parenting,  seasonal

Winter Wellness: 5 Strategies to Help You and Your Family Thrive in the Darkest Season

Bleak. Dark. Cold. Depressing. Unending.

Invigorating. Cozy. Restful. Special. Sacred.

Either set of adjectives can describe winter. It all depends on how you live it and how you view it.

Winter Blues

I used to dread winter, particularly when I was working full-time. I never saw the light of day, and the freezing temperatures got me down. I struggle with PTSD, and winters were historically brutal for me. The short days and long nights were often hallmarked with anxiety, fatigue, sickness, and emotional struggle.

When I quit my job and became a stay-at-home-mom, I realized that I had the opportunity to change the way I lived in winter, and the way I viewed it. I knew that I wanted better for myself, and for my children. I wanted to find a way for us all to be well in winter and to enjoy the season.

With some research, some trial-and-error, and some common sense, I began to discover that certain practices made the season, and every season, so much easier to manage. And each of those practices has a connection to a basic human need that we tend to neglect as people living in the Information Age.

Living as God Intended

As I was laying in bed last night, reflecting on this topic, I began to think about how God designed humans. I began thinking about the needs of humanity both before and after the fall, and I realized that each of my practices for wellness were directly connected to those needs.

When God first created mankind, he made us to be dependent on Him, to be connected to the created world, to have intimate and life-giving relationships with others, to eat real food directly from the land, to engage in meaningful and purposeful work, and to rest. When sin entered the world, these needs were influenced, but they did not go away.

I wonder, simply: if one, or several, of those needs are left unmet, is it any surprise our wellness suffers?

The Idol of Technology

Consider this, too: technology has become our god, in many ways. And technology interferes with how God designed us to be.

Because of technology, we can go throughout our day without ever setting foot in nature. Because of technology, our relationships can be limited to an exchange of data between screens. Because of technology, much of our food has become food-like-substances, created, processed and preserved in artificial ways. Because of technology, we’ve traded in convenience and leisure for meaningful and purposeful work. Because of technology, our bodies and minds are inundated with stuff that inhibits true rest.

While technology is useful, I believe we have given it too much authority in our lives. We’ve submitted to the ways of technology instead of the ways of our Creator. And we’re struggling because of it.

When we are not living as God intended us to live, is it any wonder that our wellness suffers all year round, and particularly during the season in which we are most vulnerable?

Wellness in Winter

It’s my opinion, and my experience, that wellness is achieved when living as humanly as possible. We ought to reflect on how humans have lived for most of history and heed those practices; to keep technology in its proper place as servant, not master; to seek to live as God created us to live, understanding and caring for the needs he, in wisdom, gave us.

If we do this, I believe we will find that both we and our children will be set up for better success in the winter and all year round.

Below are five strategies I’ve implemented to help me and my family stay well in winter. I hope they can help you and your family thrive, and not merely survive, the darkest season.

Get Outdoors

Humans were not meant to live in climate-controlled environments all day long. For thousands of years, people were out in all weather as part of daily living, and our bodies and minds were designed to handle it, even need it. From boosting our production of vitamin D to promoting physical activity, being outdoors is an essential part of physical health, and we are missing out when we stay trapped indoors.

Even in winter. Especially in winter.

Last year, I was convicted about the fact that the average prison inmate spends more times outdoors than the average child. I committed to spending a minimum of 15 minutes outdoors each day with my kids. I was doing it for them, but I soon discovered that it was greatly benefiting me, too. And 15 minutes often blossomed into an hour or more, even on the coldest days.

Getting outdoors daily in winter had an incredible impact on our wellness as an entire family (you can read more about our experience here). The fresh air and moments of precious sunlight boosted our moods. We were active daily. We slept better at night. We were healthy all winter long. We were inspired by the beauty of nature. We enjoyed the thrill of extreme weather and the comfort of coming into a warm home. We were healthier, happier, and made meaningful memories together.

I know, it’s not easy to get time outdoors, particularly if you work full-time and/or your kids are in school all day. However, every little bit counts. Try, like me, to spend at least 15 minutes outdoors daily. Maximize your time on weekends and holidays for longer doses of “Vitamin N“.

Remember: we were made to live in and among nature. It is good for us, mind, body, and soul.

Here are some tips to getting outdoors more in winter:

  • Read up on the amazing benefits being outside has to offer.
  • Commit to being outdoors a minimum of 15 minutes a day. Work your way up to more time as your body adjusts.
  • Come up with an outdoor winter bucket list (click here for my blog post on forty things to do outside in winter).
  • Invest in warm winter clothes to make yourself comfortable.
  • Make the return indoors a celebration with warm drinks and cozy snuggles.

Practice Hygge

I first learned about hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) while reading The Danish Book of Parenting. The word, which has become a buzzword of late, is losely translated as “coziness together”, and the concept intrigued me.

Hygge is both a practice and a way of life. It is characterized by warm and comforting things: coziness, lit-candles, snuggling, family, laughter, fun. Knowing that the Happiest People on Earth flourish during their long, cold winters because of hygge encouraged me to give it a go. And I’m so glad I did.

I made an effort to practice hygge in our home and was truly amazed at how it enriched our family life and our experience with winter (you can read more about our experience here). Weekly, we had “hygge time”, which basically was intentional time spent together doing cozy things. Sometimes we painted together, sometimes we’d snuggle and read books. We’d drink hot tea and play soft music and always light candles. Regardless of what we did, however, we celebrated each other, stayed positive, and fostered connection.

We, as humans, thrive when we are intimately connected with each other. We are made to be interdependent, to be known and loved. Hygge is a wonderful way to foster relationships and enjoy time together with family and friends.

Here are some tips for practicing hygge:

  • Make time for hygge regularly and be sure all members of your family are in attendance.
  • Make the environment cozy by lighting candles, dimming lights, putting on soft music, and breaking out blankets.
  • Turn off your phones and devices and focus on each other.
  • Leave all negativity at the door; gently redirect conversation as needed to keep the time positive and uplifting.
  • Drink warm drinks and enjoy homemade foods.
  • Do an activity that is more process than product.
  • Express love for each other according to each other’s love languages.

Eat Nourishing Food

Do you feel particularly down, anxious, or depressed in the winter? You need to consider what you’re eating.

Upon having some health issues myself, I’ve delved deeply into researching the role of food in health. What I learned is that science is clear: what we eat does determine our long-term health, both physically and mentally.

Ours and our children’s generation struggle with allergies, autoimmune diseases, and chronic illness in alarming rates. Some of this has to do with what and how we eat. We’ve traded convenience for health, and we are paying the price.

I made a decision to make nourishing food a priority. That meant spending more money on quality ingredients, making most meals from home, and taking time to prepare food from scratch. But it has been worth it. Not only is it better for us, but it tastes better. I’ve learned to better appreciate food and enjoy eating instead of seeing it exclusively as a means of survival.

I try to use ancestral eating practices as a guideline for my family. We prioritize whole foods, limit processed sugar, eat pasture-raised animal products, drink raw milk, enjoy homemade bone broth, and stay away from as many processed foods as possible. We do enjoy treats, but we try to see them as treats, not as the norm.

Eating well can feel difficult, especially in winter. But winter is a season in which we desperately need nourishing foods. Our bodies and minds are particularly vulnerable in the winter, and choosing to eat the well may make the difference between wellness and illness for you and your family.

Here are some tips for eating well in winter:

  • Take most of the money you spend eating out and use it toward locally raised, organic, quality ingredients.
  • Read labels. Stop buying highly processed, GMO-filled, sugary products.
  • Make time in your weekly schedule to construct a basic meal plan for the week.
  • Plan time in your week for preparing meals and make as much as you can from scratch.
  • Reserve treats for special occasions.
  • Learn about how food is processed so you can make decisions for you and your family as an informed consumer.

Enjoy a Winter Hobby

Our generation has more leisure time than any before, and how we use it counts. It’s easy to burn time on social media or turn on the television and subject ourselves to hours of mindless entertainment. But spending time in this way is not generally life-giving or productive.

Consider taking up a hobby instead. Winter is a perfect season to work at something you otherwise don’t have time for and fill the human desire to do something purposeful or meaningful.

Last year, my husband and I discovered a forgotten love for handiworks; I took up embroidery and Kevin, leather-crafting. We would trade in some of those nights of binging the Great British Baking Championship for working on our little projects, and the kids would happily do their own version of a project themselves. In the end, we found the time to be much more rewarding and it gave us the ability to talk casually as we worked side-by-side.

We also found that family activities such as reading, baking, or doing a puzzle made for peaceful and pleasant evenings. We still, of course, enjoyed being entertained from time to time, but we were genuinely excited to engage in meaningful hobbies with the time winter offered us.

Here are some winter hobbies to enjoy alone or as a family:

  • Baking or cooking
  • Embroidery or cross-stitching
  • Knitting or crocheting
  • Sewing
  • Leather-working
  • Woodworking
  • Building
  • Puzzles
  • Painting or coloring
  • Sculpting
  • Learning or practicing an instrument
  • Studying an interesting subject
  • Nature Journaling
  • Bible Study
  • Reading independently
  • Reading aloud or listening to an audio-book
  • Journaling
  • Writing
  • Dancing
  • Skiing or snowboarding
  • Practicing Yoga

Rest

When the long, dark days of winter set in, nature seeks rest. Animals burrow underground. The trees and plants go dormant. When the sun hides its face and we are covered in longer stretches of night, the natural world seems to seeks shelter and respite after many months of busyness.

We would do well to practice the same!

I’ve noticed in my kids, and also with myself, that our bodies need more sleep and rest in the darkest season. But we often try to continue on at a break-neck pace, even without the sun to energize us.

Too often we fill our schedule with events and activities to pass the time. Too often we subject ourselves to hours of mindless, stimulating entertainment when our bodies and minds are craving rest.

What would it look like to listen to our bodies: to allow for long naps on Sunday afternoons, to go ahead and call it quits at 8:00pm? What do we gain by pushing through the exhaustion? Chances are, the next day will dawn and we will begin it by pressing snooze and endure it with copious amounts of caffeine.

What would it look like to prune back the schedule: to say “no” to some activities and responsibilities take some time off from the rat-race? What do we gain by filling our calendars? Likely, we are adding unnecessary stress that will keep our minds going when what we need is a break.

Winter calls us, like the rest of creation, to a season of Sabbath and rest. It serves us well to heed its call.

Here are some ways to help you rest during winter:

  • Limit consuming caffeine or other stimulating substances after noon.
  • Try to get outside during the day to help keep your circadian rhythms in check.
  • Make your home environment peaceful by keeping it tidy, playing soft music, lighting candles, etc.
  • In the hour before bed, dim lights and turn of screens.
  • Unplug your Wi-fi router at night to promote more restful sleep.
  • Simplify your calendar by choosing to only participate in events or activities that are life-giving to you and your family.
  • Surrender, for a season, any responsibilities that you feel you don’t have the time or energy for.
  • Re-direct any anxious thoughts or feelings with prayer and truth.

May you find this season to be full of joy and wellness!

Interested in reading more? See the following blog posts:

-How Hygge can Help Your Family
– Being Outside in January: How Braving the Cold has Benefited our Family
40 Things to Do Outside with your Kids This Winter

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