On Self Care: Winter Weather and What to do About it

It’s cold out there. There’s no two ways about it and it would be putting it very lightly to say that nobody really likes it.

This part of winter, although horrible, is pretty easily solved. For the most part staying warm can be accomplished with a good jumper, a cup of tea and never, ever leaving the house when it’s not entirely essential. While this is all well and good on the weekend – most of us are caught up in these pesky little things called work, money, sleep and emotional stability and for that, we generally have to go outside… at least occasionally anyway.

Given that we haven’t yet developed the technology to control the weather – at least in terms of making it rain less – it’s probably going to be necessary for us to explore other options. Therefore, my first suggestion is that we should learn to take care of ourselves – you know, so if nothing else we can still feel warm on the inside.

If what I’m suggesting sounds radical, that’s probably because our overworked, underpaid and largely unfulfilled existence appears to be among the defining traditions of this raucous 21st century.

Why do we need self care?

Today’s post is all about self-care and what the concept itself  actually means. Some people out there might scoff at the idea that putting yourself first could be difficult but just think about it for a moment: It’s so mulishly instilled in most of us to live in a certain way, which is by no means selfless, that we often spread ourselves too thin. We strive to grasp everything we possibly can, we rush to make every meeting and when the day is over and the tiredness sets in, we head to bed and endeavour only to sleep ourselves awake once more.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. 

Then when things go wrong we act surprised. We hit a small bump in the road and our conditioning sets in. So we approach our problems the only way we know how – like a racehorse bearing down on a 6 foot fence. We can leap, with all our might, time after time, chasing the horizon until the inescapable spectre of exhaustion catches up with us and we grind to an unceremonious halt.

The other option is to swerve your problems entirely. Pull a sickie. Ring up work/friends/family and tell them you’re coming down with something, that the car won’t start or that you have to make an emergency trip to staples to print off 100 A3 posters of your cat, Ludo, who since last Thursday evening has been regaling the neighbourhood dogs with a remarkable impression of 1995s most elusive ne’er-do-well, Keyser Söze.

‘Self-care isn’t a new term, teaching or concept, but now, more than ever, we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired’ 

Now maybe it’s just me, but truthfully, both of these options leave me with something of a bad taste in my mouth. It’s kind of like living your life by the mantra of Oz’s desperate cry to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It’s this naive logic that blinds us to the obvious fact that any life lived at full-tilt is destined to fail. As when the hands are down, and the chips are in – whether by bluster or blunder – most of us come to realise this: it’s all just one long bluff.

So what is self care?

Ostensibly self-care means nothing more than just doing right by yourself. But it’s much more than that. Self-care isn’t about indulgence but rather about coming to recognize the presence of certain pivotal moments in one’s social and emotional stability and understanding how to act at that time. For me, self-care is a kind of safety valve. One whose pressure I have quietly learned to tap as my mood waxes and wanes in an attempt to keep myself on a steady course.

The way we do self-care is dependent on the situation: If that sounds nebulous or ill-defined then let me elaborate for a moment. Take for example a regular work week. When Friday comes most of us jump at the chance to do anything new. The obvious problem here is that it usually has something to do with the bottom of a bottle of wine.

Now I don’t have any problems with people ‘blowing off steam’. In many ways this is natural – we all like to have fun and it’s something that works for a lot of us. The key is to be able to understand when you’re doing it for fun, and when you’re doing it because you can’t think of anything else to do. This is the tricky part because it means that you have to get honest with yourself and that one hurts sometimes.

You can either say to yourself ‘okay, I want to go out’ or admit that there is nothing wrong with being ‘boring’ as long as it’s the thing that you need at the time. Self-care may as well be synonymous with mindful practices of mental-health. It’s all about giving yourself the space to celebrate each part of yourself without having to worry about whether or not your beans on toast is as instagrammable as the bee-pollen & fig parfait that cost you £20 and 2 hours to make.

So why now?

Well, in spite of the abundance of chestnuts and fairy lights, many people seem to spend December in a crushing work sleep cycle that steals the sunlight from your days and the energy from your nights. Couple that with time’s relentless march towards Christmas Day and all the family fun/fear (delete as appropriate) that entails and the most wonderful time of the year is starting to look a bit more daunting.

What can I do?

The best part about this is that self care can mean just about anything as long it’s right for you. You can see more professional recommendations here but we’ve also put together seven ideas for you (one for everyday of the week) :

and that’s just for starters… We didn’t really want to turn this post into another listicle about scented candles. It’s true that routine can be important and finding your path and re-navigating through harder times. Yet, the facts remain that self-care and mental health are intrinsically linked and it would be completely insane to suggest otherwise. Many professional opinion-makers have said that the best thing to do is to really celebrate those small acts of self-care. The little ones that make your day a little bit nicer and help you navigate the cold and barren months of winter.

While on the surface this seems logical, the truth can be much harder to perceive. It can be hard to celebrate anything when your notion of self, of desire, appetite, verve or vigour is clouded by the cold and obstinate fog of depression. We don’t wish to hide from or profiteer on the subject other than to say that many self-care rituals seem to be directed to keeping healthy people happy rather than contending with the serpentine maze of mental health.

At this time of year – when we’re surrounded by such saccharine messaging of family, fires, candy canes and gingerbread it is worth remembering that these feelings are not necessarily evoked in everyone. If you think somebody may be struggling, the best thing you can do is to reach out to them even if it’s just to watch a movie or drink a beer. Often times we hide these feelings through the kind of over the top responses I mentioned earlier and though a person may be surrounded by people and parties that doesn’t necessarily make them happy. Isolation is crippling – and it strikes me that it is in the very nature of depression to say that in the mind of the isolated – there is very little difference between being lonely and thinking you are.