The change in seasons brings a renewed recognition that tempus continue to fugit, despite the innate human desire to keep things as they are. However, instead of looking at this time as one for indulging in melancholic nostalgia, consider it an opportunity to renew and refresh.
After all, everything goes in cycles. The planet turns, it rotates around the sun, even our entire Milky Way galaxy is an ever-spinning spiral. It’s time to revisit and reassess, to consider what habits serve you and which are best left in your past.
Nurturing yourself through this transitional period can transform your health and improve your emotional well-being. Here’s how to take care of your mind and body as seasons change.
1. Understand Your Triggers
What are triggers? You may know the term best from psychology as a stimulus that reawakens a painful memory, causing present-day emotional distress. However, you can also take a broader interpretation, treating triggers as anything that adversely affects your mental or physical state.
Anyone who has tried to plow through a grueling day of work with kaleidoscopes flashing before their eyes and pounding temples can attest to the impact on concentration, focus and overall desire to do your best. All you want to do is retreat to a quiet, dark room.
That’s not to negate the power of psychological triggers, which can cause maladaptive behaviors that impact your life as severely as physical pain, sometimes more so. Many people don’t realize what sets them off — it could be anything from a whiff of a passing stranger’s cologne to a phrase you associate with your abusive parents.
Suddenly, you’re whisked from the present and transported to a time when you endured trauma. The coping mechanisms you used to survive then might not serve you now — imagine the former soldier who reaches for a weapon when a car backfires. How can you identify and manage these? Try these mindful steps:
- Press pause: There’s a huge difference between reacting and responding and great power in hesitating a few moments before saying or doing something that may not serve you. Stop what you’re doing, retreating to a quiet place if possible. If not, take a few deep breaths to center yourself as you tune into your physiological and psychological reactions. Is your heart pounding? Are you seeing red? Do you feel angry, fearful, frustrated — perhaps all three?
- Retrace your steps: Think back to what you were doing, feeling and sensing when you first began feeling less like yourself. What were the sounds, sights, tastes, smells? Please don’t forget your other senses, like interoception. For example, physical pain can be a trigger if you’ve endured medical trauma where physicians and loved ones dismiss your real symptoms as imaginary.
- Consciously ask yourself how you can respond in a way that best serves you: Here’s the toughest part. Once you recognize that you feel triggered, reflect on your typical reaction. Does it bring the results or relief you want? If not, how can you mindfully respond differently to produce more desirable results?
Please be gentle with yourself as you go through this process, and understand it takes time. You might struggle to identify your specific triggers at first. Likewise, you might want to work with a trusted therapist or friend on brainstorming better responses to triggering situations. Accept that, like a broken leg, an injured psyche takes time to heal. Stick with the process.
2. Clean Up Your Year-End To-Do List
Anxiety has been at record levels since the pandemic, and current economic conditions mixed with global unrest means relief isn’t on the horizon anytime soon. You might be unable to influence external factors contributing to high-stress levels. However, you can take charge of those internal frustrations you so often cause yourself.
One of the biggest drivers of anxiety is a constantly edgy feeling that stems from having too much to do — and not making meaningful progress on any of it. It’s natural to grow overwhelmed, but the pressure increases as the year winds down, and you realize you broke last year’s resolutions yet again.
Fortunately, the easy solution to ease your mind is to clean up that to-do list. Understand that you might not be able to accomplish everything before January 1. However, you can sit down and make a plan, tackling monster goals like finishing a novel by devoting 15 minutes a day to your writing instead of waiting for the mood to strike you.
Your best tool? A new planner. It doesn’t matter if you go with paper or an app, but choose a system of organization and get in the habit of writing your weekly to-do list on Sunday evening now. By the time the new year rolls around, you’ll have established the habit of checking your daily list and adjusting time estimates as necessary.
3. Schedule Self-Care
Make your most important priority in the new year caring for yourself. After all, you can’t pour from an empty pitcher — think of your body and mind as your human infrastructure. You have to maintain it so you can give your best to your family, friends, career and community. Put that new planner to work by scheduling self-care for at least 30 minutes each day.
However, please don’t confuse self-care with lazy indulgence. While the occasional spa trip is a treat, this practice entails doing those things you must to keep your human machine running smoothly. It includes things like the following:
- Establish a nighttime routine: Brushing your teeth, washing your face and doing a few minutes of gentle stretching and reflection before you tumble into bed can help you awaken refreshed the next day while nurturing your beautiful self.
- Cooking healthy meals: Grabbing quick convenience meals is sometimes necessary. However, you should set aside time each week to prepare healthy treats that nourish your body. Incorporate nutrient-rich foods, like seafood or vegetables, into comfort meals, like macaroni and cheese, to feel cozy and healthy at the same time.
- Spending time on favorite hobbies: Life can’t be all wake-up, shuffle the kids to school, work, do homework and sleep. Rinse and repeat. You’ll lose your spark, for sure. Hobbies enrich your life by reminding you what it means to be human and engaged in productive activities that you choose and enjoy.
- Working it out: Exercise is as critical to good health as proper diet and nutrition, but too many people lament not having the time. You can make it — set aside 30 minutes daily for movement you love. Fit it into your daily routine by walking on a treadmill while watching TV or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
4. Enhance Your Diet With Seasonal Foods
Did you think fresh fruits and vegetables went out of vogue after Labor Day? Of course not. Fall is typically the harvest season, and you can enhance your nutritional intake with seasonal foods.
For example, here are some of the best fall produce you should stock up on the next time you shop:
- Collard Greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Winter squash
To maximize your phytonutrient intake, try to mix up your colors. The different hues correspond to various nutrient profiles — try to get at least three shades at each meal to maximize your intake.
Additionally, why not elevate your snacks? It’s a plus to start noshing on nuts and seeds this time of year. Why? Many people suffer from seasonal depression, and these foods contain high magnesium, zinc and selenium levels, vital minerals for improving mood and neurological health. Some patients with major depression make a rapid recovery from magnesium supplementation alone if they have an underlying deficiency.
5. Winterize Your Exercise Routine
If your summer exercise routine consists of outdoor running and swimming, you might consider hanging up your suit once it gets too chilly to enjoy. However, fitness is a year-round pursuit. Therefore, you should start winterizing your routine now so that it becomes second nature by the first snowfall.
What can you do? If you prefer warm, indoor workouts, why not consider one of the following?
- Indoor walking: You don’t necessarily need a treadmill. Some schools have indoor tracks they allow the public to use, and mall-walking is an option if you can restrain your desire to do more than window-shop.
- Fitness classes: These offer the chance to meet new people while moving your body in original ways. Why not try something creative, like aerial yoga or belly dancing?
- Martial arts: Do you want to get fit while learning self-defense? Why not sign up for jiu-jitsu or taekwondo?
What if, like Elsa, the cold never bothered you anyway? Have fun with one of these outdoor winter activities:
- Cross-country skiing: This activity may burn more calories than many others, but you hardly notice as you glide across the frozen landscape.
- Winter hiking: There’s something about being the first person to leave your footprints in the otherwise pristine snow.
- Ice skating: You can try speed skating or get acrobatic by trying a salchow or two. Why not do a little of both?
6. Reconnect With Loved Ones
The holidays are a time for friends and family, but they can leave others feeling lonely. Now’s the time to reconnect with those you love and start making plans to make the coming season festive and inclusive.
What if you don’t have many connections? It’s never too late to form new friendships as an adult, although it takes a bit of effort. Fortunately, technology makes it easier with apps that help you connect with others who share your interests — for example, Peanut is devoted to new moms, and Meetup helps you engage with folks in your neighborhood.
Is there any reason why you can’t give your old college roommate a call? They may welcome the chance to reconnect — who knows, they may be struggling to make new friends as an adult, too.
7. But First, Work on Your Boundaries
Unfortunately, the holidays are also the time for dealing with the more toxic members of your circle. It’s all too easy to get pulled into confrontational situations or coaxed into things you don’t want to do when you feel lonely. Before you brave the seasonal party scene, complete with angrily tossed gravy boats, work on establishing your boundaries.
What should you consider? There are five basic types of boundaries — reflect on your limits for each.
- Physical: Holiday parties mean hugs, but they might not feel comfortable to you. Rehearse what to say to politely decline unwanted contact.
- Sexual: It’s very common, especially among women, to tolerate unwanted advances. Get comfortable saying no and leaving the scene if the other person refuses to respect your wishes.
- Intellectual: Will you sit quietly and let your racist uncle hurl slurs about people you care about, or will you get up and leave the scene? What topics are you willing to talk about and what’s off-limits? Get comfortable saying, “I don’t want to discuss it.”
- Emotional: Sometimes, toxic family members can expect you to become their sounding board and crutch. It’s one thing to lend support, but understand it’s also okay to say no to repeated 3 a.m. phone calls.
- Financial: If you’re doing well, it isn’t uncommon for relatives who aren’t to ask for assistance. Decide beforehand what, if anything, you’re willing to offer money-wise and stick to your guns.
8. Give Back
Finally, the coming cold season is the perfect time to give to those less fortunate and do your part to make society a better place. How does this tie into taking care of your mind and body? It turns out that giving rewards you, too. It prompts your brain to release feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin that dispel depression.
There are dozens of ways to participate. If you love animals, local shelters always need dog walkers. Do you prefer working with the 2-legged creatures? If so, why not consider “adopting” a child or family for the holidays by contacting your local social services agency and inquiring about such programs?
How to Take Care of Mind and Body as Seasons Change
The change of seasons invites you to pause and reflect. It’s time to clean out your metaphorical closets, assessing what habits work for you and what you prefer to improve.
Consider the eight tips above for taking care of your mind and body as the seasons change. You’ll enter the new year feeling refreshed and ready for life’s next challenges.
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