For Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), the change in seasons can be a time of delight or dread.
For folks living in hotter climates, the fall and winter bring about a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat and sweltering humidity. Yet, for others, the change means colder weather, shorter days, and less sunshine.
Most Highly Sensitive people are very in tune with their environment and the seasons. Often these changes bring about difficult emotions. Winter can mean isolation because you aren’t socializing as much. Loneliness, shame, or anger may surface as you feel the impending holidays that may or may not be nourishing to you.
If you find yourself bracing yourself for winter, it doesn’t have to be this way. With some time-honored tips and tricks, you can learn to adjust your expectations of winter, slow down, and embrace the quiet wisdom of this time of year.
Ten tips to enjoy winter this year
1) Embrace the art of cozy
I recently learned about this concept of hygge. It’s a Danish word that doesn’t have a direct translation in English. I’d like to think of it as learning to see coziness and comfort as something artistic, simple, and sacred.
Thus, it’s time to throw on your cozy sweats, oversized hoodie, soft blanket and really savor the simple pleasure of solitude, silence, and winter. Is there a quiet hobby that you would like to pick up again? Is there a book series you’ve been dying to read? Do you have a fireplace that you never use? When was the last time you sat quietly with a cup of tea and journaled? When was the last time you had a deep and meaningful conversation with a loved one in your home, as opposed to a busy restaurant or bar?
Let’s get hygge with it! Take the time to schedule at least one of these activities this week.
2) Focus on the positives
It’s really easy to get overwhelmed and focus on the frustrating or negative aspects of winter – the cold, the ice, the shorted days, or the extra holiday spending. But what about all the beauty that winter brings?
As much as I dig summer, my business name is actually rooted in sacred memories of winter. I love the silence of winter. I love the purity of a coat of fresh snow. I love warm soups, quirky mugs, and blueberry scones.
Make a list of at least 10 things you love (or could love) about winter. Share that list with others, on social media, or post it your fridge. Make a point to ensure that your schedule contains all of these activities on a regular basis.
3) Wear more layers than you think you’ll need
This might come across as obvious, but how many times have you been caught without a hat or gloves when you really needed them? It can be annoying to lug around that extra jacket or scarf, but what’s the alternative? Having your teeth chatter because you forgot to bring an extra vest to the hockey game/restaurant/ice rink/wine bar?
If you don’t like this idea, then just plan to keep a kit of all your winter extras in your car or office. I have a sweater that just lives in my office year round. I keep an extra jacket and gloves in my car. This way, if I don’t plan accordingly, I still have reasonable access to extra layers.
Layer up. Better to be sweaty than shivering.
4) Turn up your thermostat
There is a lot of advice out there on how to save on your heating bill during the winter. Some folks are not as distressed by cold weather and so it makes sense for them to keep their home a few degrees colder. However, if you’re like me, being cold makes you miserable. Once I get cold, no amount of layers helps me get warm.
If your body is very sensitive to cold, my advice is to give yourself permission to keep the thermostat at a comfortable temperature. It doesn’t mean to keep your heat cranked up to 85 degrees all winter (unless, of course, you want to). You can still make sure the temperature is lower at night and to make sure you have the heat lower when you’re away from home. It just means you don’t have to make yourself chilly in the name of $10 of savings on your bill.
If you’re skeptical, just see what happens if you do this for a month. Then you can determine how to balance your comfort and your budget.
5) Adjust your work schedule
Most advice around winter wellness involves getting some kind of sunshine and light. If you work the normal 8-5 grind, you may find yourself driving to and from work in the dark or dusk. This is a recipe for the winter blues!
If possible, see if there is a way to adjust your schedule to honor your body’s natural rhythm. Can you work from home once a week? Work 4 10s so then you have 3 days off? If you work remotely, what if gave yourself permission to take work from someplace warmer for a period of time?
If you are self-employed, you might have even more options. This may mean working less overall, starting your day later, or having a 2 hour lunch break so you can get outside for some sunshine.
In the winter, I give myself permission to have a gentler schedule, and work less hours, knowing that it will balance out in the spring and summer when I have more energy.
6) Listen to your inner child
As someone who lives for sunny months of Colorado, I find myself getting irritable once the Autumn Equinox hits. I get frustrated that I can’t continue at the same exhilarating pace of summer – camping, traveling, and long evenings spend on the sunny porch.
I live in a very tolerable climate, yet my dread is not proportional to what lies ahead. What could this mean?
I believe part of this is rooted in my Alaskan upbringing. Summers were times of limitless light (literally) and my endless imagination. Yet, colder temperatures started in September and there was usually several feet of snow on the ground come October. Winter meant utter darkness, frequent power loss, and unpredictable blizzards. My playground went from magical forests to icy snowbanks. As I grew older, the cold weather meant the return to school – a place where I felt awkward most of the time.
Thus, if you find yourself feeling resistant to the coming of winter, it might be worth deeper introspection. What did winter mean for you as a child? What do you remember? Did it mean increased family conflict due to holiday stress? Did it mean the return to school where you were isolated and bullied?
By giving your inner child-self some attention and extra love, you may find that you can let go of these past memories and learn to interact with winter as your adult-self. Often this kind of deep soul work is best supported by a therapist or other healer you trust. It might also be worth seeking out a therapy group, as well.
7) Tap into the wisdom of the season
Humans seem to be the only creature that fight against seasonal wisdom. What do you notice that animals and trees are doing in colder weather? They slow down, prepare, and hibernate. For humans, winter is a natural time of deeper introspection, clarifying of values, and slowing down. But mainstream culture tells us the opposite. It’s often a time that we feel increased pressure to see our family, travel, attend holiday functions, and spend more money.
I think that most HSPs may find themselves in a tug of war in winter. Balanced HSPs intuitively understand that with seasonal changes comes a change in activity. At the same time, HSPs are sensitive to their social surroundings and may have a hard time saying no, which result in an uptick in social activity due to the holidays. The key is balance, learning to honor your inner knowing, doing less, and focusing on the activities of winter that you really value.
If you find yourself really struggling…
Even if you find yourself doing everything you can to embrace winter, sometimes you still may need additional support. Winter does not have to be a time where you just grin and bear it!
If seeking therapy, be sure to find someone who is knowledgable about Highly Sensitive People so that you can ensure you’ll be getting guidance and advice that’s in alignment of your natural temperament.
A good therapist will be able to support you during the winter months buy offering tools to help you manage your mood and the additional stress during this time. They can also help you process and release any difficult childhood memories or traumas that surface during this time.
If you’re in Colorado, and would like to find out if I could support you during the dark winter months, schedule a new client consult. Let’s make this winter better than the last.
Arianna Smith, MA, LPC, EMDR