Highly Sensitive During the Winter
As the days grow shorter and darker and the weather presents new challenges, many of us find our moods shifting…and not for the better. Being Highly Sensitive, during the winter you may find yourself feeling run down and lethargic, sad, uninspired, more sensitive and just being affected by the season much more deeply than others.
Can you do anything to prepare for, and slide gracefully through, the season? Is it possible to thrive in the winter? Yes! First, be aware of what you’re telling yourself and of focusing on the dread. No matter which tools you use to stave off the winter blues, if you’re convinced that it’s going to be horrible, that will likely be your experience. Our nervous systems don’t differentiate between now and the future…if you’re focused solely on what it will (could) be like, you’ll remain in the fight or flight anxiety mode or the freeze (shut down) mode. Instead of dreading the shift, and the shorter days, you can try some of these tips.
Self-care, now more than ever
Even if you’re not as active during the winter as you are during the summer, and you may not be involved in as many pursuits, it’s still extremely important to keep your well being paramount. Self-care isn’t just for crazy busy times; it’s for all times, and maybe even more so during the winter. So take that bath, burn the candles, meditate, read your book, work on your (fun) project, exercise even if it sounds better to snuggle under a blanket. And by all means, DO snuggle under the blanket sometimes. And don’t forget to nourish your body…eat healthy food that gives your system plenty of nutrients and leaves you energized rather than sluggish.
Mindfulness: it’s all temporary
Focusing on the future, which is unknown, is rarely helpful for feeling better. Being in the NOW, focusing on the current moment, allows you to stop the thinking mind from running rampant and to be ok right now. It’s not going to be winter forever, the days won’t always be this short or dark, you won’t be limited in your activities always. As a Highly Sensitive Person especially, it’s helpful to remind yourself of this if you begin to feel hopeless or weary, or start dreading the next day or week, or the whole season. Winter is part of a cycle, and this too shall pass.
Embrace the quiet and the down time
As HSPs we generally do very well with alone time, with down time. It’s an opportunity to decompress and regroup and calm our nervous systems. Sometimes we can feel a bit (or a lot) guilty for taking this time. In the winter, we have a built in “excuse” for going within…for doing less and spending more time inside and alone. Embrace this part of the season! Get some indoor chores done that you’ve been putting off, start a new hobby that’s only good indoors, listen to more podcasts…and don’t feel guilty! If you’re also an extrovert, this might be more challenging, with less going on, but you can increase your connections and experiences in various ways to get those needs met.
Even though we’re inside more and may participate in fewer activities, it doesn’t mean we have to have little or no contact with others. Reaching out to those we haven’t talked with for a while can boost our mood and help us to feel more motivated and part of the community. Video chats and phone calls, one on one coffee meetings or meals, when available, can do wonders for boosting mood. During the winter it’s easier to set boundaries on what this contact will look like, but don’t allow yourself to restrict the overall amount of contact, unless you determine that you were allowing too much before. Use your contact with others as both support and motivation to remain an integrated part of the world.
Brighten your surroundings
Being Highly Sensitive, we are affected more intensely by our surroundings. Sometimes we just need to bring a little spring or summer to our winter days. Displaying fresh flowers, adding some bright lights, hanging pictures or cloths with lots of vibrant colors can elevate your mood. You can try a new art or craft or building project or play uplifting, energetic music. You could even have a picnic on a blanket in the living room and make things you eat during the summer…finger sandwiches, fruit salad, etc. Adding anything to your indoor environment that feels happy and fresh and exciting can help to move out the doldrums.
Salt lamps or special, decorative lamps can be a fun way to add light to the darker days and help to keep your seratoninfrom dropping and influencing sadness/depression, and your melatonin from increasing too soon and making you feel like you need to go to sleep. There are also light therapy lamps available and they’re very reasonably priced these days. These can provide what you’re missing with the limited sunlight available during the winter and help to maintain your circadian rhythm (sleep cycle).
To not get lost in the mire of dark and slow and uneventful, it helps to continue with most or all of your previous routines, even if they need to be adjusted somewhat (such as switching from running outside to running on a treadmill). The routine keeps you focused and feeling like your time is used effectively and prevents you from feeling like you’re drifting. One very important aspect of this is sleep. With longer periods of darkness it can be easy to increase the hours of sleep each night. While this is helpful in the very short term if you’ve been running low or not getting enough sleep, in general it’s best to maintain the same sleep schedule every day, regardless of day of the week or the season. We don’t need extra sleep during winter, but good quality sleep is important, as always. Read more.
While sometimes it’s nice to have a harvest or holiday scent in the home, if you’re having difficulty handling winter, some more uplifting, energizing scents might be the ticket. Try essential oils or candles in scents that get you moving, like citrus or bergamot, mint or lemongrass. Some candles have scent combinations like ‘sea breeze’ or ‘spring forest’ or ‘tropical beach.’ Other scents like lavender, ylang ylang, frankincense, or chamomile are great de-stressers, but might leave you wanting to just burrow in. These last options are great late in the evening for getting yourself ready for bed, so you’ll be relaxed and able to slide more easily into slumber.
Keep up with Nature
Even if the weather isn’t perfect…it’s not sunny and warm or inspiring, you can still maintain your regular connection with Nature. Put on a few extra layers and head out somewhere to immerse yourself in the trees, mountains, meadows, parks…anywhere you can feel that connection. Even if it’s a challenge to get yourself bundled up and leave your warm, cozy space, once you’re out there you’ll likely feel calmed yet invigorated, and glad you went. This also helps to add interest to your day and help it to not seem endless.
If you’re continuing to struggle during the winter, it may be helpful to talk with someone who can help you evaluate options and create a plan for feeling better and getting more positivity from the season. Feel free to contact me for a complimentary phone chat if you think that may help you get over the hump. If you feel extremely depressed and nothing seems to be helping, your best tool may be seeking the help of a mental health therapist.