Recovering from Overwhelm
2020 has been an overwhelming year on many levels for most of us. Racial injustice, the election of a lifetime, and a global pandemic have defined this year that so many of us are ready to put behind us.
Many of us might be headed into winter feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. In light of this, I wanted to offer you a few winter health tips to help you nurture yourself this winter so that we might arrive in springtime feeling ready for a new cycle of the turning seasons.
This first tip might sound counterproductive or even scary for those of us who are feeling isolated and scared about COVID restrictions. But winter is the most inward season energetically.
By inviting yourself to pull back from sensory overload, you can invite more connection and more ease.
Monitoring your own internal level of stimulation or nervous system arousal (knowing when you’re feeling hyped-up or wired or anxious or afraid) can help you notice when you’re reaching for your phone or food or a movie to self-soothe.
There’s nothing wrong with sometimes distracting yourself, but it’s important to be honest about your motivation for turning to food or your phone or computer/TV.
Ask yourself if you’re trying to “shut down” your brain or if you’re feeling genuinely excited for movie night.
Often you’ll be somewhere in between. If that’s the case, ask yourself if there’s some other way you want to find calm before using media to calm yourself down.
Some alternate activities include: journaling, lighting candles, taking a bath, gentle stretching, playing with a pet, observing and appreciating your favorite plant or another household object that you love (more on this activity below).
In Chinese Medicine theory, winter is the only season where we’re encouraged to go to bed early AND to rise late, after the sun comes up. This protects our energy and helps us maintain it.
I’ve been personally following this advice and am going to bed around 9:00 (which feels glorious). With this extra rest I’ve been naturally waking in the dark around dawn and then enjoying sauntering to my kitchen and making warm water with the tea kettle on my stove.
Avoiding using any lights other than the illumination from the window, I’m forced to slow down and move mindfully and that has felt amazing. Dampening my sense of sight by moving around in the relative dark, I’ve had the chance to pay attention differently. This allows me to be more thoughtful and focused as I move throughout my house.
By shifting what we pay attention to or how we use our senses, we have the opportunity to find new and different experiences of concentration and awareness.
In the first section I suggest paying attention to a household object that you enjoy. This could be a stuffed animal, a beautiful mug you drink your coffee from, a piece of jewelry, a family heirloom, anything that brings you a sense of delight.
Paying attention with singular focus will help your mind and body settle.
Here’s an exercise to help you shift and settle when you’re feeling anxious or frayed.
Meditation on an Object
Allow yourself to scan your room and identify an object in your house that brings you comfort, joy, or a sense of wonder.
Sit with your object in a comfortable chair. Feel your feet on the ground and feel the air on your skin.
Close your eyes and let your hands gently wander over and around your object. How does it feel? Is it rough or smooth? Warm or cool? Round or rectangular? Something else? Notice all the little variations in touch.
Lift your object towards your nose and inhale. How does your object smell? Move it away from your nose and then lift it back towards your face; without trying to smell it, do you notice an odor? Do different parts of your object smell differently?
As you’re ready, open your eyes and receive your object with half closed eyes. Allow your eyes to wander over the surface of your object. What do you notice? What have you forgotten or never seen before?
Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Maybe this isn’t an object you want to taste, but notice what you imagine your object tasting like, how it might feel on toot tongue.
Bring your object to your ear and give it a shake or a tap. What sounds can you notice here? Repeat this exercise again, this time holding your object further away. How does it sound?
And, lastly, run your hands over your object and give it one last stroke, squeeze, pat. Find some appreciation or gratitude for your object and gently blink open your eyes.
Congrats, you just harnessed your attention, decided what to pay attention to, and you cultivated some appreciation and gratitude.
The energetic quality of winter is “storage.” It’s a time of year when we batten down the hatches and stay on course. By choosing what to hold onto, we have the opportunity to arrive in springtime feeling more focused and clear.
If you try this exercise, I would love to hear how it goes.