Intentional Rest: The Key To Beating Winter Blues

candle burning with soft fabric around winter berriesPhoto by Kelly Sikkema

A few nights ago, a good friend of mine hosted a holiday crafting party at her place. I entered the apartment to a beautiful scene: lights everywhere, mulled wine on the stove, and Christmas classics softly pulsing from a Bluetooth speaker.

As we sat down and worked on our DIY ornaments (struggled is a better word because I’m not exactly a visual artist), I couldn’t help but notice a pervasive theme of sadness in the Christmas songs floating through the apartment. Many of them lamented about wintertime heartbreak and loneliness, especially around the holidays. It seemed almost counterintuitive, I thought: the holidays are supposed to be a time of good tidings and cheer.

Of course, reality pales in comparison to the popular culture narrative surrounding the holidays, as the works of Elvis Presley and Wham! can attest to. Winter blues are real. Many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a feeling of depression brought on by winter’s imposing darkness. Winter is also referred to as “cuffing season” by many (i.e., the time to find a romantic partner to cuddle up with), which can make singles feel even more isolated.

Ultimately, winter can feel crushingly lonely, hopeless, and dreary — but it doesn’t have to.

Shifting The Focus: From Unintentional Solitude To Intentional Rest

In certain cultures, winter was historically a time to slow down and conserve energy. Up until recently in many parts of the world, food and resources were scarce during the winter, so many people had no choice but to lay low for long periods of time. In 19th century France and Russia, for example, people would sleep for most of the day when winter hit. They’d pack their bodies together in a single bed to stay warm and eat less food. Some would even sleep in the barn with their livestock to share body heat.

Though we’re afforded the luxuries of the modern world these days (thanks, central heating and thermal jackets!), there’s something to be said about practicing intentional rest during the wintertime.

Shifting the focus from “winter should be a time of celebration and happiness” to “winter is a good time to slow down and rest” can help alleviate the often self-imposed pressure to socialize or be in a relationship. Hunkering down at home doesn’t need to be lonely and isolating! It can be a fulfilling, enriching, and self-reflective experience.

woman sitting by window in bed watching winter weatherPhoto by Nachelle Nocom

If you’re on board with using winter as a time of intentional rest, here are some practices to try:

1. Give yourself permission to slow down.

Especially before the holidays, winter can often feel like a months-long sprint. Don’t give in to the need to rush to the store or that company holiday party. Allow yourself to move at your own pace.

2. Begin a journaling practice. 

Journaling can help us stabilize our moods, set intentions for the day, and focus on what we’re grateful for. Try writing about what makes wintertime extraordinary versus isolating — how have the trees outside changed? What’s the color of the sky? What do you hear outside? What can you smell?

3. Nourish your body well.

I’m a huge fan of seasonal winter produce, so cooking in the wintertime is always exciting for me. Leafy greens, leeks, Brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli all make for a warm, hearty soup that delivers a healthy dose of vitamins and warmth to boot.

4. Listen to your gut instincts.

That means saying no to that party you know will feel overwhelming or skipping that ski trip you just know you won’t have fun on. Trust your gut! You’ll feel better about resting intentionally if you can stand behind your decisions with confidence.

5. Indulge in self-care.

Candles, face masks, wine in the tub — you name it. Don’t feel bad about spoiling yourself a little extra during the cold winter months. It’s even better when you make your own self-care items at home!

soy wax candles burning in front of backdrop of twinkling lights

 I personally love whipping up a DIY face mask for a cozy night in. Mix one tablespoon of raw honey and two tablespoons of cooked oatmeal, then apply to your face for 15 minutes for a moisturizing, soothing treat. (Psst: honey is a great addition to your skincare routine in the winter since it locks in moisture that dry winter air depletes!)

Soaking in the tub with invigorating bath salts is also a great way to stay warm during winter. You can try making your own using a blend of one cup Epsom salt, one cup baking soda, and then adding essential oils to your liking. For more of a winter-themed bath, try adding essential oils - sandalwood, pine, patchouli, sweet orange, and ginger make for some major indulgence.

6. Get excited about reading books again.

Staring at a screen all day can be mind-numbing, so why not head to your local bookstore and pick up a few new reads? There’s nothing like getting lost in a great book and it’s a perfect activity for a restful winter.

7. Make some cozy hot drinks.

Hot cocoa, apple cider, mulled wine, whatever your heart desires — winter isn’t the same without a good hot drink!

8. Invest in some nice loungewear.

Bonus points if it’s made from sustainable fabrics, like Tencel or recycled cotton. I keep a collection of sweats on rotation so I can change between my sleeping sweats and my working from home or hanging out sweatpants and I’m never going back!

Remember: rest is just as important to a balanced life as movement is. In the wintertime, intentionally slowing down can help us remember that winter doesn’t have to be dark and lonely. It can also be a period of intense growth and preparation for the action-packed months of spring and summer.

Cecilia Seiter
Cecilia is a freelance writer and contributor to Slow North. She writes largely about sustainability, especially as it applies to beauty, wellness, and the future of technology. She is a graduate of the journalism department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is based in Oakland, CA.