleep over anything else as we tend to feel exhausted after a full weeks's work and not having seen any daylight lately.
Our motivation for self-development starts to go down due to lack of energy. We tend to set our hobbies aside for a while, be it reading books, playing an instrument, drawing, or cooking exciting meals.
We also lose interest in self-care, as we don't have enough energy or time to really listen to what our body needs. Our diets may become less nutritious and we might exercise less often.
We temporarily lose ourselves into the grayness of the fall and may even become a part of it.
Year-end is all about finishing the important tasks at work and doing home chores, leaving no time for ourselves. This is why it's extra important to practice self care during these dark times, when our motivation and energy is at our lowest.
Self care can look differently for different people. You may therefore need to experiment a little to find out what works best for you. Here are five tips you can start with.
1. Set up a morning routine
I am not going to tell you to use any particular successful person's morning routine, like drink a glass of water with lemon, then run 5K, followed by an hour yoga and have a smoothie for breakfast, while completing a to-do list for the day, answering emails, then do one hour mediation and then bike 20 km to work. Unless this exact routine is your thing, then you should definitely stick to it and it's great that you've found something that works for you!
We can get inspired by other people's morning routines, or parts of them, but the key is finding our own, individual morning routine that works for our body. Because then we will have our own reason to be excited to get out of bed in the morning.
It can be as simple as getting out of the bed as soon as the alarm rings.
Or maybe taking a mindful shower, or having breakfast with nice music in the background, or doing a quick meditation of 5-10 min before leaving the house.
Or think about five things that you're grateful for as soon as you wake up. Or look outside the window with a cup of coffee and think about what a great day you are about to have. Or take a short morning run.
Just experiment with different routines and see what works best for you. Don't go too big in the beginning, but rather start with one small thing and see how it feels. If it works, then stick to it, since it will become a nice way to start your day the way you want to and having some cosy "me-time".
2. Have a fun activity planned for most days
Having something to look forward to can certainly boost our productivity and make us want to complete the less motivating or even boring tasks in our schedule faster. It also makes us more focused on long-term goals rather than having short term rewards that interfere with our goals (2).
I always try to plan something fun in my weeks, especially during the fall. It can be anything from having a nice gym session with my friends after work, to a weekend trip.
Having something fun planned really boosts my creativity, since I keep enjoying my days. It also makes me more efficient as I have something to look forward to at a set time, which doesn't allow me to waste time when I'm completing my tasks.
3. Go outside to see the daylight
As the days are becoming insanely dark in Sweden, it is biologically important for us to see and experience the daylight whenever possible, but preferably in the first half of our day (3).
All the cells in our body have an internal rhythm, which is approximately as long as a full day and night. It is called the circadian rhythm.
While our bodies are quite good at internally recognizing what time of the day it is, we also need some external factors, like daylight, or meals at certain times of the day, to fully understand how to function by releasing appropriate hormones during the different times of the day.
Seeing the first rays of sun (or a hint of light as is the case here in Sweden) in the morning is crucial for the body to start realizing that the night is over all the cells in our body should wake up and start working.
Taking a walk on the way to work, or when you take a break, is scientifically proven to give you an extra boost for your mood and wellbeing, as you increase your chances of being exposed to daylight. It also leads to better sleep, which a lot of us struggle with during the dark and cold seasons in the North.
4. Take a break when you need to
We may sometimes notice how stressed we've been only when we come to the point of a burn out. That's why it's extremely important to stop for a while and check in with ourselves during the busy and low energy times, even when we feel okay (4).
Sit in a quiet room with no distractions around you. Tune in to how your body is feeling. Observe your breath. Is it deep, or shallow? Is it fast or slow?
Observe your emotions. What are you feeling at the moment? Try not to change anything, just observe how you feel.
This little mindfulness exercise is great for noticing any initial feelings of stress, or nervousness that we sometimes neglect, until they become too big.
If we notice that we are getting tired of the workload, or stressed, or depressed, taking a break from it all and just doing something nice can be the best thing for us at that moment, which would boost our future productivity.
Take a nice bath after a long day, cancel plans that you don't have the energy for, eat a nice meal and fully enjoy it, pick up a hobby you've been neglecting for a wgile, have a nice chat with a friend. Do something that you enjoy and only focus on that activity at that moment, trying not to think of anything else. Notice how it makes you feel.
5. Complete the task that's been on your to-do list for way too long
On the contrary of taking a break, having things lurking in the back of our heads may just be the thing making everything so less enjoyable (5). Especially if we know that the task is very challenging or boring.
Just getting it over with, no matter how difficult it is, might actually be the self-care we need in order to feel less stressed.
Set aside a time in your schedule that you will solely be able to work on that task. Remove all distractions around you and devote your full attention on the task. If you bring your full awareness to what you're doing, the task may even seem more interesting and fun.
Then when you're done, reward yourself with a nice break, as in the point above. Focus on the feeling of how great it is to be done with something that's been bothering you for a long time and fully enjoy that feeling.
Here are my five tips on self-care that you can incorporate in the busy times of the fall and winter season. Start by doing one thing at a time and when you feel like you've gotten the hang of it, then add another self-care way to your days.
Let me know in the comments below, which self-care tip is your favorite and which one you are most excited about to start implementing :).
Stay tuned for more science-backed evidence and tips on mindfulness that I will post in this blog.
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog. Therefore you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on email@example.com
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Creator of The Greater Mindfulness
2. Society for Neuroscience. (2017). Anticipation helps pathological gamblers hold out for larger-but-later rewards. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 2, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170605133536.htm
3. The impact of daytime light exposures on sleep and mood in office workers
Figueiro, Mariana G. et al.Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, Volume 3, Issue 3, 204 - 215
5. Incomplete Acts, Everyday Anxiety, and Getting Things Done. (2013). Darling, N. Ph.D. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/thinking-about-kids/201306/incomplete-acts-everyday-anxiety-and-getting-things-done