There are benefits to the change of seasons, though. The long summer days can make me feel compelled to continue to work on things while there is plenty of daylight after work, and I end up a bit fatigued. The shorter, cooler days and longer nights can offer us an opportunity to contemplate and review. Explore some music you haven’t heard before, or haven’t enjoyed for a long time. Get in contact with someone you’ve missed because you’ve both been busily occupied with summer activities. Take up a new activity or hobby.
On the other hand, resist the temptation to remain indoors when the weather is less than ideal; rug up and go for a walk anyway. I still recall from my teenage years an old Hungarian horseriding instructor shouting at us while we whinged about riding in the rain: “You are not made of ze sugar, you vill not melt!”
Indeed you will not melt, but the exercise will warm you up, in addition to helping maintain the brain chemicals that help brighten your mood during the darker days.
And watch out for your choices when it comes to comfort foods. Oh yes, we all do it. We’ve had a beastly day ferrying ourselves, children or elderly parents to and from school, activities and appointments while the wind howls and blows sheets of freezing rain straight into our faces. The dog got spooked because of the thunder and wouldn’t stay in his kennel so now he’s soaked and smelly. If we’re lucky, everyone remembered to take their shoes off in the hallway and leave the mud with them there.
Never mind, we say to ourselves, there’s always a second large glass of wine, another half a packet of chocolate biscuits, another generous serve of dessert topped with an even more generous dollop, to help soothe the mid-winter nerves.
Hold it right there.
Why do we imagine that eating something will help us in any material way? Sure, if we come home cold and wet, having a hot cuppa or a bowl of soup does quickly restore our core temperature. And the traditional “Jewish antibiotic” chicken soup has been found in research to have immune-enhancing properties; if you’ve succumbed to a cold, it really will help you feel better and recover a little faster.
But when it comes to solving financial issues, eating a packet of sugary biscuits won’t change anything. Another glass of wine won’t help you think clearly through issues at work, and sitting down to a second helping of dessert won’t help you finish that task you’ve been putting off.
A good friend of mine finally stopped smoking when she read a book that taught her that smoking didn’t achieve anything. She believed she was addicted and “needed” cigarettes, but she learned that her real issue was boredom. She has an active mind so whenever the intellectual stimulation dropped off, or was of a stressful nature, she reached for a cigarette. But she learned that when the cigarette was finished she was still bored, or the stressful situation remained to be faced. So instead she found ways to occupy her mind, sought help to deal with stresses, and cigarettes simply became redundant.
So it is with comfort food. Perhaps the illusion that eating something helps us feel better and thus helps work out a solution comes from the fact that we stop for a moment while we do the eating, similar to the way a cigarette takes time to smoke and provides an opportunity to stop and think. We could simply stop and think; putting something in our mouth tastes nice but adds nothing to the process.
Regardless of the season, we all need to be aware of what we do when the going gets tough. Rugging up and going for a walk is a great way to get some think time that really is helpful both mentally and physically. Or reach for a pen and paper and make notes about uncomfortable feelings or problems; solutions may appear as you write, or may at least become better understood.
As winter approaches, plan to enjoy your favourite warming and nourishing foods, but also plan to find positive ways to nurture yourself.