Winter self-care

This year has been a lot hasn’t it?  I have days when I feel like my head will explode with information overload from all that’s going on in the world.  I often experience a cacophony of emotions all in one day: fear, uncertainty, anxiety, hope, joy, exhaustion, boredom.  But, most of all I miss my family and friends.  I miss my freedom… to drive down to the coast on a whim or venture further afield for a hike in nature.  And even though I’ve been freelancing for 10 years now, working at home for the majority of that time, being with the same ‘four walls’ over the past year, every day, without respite, has been challenging. 

At the same time, I’m grateful for so much: the joy our 2-year-old daughter brings every day, my husband who is also working from home now, still having work (although, I never rest on my laurels), living in the countryside, walks in nature, having a cosy home and the knowledge that no matter what, the seasons change.

Yet, a pandemic and lockdown present their own challenges for many of us.  I have struggled with anxiety at points during the past five years and still live with it today.  It’s thanks to some incredible mental health advocates including Bryony Gordon and Matt Haig that I’m able to say that out loud without shame.  Matt Haig recently shared this on his Instagram account which really resonated with me; “recently I see my anxiety less like an illness and more like an injury that flares up when I don’t look after myself.  It reminds me of the need to do the right kind of rest.  To put my metaphorical foot on the metaphorical sofa.”

So, with that in mind, I wanted to share with you some of the self-care practices I use to try and avoid a ‘flare up’ or cope when I do, particularly at this time of year, in the ‘bleak mid-Winter’.  Although, truth be told, even though I know these work for me, I’ve had a rough few weeks with sleepless nights (2-year-old daughter and also a busy mind) which has meant that I need to once more learn to slow down and listen to my own advice.  It’s all a work in progress!

Meditation – is a great tool and I’ve used it on and off over the years.  I like to listen to guided meditations and the Insight Timer and Calm apps are my two favourites.  Sarah Blondin is worth checking out on Insight Timer, along with Russell Brand’s meditation.  I also love yoga nidra sessions.  On Calm, Stephen Fry’s sleep story ‘Blue Gold’ is pure magic.

Fresh air – seems obvious, but sometimes when I feel too exhausted for a walk, or the ground is icy and slippery, but I need to find some grounding, I take myself outside into the garden.  I sit on a garden lounger, all wrapped up, with a cuppa and just breath.  Then, coming back inside and getting cosy is a tonic in itself. Nature is such an anchor for me, especially during difficult times.

Walking – I’m not a huge fan of exercise (which sounds ridiculous when we think of how good it is for us both mentally and physically), but walking is my go-to.  Since moving to the countryside and being inspired by my nature loving husband, I try and go for a walk most days.  I have various routes in the local countryside and use the Strava app to record my progress.  I generally walk for 2-3 miles with my daughter in the pushchair.  Some days this may only be a mile just to get moving.

Rest – I’ve found that since becoming a mum in my 40s, the level of exhaustion I feel can be debilitating some days.  So, I listen to my body more and if I need to stop and rest, I do.  I’m also reading the most fantastic book at the moment, apt for the times we’re currently living in, Wintering:  The power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katherine May.   Highly recommended!  I absolutely adore my daughter and feel privileged to be a mum, but it has also taken its toll on my body and energy levels!

Evening baths – I’ve been having trouble sleeping recently, which never used to be a problem for me.  So, an evening bath is helpful, and then I snuggle into bed, feeling warm and cosy with a book, ready for sleep.   A magnesium bath soak with essential oils can be good for sleep, I use the Better You brand.  A lovely bath oil afterwards feels great too.

Bedtime routine – When I get into bed, I often spray some lavender onto my pillow or, recently I’ve discovered the wonderful Eve & Keel products and particularly love their Reset Mist and Breathe Balm to help calm my mind and bring some grounding before sleep.

Breathing – When I first sought CBT counselling for my anxiety, one of the first techniques I was recommended was breathing and was asked to watch this fascinating TED talk. It’s the second part of a two-part talk, and if you watch until the end, you’ll see how effective breathing can be to control our physiology and calm our nervous system.  How amazing is that, that we can slow our busy minds down by simply breathing correctly.  If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll take 5-10 minutes to close my eyes and just focus on my breathe. 

Stillness – Sometimes its helpful to do absolutely nothing.  If I’m feeling like I need to just let go, I lay on the bed or the floor in the ‘savasana’ yoga pose.  Find out more about that here.  Stillness is often a challenge for me, but when I really need it, it helps.  It’s lovely to do this pose with a blanket draped over you for extra cosiness.

Notice your thoughts – One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt over the years is that it is only our thoughts that can make us feel anything.  So, when you’re struggling or feeling low, remember that thoughts will shift naturally given space and time – it’s a ‘universal law’, like gravity.  Like a sky full of passing clouds, even when it really doesn’t feel like it, the sun is always there.  No matter the thought(s) you’re grappling with, remember they’re not who you are and at your core you are always well, you have innate health behind the ‘clouds’ of thought.  Michael Neill’s book Inside Out is a great starting point for understanding this further.

Journaling – Journaling to me feels like talking to a good friend, and just letting it all out.  I don’t do it every day but want to try and find time to do it more, because when I do I feel lighter.  There are no special guidelines for this, just simply get a notebook and write what’s on your mind.  Let it flow, unrestricted and see what emerges.  It’s in these moments, we often hear our own wisdom.  If you do need some guidance, check out Hannah Bullivant’s helpful blog post here.

Live with the seasons – There is so much we can learn from the natural world.  I recently completed a beautiful online course called A Seasonal Year, which taught me so much about running my business in alignment with the changing seasons.  Rather than going at full pace in the Winter months when the outside world is in hibernation, think about how you can take some time to retreat inwards, to slow down.  I appreciate that under current circumstances many of us are stretched to our limits trying to balance homeschooling with work and other responsibilities.  But is there a way you can carve out a little time during the day, or evening to try one of the above practices?  It’s about being gentle with ourselves and introducing some self-care when we can, not trying to do it all.  Walking in nature is a beautiful practice, as it allows us a window of time to actually observe and take note of what is going on in the natural world. 

Get cosy! – At this time of year, I like to turn up the ‘hygge’ or cosiness in my life.  I’m a homebody anyway, so adding twinkly fairy lights at home, getting the fire on the go, or snuggling up with a hot water bottle feels so nurturing in the Winter months.  It’s about wrapping up with scarf and gloves, getting outside, and then coming home for a warm cuppa.  Eating porridge for breakfast, maybe with some stewed fruit and a dash of warming cinnamon.  Soups and stews, dinner by candlelight and a good film afterwards…all favourites of mine.  We recently watched Uncle Frank (Amazon Prime), Wild Rose and Hillbilly Elergy (both Netflix) – all of which I’d recommend!

Phone free-time – This is a big one for me.  I think I’m a bit of a social media addict – mostly Instagram.  I love the creative community on Instagram, but some days I catch myself mindlessly scrolling or taking a sneaky look at my phone before bed.  Scrolling makes me feel more wired and disconnected from being present in my life.   So, to remedy this, I set times during the day when I don’t look at my phone and also leave it downstairs at night.  My meditation apps are on my phone however, so I am currently investigating ways to listen to meditation recordings without having to have my phone beside me at bedtime.  I shall update this post if I find a solution to this, but for now, I do need to keep it out of the bedroom as much as possible.

Music – Certain types of music really uplift me, particularly Frank Sinatra, Gregory Porter, or some relaxing classical tracks.  One of my all-time favourites is Debussy’s Clair de Lune – just beautiful.

I hope some of these tips are useful to you, and I’d love to hear of any self-care practices that you use in your life that you find helpful.  I think we could all do with a little self-love and kindness right now.

Photo credits: Annie Spratt, Clever Visuals, Anastasiya Kavalchyk, Carolyn V, Jessica Johnston, Hans Vivek

None of the products in this post are sponsored, I have paid for them all myself (all apps are free or have a free version).

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  • Hi Emma,
    This is so beautiful and calming to read. I really need to get my balance back after being low after Christmas . The Eve and Keel spray sounds lovely.
    I’m an artist and love following and expressing the seasons through my paintings of the flowers in my garden . I also create flower zodiac girls..
    So lovely to find you. I found you through Instagram.
    Warm wishes
    Artist , Suffolk .

    • Thank you so much Zoe. That means a lot. Sorry to hear you’ve been feeling low, I think the pandemic is affecting us all isn’t it? I hope you find some balance soon…I’m still working on it and after writing this blog post realise how important now, more than ever, these self-care practices are. They’re like a little tool kit!

      Thanks for following me on Instagram, I’m going to go and check your artwork out now! I would love to be an artist one day (have wanted to be since a teenager), I do draw and paint from nature when I have the time. Great to ‘meet’ you 🙂

  • So many great suggestions here Emma. Feel like if we could all focus on one a day for a couple of weeks and make them much more of a practice humanity would begin to thrive. Thank you x