Ah, once again, winter is upon those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. I’ve had a difficult relationship with winter in the past and it’s often hard for me to transition into it. I’ve found myself commiserating with everyone else about the cold and snow and spending the months yearning for warmer weather. I suffer from seasonal depression and it can be very difficult to function with the shorter days and long nights. Vitamin D, massive doses of B vitamins, and fresh air seem to help, but physiologically and emotionally, some days are still difficult to get through. It adds another layer to dreading this time of year.
The catalyst for change may have started for me in 2018. Overnight, I acquired an extreme and intense anxiety that at first was tied to sleep. It sparked a months-long battle with insomnia and was incredibly debilitating. This onset of anxiety unfortunately came about at the end of October as the days were getting shorter. I quickly developed an unhealthy obsession with daylight and even had anxiety attacks at the sight of the sun setting. Nighttime became my enemy and winter made it much worse with the darkness it brought. It became imperative that I find a way to deal with the season in a positive way, as the combination of my seasonal depression and this new anxiety made it difficult and sometimes absolutely impossible to function. I felt like I was going insane. I still don’t know what triggered that period of extreme anxiety and I genuinely don’t know how I made it through that winter, but it definitely brought me new resolve.
At the end of 2019 into 2020, I made it my goal to work on reframing my view of the cold season. I embrace every other season and what they bring, so it was only fair that I learned what this season patiently waited to teach me. It started with baby steps here and there, mostly learning to admire of the beauty of snow and ice. Then last year I dove in deeper than ever to surrendering to the wintertime and I learned many more things that I am actually excited to continue with this year. I did my own studying on how Nordic countries deal with darkness, cold, and snow; I watched youtubers talk about how they handle the change in season; I read about how Inuit communities traditionally prepared for winter; I had conversations with my therapist about what winter meant and discussed its nature of recharge and rest. This year, as the months grew colder, I quietly admit at the price of a weird pride that for the first time, I was looking forward to winter. At the end of December, I treated the solstice with a reverence of sorts. The night before, I had silently bid farewell to the last sunset of autumn – which, poetically, was particularly stunning – and the morning of the solstice, I welcomed the new season.
Wintertime calls us to slow down. Even when walking through snow, we are forced to slow down and be mindful of our steps. I naturally find myself sleeping more and my energy levels drop. I don’t try to fight it anymore. In the form of delicate flakes, winter touches everything and encourages it to be still. The trees rest under blankets of the white fluff and the wind chooses to whisper more. Nature is asleep and many animals hibernate. While I do not have the luxury of being able to hibernate, I can choose to slow my pace down and be more forgiving of myself for sleeping in later on my days off. This is the best time of year to read, write, work on personal growth, and make art. I light my favorite candles in the evening and savor cups of hot tea. My eating habits change as I crave soups, warming spices, root vegetables, meat, and bread. It is best to flow with my natural inclinations as it ultimately makes me feel better.
The cold has probably been one of the most difficult things for me to deal with as it does make my joints ache and hurt more, but I’ve been going on a journey with that as well. Anyone close to me knows I love heat. I’ve even put on cardigans when the temperature is 70 f. However, after visiting Iceland a few years ago and experiencing swimming in a hot spring in January, I became fascinated with the idea of the cold and being out in it. This year I discovered the wonderful Wim Hof after watching a video of someone dive into a frozen lake after merely taking deep breaths. I’ve rabidly watched his videos and started practicing his breathing exercises and found that it’s helping my relationship with the cold air. It’s amazing that merely breathing can warm a person up enough to swim in rivers in the dead of winter and hike mountains in the snow wearing just a pair of shorts. Maybe one day I, too, will jump into a frozen lake, but I digress. The cold is brutal, but it is necessary. Winter wheat needs the cold to activate proteins to help it flower when the weather warms up. Maple trees need to cold to produce sap. So while it is uncomfortable, the cold is another thing I am learning to develop a healthy relationship with.
Winter brings much beauty. When else can you observe sparkles falling from the sky? This is also the season for stargazing. Less water vapor in the air and longer nights lead to crisp, clear skies and dramatic constellations. If you live far enough north, you can also glimpse the northern lights as they flicker through the sky, teasing and changing color rapidly. Aside from the sky, the landscape becomes more magical. Hoarfrost and rime ice are a dramatic sight on branches and structures and a fresh snowfall can transform the ground into a sea of miniscule diamonds. Driving up to look at the waves frozen in time on the lake is a particular joy. When I’m hiking in the woods, I appreciate the contrast of the evergreens against the backdrop of white and it’s a delight to come across little pinecones scattered all over the ground.
Winter is here, but it is no longer my enemy. It is time for my body to rest and recharge and for my mind to be nourished. The longer nights lead to greater appreciation of the longer days ahead. The bitter cold makes the contrasting warmth more enjoyable. Snowflakes on my nose are just as lovely as raindrops from a summer thunderstorm. I think I can confidently say that I am now embracing the season for what it has to offer me. My seasonal depression still exists and I do still find myself grumbling at having to sweep the car off once again, but I am more in tune with the season and ultimately happier than I ever have been before during this time of year.
Stay tuned for winter adventures! I have plans up my sleeve.