Navigating the Winter Blues
January is coming to its close. We are well into the new year. And yet, somehow it feels like we are still waiting for it to begin. Still waiting for something to happen. If you are anything like me, you may find that jobs, missions, goals, are all stacking up to the point of total overwhelm, and yet when I go to embark upon them, I’m overcome by this sense that it isn’t quite time yet...
Perhaps a winter lethargy has got the better of me. Or I’m in denial that the festive period - where ignoring phone calls and putting off email responses for a later date is socially acceptabe - is well and truly over. Or, maybe, just maybe, I’m onto something. One of the consequences of living seasonally, off the land, is that you have no choice but to be tuned into the rhythms and cycles of the natural world. In this modern world, I consider this a great blessing. When the land is dormant, we take rest. When it is fecund, we summon all of our energy to keep up. So it seems counter-intuitive that January (the middle of the season of domancy) should be the start of the year. The month to surge into action, make resolutions and look ahead.
Nature teaches us that this is an important time of inner cultivation. Of drawing all of our energies, intention and potentiality into our core, tenderly nurturing them until the spring invites us to burst forth. And yet, we are still citizens of the modern world, with jobs to attend to, people to get back to, a towering stack of incomprehensible papers in the intray to attempt to diminish. Finding that happy medium of taking the world in our stride whilst simultaneously trying to do deep inner work is hard. Really hard. For many of us it plays upon our neuroses or vulnerabilities, making communication frought and often misjudged or untimely. It is easy to feel pulled under, suffocated, or in a pit of darkness.
I have found this month tougher than I expected. I ended 2019 feeling elated. Pleased with where I had ended up and the direction things were taking. The horizon looked rosy. But then January reared its head to remind me that reality needed attending to. That there will always be the ugly parts of life that cannot be avoided. In fact, the harder we try to avoid them, the more prominent they become. Confronted by a battleship of the problems, hardships and expences that inevitably come with managing a business, a farm, a family, a sick dog... I decided to give up. I told myself that this area of management wasn’t “in my nature” and therefore I was overwhelmed, doomed to failure, and should isolate, cry, and return to infancy.
An hour or so into my isolation I realised I was failing the test. That, were I fully embodied, grounded and sure of myself, I would be able to tackle these problems head on, and maintain composure throughout. The problem was not the problems. It was that the waters of my mind had become choppy and clouded. I needed to find the means of restoring clarity and a quiet inner strength.
I have always felt that the best way of getting perspective on life is by going out into nature. Big nature. Meaning big trees, mountains, water bodies, streams, rocks, you name it. And if you are able, it is especially effective if you go somewhere new. An enviroment you don’t necessarily spend a whole lot of time in. Somewhere where the formations and smells and sounds are novel in some way.
We went to the Lake District. Admittedly not a million miles from home, but fresh surroundings none the less. This change in environment offered me some insight into navigating the winter blues that I thought I might share for anyone else feeling this downward energetic pull at this time. They aren’t profound. Some are irriatatingly simple. But they stuck a chord with me when I needed a chord to be struck. I hope they serve you in some way too.
1. Know that you are okay
Easier said than done, I know. But be reassured that it is normal to feel a shift in energy, emotionally and physcially, during the winter months - especially during the latter part of the winter. Don’t worry that this slump in mood and feeling of heaviness is here to stay. The likelihood is that it will shift with the brightening and warming days. And it’s important to prioritise our selfcare at this time, taking rest and making sure we are fully nourished physically, mentally and spiritually. This doesn’t mean that we should just accept unhappiness, but that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it or think there is something “wrong” with us.
2. Get Outside
Rain or shine. Your whole mood changes the minute you befriend fresh air. Commit to spending a decent amount of time outside every day during daylight hours, and if you can, try to catch the sunset. There is something deeply cathartic about bidding the sun goodnight, safe in the knowledge that we will meet again tomorrow. Spend time reconnecting to the elements without in order that you become more sensitive to the elements within. The sky is such a vast reminder of temporality. With each passing cloud, each whisper on the wind, know that this too shall pass. Each moment is complete in and of itself. It is futile to fight the flow of nature, just as it futile to become entangled in a narrative of stress that will eventually fade and be replaced by something else. Pay close attention and you will see the little hints and encouragments from the ground, the branches, the birds - spring is coming! We are emerging, little by little, from the dark.
3. Breathe and sit
For a little time each day. Reconnecting with the breath is establishing the vital bond with life force. A reminder that we are energetic bodies first and foremost. Visitors to these bodies only breifly. We have a deeply intuitive potency that cannot be diminished by the material wears and tears upon our system. It is easy to become all consumed by the stresses, sadnesses and heaviness of everyday life and forget that the internal body is left unscathed. By sitting still and silently moving the attention through the paths and tides of the internal body, we can return to this sacred remembrance and find strength and clarity from our own, inexhaustible source.
Heaviness is stagnency. Sadness is a dance. If we do not move our feet and glide with the rhythms of the dance, we become stuck in a cycle of emotional lows. When we move the body, we enourage the flow of energy. We invite nourishment of the tissues through the circulation of prāna and blood and lymph and warmth. Through movement we can become full. And also through movement we can release. Whether it’s yoga, dancing, pilates, or running, allow the energy to pump through your veins. To create space where there was none. To rediscover forgotten corners of the internal body and bring vitalisation.
5. Get Inspired
Read. Read more than ever. In the Lake District I read 2 books in three days and stocked up on 6 others from charity shops. I love books. Always have, always will. But increasing the amount I read - and reading for fun not for learning or self-betterment - has a significant impact on how inspired I feel. For others it might be films (although I wouldn’t recommend binge watching), blogs, exhibitions, etc. Music is also hugely important during the dark winter months. We all know how music can mirror or alter our moods, so at periods of wavering emotions music can play a powerful role in how we navigate or attempt to transform our mood. An important note to make about this particular “inspiration”: it does not have to lead to anything. To be inspired by something does not automatically result in new masterpieces, but a seed has been planted. Whether it is a fast growing seed or one slower and grander to develop is of no matter. The potentiality lies in the seed itself and this is hugely encouraging during darker moments.
6. Herbs and Supplements
I am a great believer that a well constructed diet can cater to the majority of our nutritional needs, without adding piles of supplement tablets, liquids, or powders into the mix. Having said that, some of us need a little extra help to keep our bodies nourished. Especially in the winter, when fresh local fruits and vegetables are musch harder to come by. Everyone has a unique elemental composition, and therefore no two people are the same. These herbal and supplemental recommendations work for me, and are benefitial for most people, however do your own research into what would optimise your personal wellness.
- Dried oatstraw is very rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins that significantly support the body’s ability to respond to stress. It effectively optimises the functioning of the nervous and hormonal systems and can be a great emotional support at times of vulnerability or sensitivity. With a sweet and comforting taste, I like to infuse oatstraw for a minimum of 4 - 6 hours and drink throughout the day.
- Nettle leaf is another essential herb within my daily infusion. I could write an entire book on the benefits and glories of the humble nettle. But I won’t. Suffice it to say that nettle is a potent medicinal herb that should not be underestimated. It is extremely rich in chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals - particularly iron, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins a, b and c. I drink nettle daily year round for it’s nourishing, rejuvenating, and alkalizing properties, supporting the menstrual cycle, and boosting skin, hair and nail health.
- During the winter I take a liquid Vitamin D supplement. Yorkshire is dark at the best of times and in deep winter sometimes it feels like the sun is only up for an hour or so. I like to take the vitamin D in liquid form because psychologically I feel more nourished when I can taste the medicine I’m consuming. It tastes like citrus, like sunlight, like summer to come.
- Ashwagandha is one of ayurveda’s most potent treatments for vata imbalance. Winter is the season of vata, when the elements of air and ether are predominent within the atmosphere and we experience their cold, hard, brittle, rough and changable natures. Ashwagandha soothes and softens the roughness of both the internal and external body, as well as nourishing the finer tissues and promoting calm amidst feelings of anxiety or depression. Also balancing to Kapha dosha, ashwagandha helps to lift the weight from our minds and body’s, and promote healthy sleep patterns resulting in boosted energy by day. I drink ashwagandha powder stirred into warm water each evening to prepare for sleep, however some people prefer tablets for convenience.
Eating clean, nourishing, warm and freshly prepared food with minimal caffiene can help to ease stressors on the body and help us pass smoothly through this seasonal transition into spring. Drinking plenty of water, getting proper nourishment and treating ourselves kindly is key to navigating periods of low energy and stuck emotions.
Pulling oneself out of an energetic rut can be hugely challenging, particularly when the weather is cold and dank, and the daylight hours are limited, and our energy feels flagging. But by prioritising selfcare and establishing a deep internal connection on a daily basis, we can begin to instill the peace and clarity essential for inspiration and joy to thrive!
Be easy on yourself. Walk lightly. Breathe deeply.