The rain comes down, steady. I open my windows wide – breathing in deep the dregs of summer and anticipating, slightly anxious, the cold, dark months ahead.
The changes come, slow and subtle, but my body feels them all the same. A little less light, a daub more grey. My right hand aches with cold some days though the temperature shift is slight.
Since its replacement, my hip no longer plays the barometer as it has since childhood but my body feels cold to the bone and shivers in anticipation.
Fall is on its way in the Northern Hemisphere and winter quick on its heels.
I love the flitting beauty of fall: the crunchy leaves and hand-knit scarves; happy gourds and the first frosty glitter. Who can resist the lure of homemade pumpkin-cashew lattes and long-simmered soups?
But if I am to weather well the long dark months of Alberta winter, I must thoughtfully prepare. Nothing left to chance. My physical and mental wellness depend upon it.
I know from your emails and comments that many of you struggle with stress, anxiety or chronic illness. So I’d like to offer 10 Science-Based Self Care Tips to support you through fall and winter. Grab your tea and settle in.
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10 Self Care Tips for Fall
Create a mantra for your year
Take the time to listen in and articulate what it is you most need in this season. Then create a mantra to rehearse daily and guide you in all your decision making. Your mantra should remind you that life does not have to be perfect to be beautiful; developing a healthy growth and stress mindset leads to resilience and psychological well-being (1, 2). My mantra this year is “don’t try so hard; just enjoy yourself.”
I will speak to my own experience here. As soon as the light shifts I feel it in my brain – oppressive, foreboding. Optimizing my Vitamin D3 (using lab work rather than guesswork & balanced with K2 and magnesium) has helped regulate my mood (3). D3 has also taken away the agonizing pain in my right arm, elbow to fingertip, that used to visit me each December to March (4, 5); I have Hashimoto’s and it shows up in many ways.
I take zinc (zinc has many important functions including playing a role in mood balance, immunity and inflammation) (6, 7), eat plenty of garlic and ginger and sip on homemade elderberry syrup to stay well when everyone else is succumbing to flu or colds. And this season I am experimenting with short-term GABA and 5-HTP use to calm anxiety (8, 9)*. The bonus is that the GABA finally squelched my cravings for wine.
Breathe in your favorite oil
I have been an essential oil user for over 20 years now for topical use and aromatherapy and love that more research is being done to determine appropriate use for mind and body health. Whether you use oils for calming or energizing, for pain relief or reducing inflammation, they are not cure-alls but can play a role in maintaining physical and mental health (10, 11, 12, 13).
Let there be light
I love the calming light of our salt lamps in the evening and also invest in beeswax candles to lift my spirits and infuse our home with their gorgeous scent (I react to smoke and perfume and the only scent permitted in my home are certain essential oils and beeswax). I often buy mine at an organic market and place them in a repurposed, wide-mouth jar so I catch the wax and avoid wasting a drip.
Stay in touch with the changing of the seasons
The truth is, if we live eyes and heart wide open, we understand that each season brings us gifts. I recommend keeping windows open throughout the year to reduce household air pollution but also to draw our attention to the shifts of the natural world (16).
Get out for walks in nature if possible; collect leaves or seeds or beautiful rocks to bring some nature home with you to boost immunity and mood and decrease stress (17). While I prefer disconnecting while walking, there can be value in pulling out your phone on occasion to collect and capture small happy views from your changing world.
Move your beautiful body
Moderate movement increases GABA and serotonin naturally (inhibitory or calming neurostransmitters) but simply moving our bodies makes us feel more competent and confident in the skin we’re in, regardless of size or fitness gains (18, 19, 20).
Since my 30’s my daily movement goals have been a minimum of 30 mins most days of the week but I turned 46 this summer and intend to age joyfully and feel strong in my body so I’ve doubled my movement goal – a makeshift treadmill desk is a big help.
You’ve heard this countless times before, right? But this is because routinely giving thanks reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Gratitude correlates to improved physical well-being, better sleep and even lower blood pressure (21). It’s cheap, requires no special equipment, and takes but a few minutes of your precious time.
Consider using a simple journal and as part of your morning and evening routines, write out a few things for which you are grateful. Or, simply express gratitude in your thoughts! This book, The How of Happiness, discusses gratitude and more science-based tips for boosting happiness.
Connect with your inner circle
It’s easy to hit the new school year running and end up frazzled and depleted long before Christmas. And busy does not actually mean connected. You need your inner circle for friendship, laughter and to hash things out when you feel weary. Text, arrange phone calls, get away for a weekend together. Plan date nights with your partner and take your big kids for coffee.
These relationships keep us grounded and healthy (Hey, introverts, I’m looking at you!). Social isolation or loneliness (as distinguished from solitude) impairs physical and mental health: it increases risk of death, impairs immune function, increases inflammation and risk of various chronic diseases. It increases pain, fear and fatigue. Yikes! Bet you want to text a girlfriend right now (22, 23).
Eat plenty of color
Do you ever get a hankering for one color of food? This spring it was purple for me (think blue sweet potatoes, purple cabbage, beet & blueberry smoothies, blackberries). Next came a deep-dive into red and orange; I could not get enough tomatoes and we’ve cleared off about 50 lbs of local strawberries in the last couple weeks.
I tend to crave deeply-hued greens in the winter (liquid chlorophyll, kelp flakes and matcha, leafy greens and home-grown sprouts. Oh, and always broccoli.) And even the oft-maligned white foods taste amazing and are some of the best sources of resistant starch which feeds our beneficial gut bacteria (green plantains, white potatoes, white beans, parsnips).
Consuming a variety of whole foods increases bacterial diversity and diversity equals resilience. Eating a rainbow also provides an array of vitamins, minerals and disease-reducing phytochemicals and ensures we get plenty quality fiber, fat and protein to keep us satiated and steady. If you want further inspiration check out this book. (24, 25, 26, 27, 28)
BONUS: this referenced article will help you learn more about nutrition for better moods – Mental Health, Inflammation, and Nutrition for Better Moods
Invest in self nourishment each day
I know your life is full but taking 30 minutes each day to still your body and mind and practice self nourishment can keep you energized, healthy and happier throughout the fall and winter. A hot bath with lavender oil, a reading break with Louise Penny (I love her Gamache series!) and a hot mug of tea, time for journaling and reflection before leaving to work, or even permission to watch an episode of your favorite show, guilt free, can remind you that you matter.
Reminding yourself that you do not have to constantly perform or fill everyone else’s cup while neglecting your own is one small but powerful act of self-compassion with extensive benefits to mind and body (29, 30). You cannot pour out what you do not possess.
I packed a lot of self care tips and tools into this list and hope they prove useful to you. You may need to reread and carefully consider how to apply these ideas to your life so that you move through the darker, colder season with health & JOY. In the meantime, which of these 10 science-based self care tips jump out at you?
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*amino acids are not right for everyone; do your homework first or seek guidance from your health-care professional; also I no longer use GABA and use prescribed CBD Oil for pain and anxiety (31).