Dispel the lockdown blues with these science-backed recommendations.
Even though temperatures are plummeting, walking is not only a great way to practice mindfulness, but it gets you outside - which everyone knows is great for your mental health. And, during the dark winter months, it’s even more important for several reasons:
Reduced daylight hours lead to a reduction in the natural absorption of vitamin D from UV light. Vitamin D is one of the most important biochemicals for the immune system and fighting off viruses. But, remember, walking outdoors isn't sufficient to avoid Vitamin D deficiency, so be sure to take supplements too. [Find out more about what Vitamin D does for you and why it's so important.]
Exposure to cold increases the brain’s production of norepinephrine, a behavioral chemical that can make you feel elated and excited.
Exposure to trees, sky, the stars, and nature has been shown time and time again to help improve mental well-being.
Walking allows you to capture all of these benefits as well as offering a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. In Europe, it’s quite common for people to take a walk after a meal, particularly dinner. Several studies have looked at the effects of a post-dinner walk on things like nocturnal glycemia, type-2 diabetes, and gastro reflux. All found that these various symptoms were improved with even just a 20 minute moderate intensity walk after an evening meal.
“Concentrate on the air as it fills your lungs and expels into the atmosphere. Notice the breath of your exhale becoming one with your surroundings,” advises Veronika Tait, Ph.D. writing for Psychology Today. She notes that studies have shown walking in forests or in close sight of trees has been shown to lower levels of stress and anxiety.
“Picture yourself expanding into the vastness and reflect on the changing seasons. Ponder what it means to be at the mercy of the sky each day, recognizing our powerlessness over Mother Nature,” she adds. There’s no better time than winter to appreciate our powerlessness over nature.
If you’re not the kind of person who likes the cold, a new attitude about winter could be only a matter of how you frame it. Kari Leibowitz, an American psychologist studyied Norwegians’ attitudes towards their long sunless winter above the Arctic Circle. “Most people don’t realize that their beliefs about winter are subjective,” Leibowitz says. “They feel like they’re just someone who hates the winter and there’s nothing they can do about it… But once you put it in people’s heads that mindsets exist, and that you have control over your mindset - I think that that’s tremendously powerful.”
She discovered that the further north you live in the Arctic Circle, the better the inhabitants are mentally prepared. Amazingly, research shows that positive attitudes increase with latitude, i.e in regions where the winters are even harsher. See OGN's Latitude for Attitude for more on this.
After accruing all those benefits from your walk, there’re still more waiting for you when you get back home. It's the opportunity to maximise your mindfulness and your enjoyment of the moment.
Veronika Tait recommends slowing down as you approach your door and say out loud how grateful you are for the shelter that keeps you safe from the cold. Once inside, take a moment to feel the warmth of your home’s air reaching the parts of you that are most cold like the nose, lips, and ears. Focus on that while you pour yourself a cup of herbal tea, and try and pay attention to the smell and the steam from the water as it enters your cup.
Sit down and drink your tea without moving until it’s finished. Here’s why:
Many herbal teas have therapeutic effects that can be very beneficial for staving off sickness, bettering sleep quality, and helping de-stress after a long day.
A cup of tea is about as long as it takes to finish a short mindfulness routine. It’s been shown, and the HeadSpace app has made a fortune from it, that just 5-8 minutes of mindfulness or meditation is enough to start experiencing the beneficial effects.
Use your fanciest cups, saucers, and other tea paraphernalia. Why? Because if it looks fabulous, it will help subliminally convince you that it is fabulous.
Whatever your winter, lockdowns, or holidays look like this year, don’t let stress get in the way of a nice brisk walk and a hot cup of tea, all with 8-10 minutes of focusing on your place in nature, and the things you’re thankful for.
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