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How to cope with darker nights

The shorter, wintry days are not the easiest time of year for many of us. Summer feels like a distant memory, there’s less time in the day to enjoy the things we love.

BY HANNAH BULLIMORE

The shorter, wintry days are not the easiest time of year for many of us. Summer feels like a distant memory, there’s less time in the day to enjoy the things we love and this year it feels like even Christmas won’t be the festive boost we all need to get us through. 

As a yoga teacher who takes self care seriously, I begin taking extra care of myself at the end of August and early September in preparation for the shorter days, colder weather and what I call ‘the winter dread’. 

This year more than ever before, winter is bringing with it a host of mental health issues and we need to take care of ourselves as much as possible. As someone who has been battling the winter blues for years, I have some sure-fire ways to lift your mood and make the most of the autumn and winter. 

Find a routine

The temptation is there to shorten your days as the sun spends fewer and fewer hours in the sky, but this will quickly reduce your energy and lower your mood. Instead, try to stick to a similar routine in the winter, as you would in the summer.

Rise at a reasonable time, don’t flop down in front of the TV as soon as you get home, manage a walk or time outdoors every day, get some exercise three times a week and keep your mind and body active. This way, those short days won’t feel so short or claustrophobic. 

Going to bed and waking at the same time each day will help your body to regulate itself. This means that your body will be ready for sleeping and waking, even if the lack of sun makes you feel as though there is no midday. Sleep is really important for mental wellbeing and keeping a routine will help you to maintain healthy sleep patterns throughout the autumn and winter – after all, too much sleep can be as bad for you as too little. We’re not bears, so it’s not the time to hibernate even if we really, really want to. 

Using a special lamp such as the Lumie lamp to simulate sunrise and sun set can help you to get to sleep and wake up more easily. With a light that gently turns on and turns off, the lamp will simulate the sunrise and sunset that mark our days in the spring and summer time. 

Remember all of the things you love about autumn and winter

Gratitude is a really important mindfulness practice with evidence suggesting gratitude can lead to a better mood. Finding things that you are grateful for can help change your mindset, so rather than thinking about the things you don’t like about this time of year, you begin to recognise there are still plenty of things to be grateful for. 

A few years ago, I did an autumn-winter mood board in my bullet journal. Adding photos of things I love about these seasons really helped me to realise this time of year isn’t as bad I often think.

It doesn’t have to be an arty mood board, you could write a list or spend time meditating and thinking of all the lovely things that happen at this time of year. 

Of course, Covid has brought with it uncertainty about Christmas and New Year but there are still autumnal scented candles, snuggling on the sofa, Halloween films, Christmas films, hot chocolate with friends, walks along empty beaches and much much more. 

Everyone’s list of autumnal likes will be different, so make it as personal to you and your interests as possible. 

Get moving

Exercise has a wide range of benefits. From boosting health to soothing anxiety. It can also help the body to ease into sleep – after all, you’re bound to be more likely to sleep if you’ve fit some movement into your day. 

Taking a walk outside is really important in the autumn and winter months as it will help your mind to regulate the difference between night and day. It has also been proven to have a wide range of benefits for mental health, just ten minutes in nature can boost serotonin and give you a natural lift. 

Yoga is also a fantastic form of exercise at this time of year. It’s low impact, therefore is kind to any joints that might be feeling a little tender and less mobile with the cold and damp weather. It can also be done easily at home – all you need is a mat. Lighting candles, playing music and creating a cosy yoga space will make exercise feel like a treat. Follow up with a meditation and this is an easy way to feel more positive. 

To help you to sleep, why not try this five-minute yoga and meditation practice to ease any tension and prepare for rest: 

  • Begin with a few cat cows – start on all fours, inhale, drop the belly and look up, exhale round the spine and look towards the stomach. Repeat several times with the breath. 
  • Then, come to a neutral spine, walk the hands away from you and drop the head to the ground keeping your knees and legs where they are for a playful puppy pose. Breathe fully, allow the eyes to close and relax into the posture. 
  • Now lie down with your feet flat to the ground and a bend in the knees. Bring your hands to the stomach. You can do this when lying in bed and simply focus on the feeling of the breath in the stomach against the hands for five rounds of breath. 
  • Now, bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees fall wide into reclined cobbler’s pose. Keep the hands on the stomach and repeat those five rounds of slow breathing. 
  • Finally, extend the legs and bring the arms to either side of the body. Allow your eyes to grow heavy and close them before continuing to keep a gentle focus on the breath. 
  • Slowly, as you focus on the breath, your body – and mind – will begin to relax and let go.

Just as moving can help end the day well, starting with movement can also boost energy and warm the body up – perfect for the colder months. Start with five sun salutations each morning to feel warmer and more awake. Here’s a YouTube video to show you how. You could even do this in your pyjamas before hopping in the shower. 

Comforting food

No, not fried food or giant bars of chocolate, instead try making things that are satisfying, comforting and take time to make. Cooking dinner can be a great mindful practice to bring a sense of routine to your day. Taking the time to make something from scratch will break up those days working from home and offer some much-needed rest for your brain. 

Also, we could all use a little extra warmth during the colder months, so why not make enough to eat leftovers for lunch. In Ayurveda, well-cooked vegetables and stews are seen as warming and grounding foods, perfect for balancing out colder, windier parts of the year and keeping the digestion firing steadily. It’s also important to eat evenly throughout the day, rather than having one large meal at the end of the day as this aids digestion. Adding an extra warm meal to the day is sure to help stave off the chill and give you plenty of energy even if the weather outside is far from exhilarating. 

Click here to try this Immunity Boosting Soup recipe.

Simple pleasures

It could be sinking into a warm bath, the smell of your favourite candle or taking twenty minutes to read a book before bed. In the summer, we might find simple pleasure in being outside, sitting in the sun or going on a walk. In Autumn and Winter it’s important to make your home feel cosy and enjoy moments of joy in the everyday. Particularly this year! Why not treat yourself to a new book, take time for a cup of herbal tea after work each day or do something else that’s just for yourself? 

Finding joy in the small things can help you to feel happier, more positive and enjoy those days that might otherwise feel a little dull. By creating a cosy home and incorporating small, meaningful rituals into everyday life, you can enjoy the simple pleasures and make the autumn and winter just as enjoyable as spring and summer. You never know, with plenty of Hygge, they might even become your favourite seasons. 

One of the most important aspects of winter wellness is knowing what works for you. It’s important to try out different wellness techniques and stick with the ones you enjoy. Is an hour reading by the fire enough to lift your mood? Is looking forward to a bubble bath the best way to get through a cold, wet day? 

Keeping well in winter is more important than ever, making sure to eat well, move every day and spend time outside (no matter how awful the weather is) are all ways to help you stay well this autumn and winter.

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