Tuning into Self-Care in Winter

In the winter, people are often more drawn to staying in and staying cozy--replacing late nights with a turn inwards. Beyond hygge, winter also often brings the blues. The sun is setting earlier and the air is biting cold. On a physiological level, our bodies are struggling with the lack of daylight. On an emotional level, you may not be feeling quite yourself. February has the echoes of family pressure from the holidays, along with cycles of frustration brought on by New Year’s resolutions. We find ourselves in need of balance and care.

 “Self-care is defined as the daily process of attending to your basic physical and emotional needs, which include the shaping of your daily routine, relationships, and environment, as needed to promote self-care (Cook-Cottone 2015). It includes a broad range of activities, such as getting enough sleep and attending to emotional, physical, relationship and spiritual needs. Such activities should not be viewed as a luxury or a selfish pursuit. In fact, self-care is so important that the American Psychological Association has included it as an ethical imperative for psychologists—so they will be emotionally and mentally stable enough to help their patients (Barnett et al. 2007)”.
— The Intuitive Eating Workbook, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN & Elyse Resch, MS, RDN

Audre Lorde introduced the concept of self-care in 1988 saying, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. As a Black lesbian woman, self-care for Audre was revolutionary because U.S. society was not interested in her care. Self-care is not a revolutionary concept for everyone. Whoever you are though, adequate self-care is a critical foundation for your life.

What does self-care look like in the winter? A good starting place is to take a moment to tune into your body. What is it asking for? Maybe patience… maybe hot soup… maybe laughter with a friend. For many, self-care in the winter is a balance between moving with the season (more slowly) without giving into it completely (not forgetting to have fun). Here are some practices and accompanying tools to support you as you tune into your own winter balance.

  1. Appreciate Winter’s Winterness: Bundle up for a lunchtime walk

Photo by  Donnie Rosie  via  Unsplash

Photo by Donnie Rosie via Unsplash

A friend of mine remarked recently that it had been a while since she looked at the sky. This sort of thing happens to many of us in the winter, and that’s okay. Winter is hard. But when we notice we miss the sky or haven’t visited our favorite neighborhood tree recently, that noticing can be an invitation away from winter’s inertia. Unlike summer walks that can be full of neighborhood bustle, winter walks tend to be more peaceful and an opportunity for meditation. In the quiet, can you notice your breath? Noticing the winter greenery, do your thoughts quiet? How do you feel? A winter walk is a great way to incorporate some mindfulness amidst your day and experience some awe, despite the cold.

If you’re local to Charm City and find yourself looking for a warm escape for your winter walk (with plenty of plant friends and sunlight), check out the Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park.

Photo by  Sylvie Tittel  via  Unsplash

Photo by Sylvie Tittel via Unsplash

2. Embrace the Season: Thoughtful hibernation

One of winter’s gifts is a slower pace, which in turn supports us in more leisurely sleep habits. Our current relationship with screens though, makes it difficult to take full advantage of this seasonal shift. Do you find yourself dozing off at night as you scroll through your phone? Or watching TV each night right before you try to sleep? ...and then having a hard time falling asleep, or waking up not feeling rested?

The body’s natural sleep/wake cycle, one type of circadian rhythm, is primarily led by the light our eyes take in. Exercise, meals and temperature also contribute to this communication--each let our body know if it’s time to be awake or asleep. Light, even the infamous blue light, can be helpful by day. However, when natural daytime blue light exposure merges seamlessly into artificial blue light exposure at night, we run into trouble. In essence, artificial blue light confuses the brain’s melatonin production and keeps us awake longer.

It can feel daunting to try to change habits. Instead, can you embrace your body’s desire for hibernation by simply noticing what supports your sleep. Spend some time paying attention to when you put your phone down before you sleep. How does your phone usage before bed impact your ability to have a restful night? Notice which nighttime behaviors lead to mornings of feeling rested. Intentionality around your phone use is one way to lean into winter’s wisdom and ease into some light hibernation.

3. Challenge Winter’s Isolation: Laugh with a friend

Between work, grocery shopping and making it home before the air is transformed into an icicle, there’s often less social time in the winter. Even when you live with a partner or roommates, you can end up in a cycle of moving past each other without pausing long enough (or deeply enough) to find laughter. This is the moment to push back against winter. Laughter releases endorphins (those same hormones that give you a high from running) and when you’re laughing with a friend you’re building/strengthening community.

If you find yourself missing this component of winter balance, can you schedule with people in advance? If you use an electronic calendar, try using a different color for intentional fun time. This may help you catch when it’s missing from your calendar and appreciate yourself when you prioritized it. Are you a paper-calendar person? Try out bullet journaling or use a passion planner, both are structured to help you reach your goals.

4. The Evergreen: Do your laundry

No self-care toolkit would be complete without a reminder of the day-to-day work that goes into keeping our lives up and running. Capitalism would have you thinking self-care is the sexiest thing out there, and while the lighthearted moments are important, they aren’t a solid foundation. Do your laundry. Wearing your favorite sweater will help you rock your Monday. And while you’re at it--replace “laundry” with “meal planning” and “bathroom cleaning”. Turn on some tunes and enjoy yourself as you set yourself up for an awesome week.

What is easy is sustainable. Birds coast when they can.
— Adrienne maree Brown

Self-care isn’t about changing your life overnight and it’s not about meeting externally imposed standards. Self-care is about small, gentle steps that honor you.

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, have questions, or want to add in your own winter self-care strategies, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

-Erin Bowman

Meet Erin


Erin Bowman is one of Space Between Counseling Services’ newest graduate interns.  Upon her Graduation from the University of Baltimore’s counseling psychology Master’s program in 2020, Erin plans to seek licensure as a LCPC.

Erin enjoys working with adults of all ages who are struggling with anxiety or depression, seeking balance against burn-out while working for change, navigating the next step in their journey, and exploring non-monogamous relationships. She firmly believes that you are wise. You know your joys, your grief, your hopes and your challenges. Sometimes though, it is hard to tap into our wisdom. Using an integrative mixture of therapeutic approaches, Erin is here to walk with you on your journey. We all need support. That is part of being human. She sees therapy, and the therapeutic relationship, as a collaborative container for re-nourishment, re-grounding, and re-growth.

Erin also works with Baltimore City Public Schools through University of Maryland Extension FSNE, supporting cafeteria staff teams in promoting fruits and vegetables in school lunches. When she’s not working with clients or collaborating with kitchen teams, Erin can be found rolling out her yoga mat, taking dance breaks during busy days, setting friend dates or being silly with her partner. Erin is currently accepting new clients.  If you’re interested in working with Erin, please call our office manager, Noelle Benach, for more information at (443) 863-8670 or email Intern@SpaceBetweenCounselingServices.com