The cold-weather months can be a complicated time when it comes to your physical and mental health. While some people love the change in seasons coupled with the holidays, the colder months can be challenging for a lot of people. Effective self-care strategies to get you through the colder months can make all the difference in how well you feel as the winter months wear on. Whether you manage seasonal depression, holiday-related stress and anxiety or just get weary of the icy snow and slush, self-care is key to any effective strategy for making the most of the cold-weather months — which can present you with a unique set of stressors.
“Our bodies respond to cold weather by tensing up,” clinical psychologist Dr. Deborah Offner tells SheKnows. “It’s harder to relax when you are holding your body tightly, bracing against the wind and running from place to place trying to seek shelter. So it’s important to be extra good to yourself and to create more opportunities to relax your body and mind.”
While self-care can seem like a luxury amid the hustle and demands of daily life, a 2006 study in the British Journal of Health Psychology shows it’s actually pretty nonnegotiable when it comes to upping your stress resilience, regulating your moods and taking care of your mental health. So choose a few new self-care strategies to try, get cozy and enjoy the unique beauty that only the winter months can bring. Here are 11 winter self-care strategies to get you through these ever-so-frosty cold-weather months.
Get some sun in every day
“Lack of sunlight — secondary to staying inside — can negatively affect mood, even for those without any diagnosable condition like seasonal affective disorder,” says Offner. “Pushing yourself to layer up and run outside or even buying special lights for your apartment can help.” Light boxes, early morning walks and making sure to get outside each day during daylight hours can help boost your mood during the shorter, darker days of winter.
Enjoy hot baths
A luxurious soak with your favorite bath salts or bubble bath is a simple way to warm up and pamper yourself during the cold-weather months, Offner says. Warm baths can help relax tense muscles and are an easy, accessible way to get some wintertime self-care in.
Find an infrared sauna
Few things combine warmth and relaxation as effectively as infrared sauna sessions. Infrared saunas help relax sore, tired muscles and can warm you up like nothing else. They may also help relieve arthritis pain, promote better sleep and improve circulation.
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Try floatation therapy
Floatation therapy can be a powerful winter self-care strategy, suggests Offner. While floating in a darkened tank of saltwater might not be for everybody, proponents like Offner say it can promote relaxation, pain relief, better sleep, deeper meditations and overall wellness.
Invest in your favorite moisturizer & stay hydrated
“Buy a moisturizer with a great smell and feel. Keeping your skin from drying out will make your body feel better,” Offner says. Drinking plenty of water during the cold-weather months is also key to keeping skin moist and your body hydrated when you’ve got indoor heated air on blast.
Prioritize working out
Going to the gym or taking a yoga or spin class can help you connect with others while boosting your health on multiple levels. Exercise is good for your body. It helps you deal with stress, and it can get you out of the house when you might be tempted to isolate and hibernate, Offner says. Exercising outside might be a challenge, but there are plenty of winter workout hacks to make sure you stay active.
“Go to the gym — you’ll be around other people, many of whom are as eager for social contact as you are,” Offner adds.
Experiment with outdoor winter sports
If outdoor sports are your thing, they can really boost your enjoyment of the colder seasons. “One of the best things you can do is find a way to embrace the cold rather than only fighting it,” says Offner. “Consider taking up skiing snowboarding or ice-skating/ice hockey. If you already know how and are competitive, there are adult ski racing and hockey leagues for men and women. If you wear enough layers, you can stay surprisingly comfortable in low temperatures, and the movement of these sports will never fail to warm you up.”
If you’re able to squeeze a quick getaway into your schedule, an active winter-wellness retreat can help you make the most of the snow.
Make time to get cozy & relax
Winter — especially the holiday season — can be a stressful time.
“Allow yourself to relax,” recommends Offner. “Catch up on Netflix under a blanket with hot chocolate.” Making time to focus on coziness and warmth — even if just for a nap or to catch your favorite show — can help create comfort during the colder seasons.
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Reenergize with warming visualization exercises
Meditation and guided visualizations can be powerful ways to ease cold-weather-induced stress and can help you manage seasonal depression, Erica Curtis, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells SheKnows.
“It may not be warm outside, but we can still capture moments of warmth on the inside,” she notes. “Take 60 seconds to imagine a warm, comforting color moving through your body from head to toe. Notice the sensations that arise inside. Alternatively, visualize someone who has been a support to you either in the present or past. Stay with that image for a full minute, allowing the feelings of warm support deepen inside you.”
Rediscover the beauty of the cold months
When you think about it, winter can actually be quite beautiful, and being mindful of that can help.
“Combat negative thoughts about the slush, gray skies or slippery roads by looking at winter through new eyes,” suggests Curtis. “Commit to taking a winter photo a day for a week, a month or all of winter. Play with photo filter apps. Notice how looking at winter with an artistic eye can shift your thoughts and feelings about the day.”
Connect through creating
Creating art with community and loved ones decreases feelings of loneliness and can improve your overall sense of well-being — especially during the long winter months, according to Curtis.
“Invite a friend (or friends) over to create a communal wreath, garland or some other season-inspired craft of your choosing,” she suggests. Searching online for winter crafts for adults can also help connect you with community members in your area.
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While the winter months can pose challenges for a number of reasons, some people experience significant mental health challenges with the change in seasons. “Seasonal affective disorder is a real condition but not all that common,” notes Offner. “Many of us suffer from ‘subclinical’ mood issues that can be helped with exercise, sleep [and] social connection. If your symptoms are persistent and significantly interfering with your ability to enjoy things — or to function in necessary or important ways — reach out to your therapist, if you have one, or your primary care physician. Counseling and/or medication can help if your winter blues turn into a clinical depression.”
While winter self-care strategies can be helpful for just about anyone, if you experience major seasonal depression or anxiety, make sure to check in with your doctor as soon as you can for extra support.