If you feel like self-care is harder during the winter, you’re not wrong. The season is fraught with unique stresses on mental and physical well-being. The good news is that you aren’t powerless against the wintertime blues. We’ve put together some simple, actionable strategies to help you look and feel better during the most wonderful–and sometimes the most challenging–time of year.
Note: If you think you might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or any other illness, please talk to your doctor. These tips are meant to boost general wellness, not address specific medical conditions.
Moisturize and Hydrate
Winter can take a toll on your skin. If you venture outside, cold wind can lead to chapping and redness. Indoors, the dry heat robs you of moisture. The result can be itchy, blotchy, or ashy skin.
Let’s not do that this year, okay? Staying hydrated and moisturized starts with drinking plenty of water. Low-sodium soups and caffeine-free teas are good choices, too. Soda, coffee, and alcohol can make dehydration worse, so cut back or eliminate those.
No matter how chilly you are, resist the temptation to take a scalding hot bath or shower. Water that’s too hot can damage your skin and make you feel even worse. Use warm water, and try not to stay in for too long. Immediately after drying off with a towel–gently, please–apply a good moisturizer all over.
You might not think about wearing sunscreen during the winter, but it’s actually important to protect your skin from UV rays all year long. For your face, choose a lighter-weight moisturizer with SPF for the day and a heavier cream at night. Skip the toners that contain alcohol or witch hazel, as they can dry your skin even further.
Find Fresh Air and Sunshine
Human beings aren’t that different from plants, albeit with more complex emotions. (At least I hope so; can plants have anxiety?) We need sunlight to produce vitamin D, an essential compound that benefits bones and teeth, brain function, insulin levels, and other aspects of your health. Not getting enough vitamin D is bad. Unfortunately, the best way to get it is through exposure to sunlight.
What are your options when the days are short and the nights are long? A full-spectrum lamp can mimic the sun, tricking our bodies into thinking that we’ve spent more time outdoors. Vitamin D is found in many animal products, especially liver, egg yolks, and fatty fish. Vegans and those who prefer to avoid animal products for other reasons should look for fortified cereals and other pantry staples. Weirdly enough, mushrooms are the only significant source of plant-based vitamin D.
Fresh air is good for you. Freezing temperatures? Not so much. If you can’t get outside, make sure that the air quality indoors is as good as possible. That means dusting and vacuuming regularly. Change the filters in your heating system more frequently during the winter. A humidifier can help keep the air moist, while houseplants will scrub carbon dioxide from the air.
Care for Your Hair
Regardless of your hair texture, it is probably mad at winter. The same dry, cold conditions that do a number on your skin can make hair brittle and dull, too.
Step one: Get a satin-lined knit hat. Black women have known for years that this ultra-smooth fabric is key for eliminating frizz and minimizing breakage, but it can help women of all hair types and textures. A satin pillowcase is also a great idea. I have a silk pillowcase that has helped me cut down on those early-morning tangles.
Step two: Use a hair mask. Your hair needs extra help right now. The easiest way to add more moisture is with coconut oil. It’s cheap, easy to find, and does a good job of penetrating the hair shaft. There are plenty of other mask options, however, both DIY and store-bought.
Step three: Wash less. Conventional shampoos strip oils from your scalp. It’s even worse if you use very hot water to rinse. Your scalp will retaliate by producing even more oil in defense, and thus the cycle continues.
If you find yourself with downtime during the winter, you might be tempted to binge TV or doomscroll on social media. Please resist the temptation. Instead, find something helpful to do with your time.
Winter is a good time to take up a new hobby. Settle in with a craft you’ve always wanted to try or pick up a musical instrument. Do an indoor DIY project. Mail letters to friends and family. Read some of the books on the list that you swear you’ll get to eventually. Do a puzzle. Watch your pet knock it to the floor right before you finish. Do the puzzle again.
Staying physically active is just as important. We tend to get a bit more sedentary in the winter. Combined with the holidays and their emphasis on rich foods, it’s a recipe for poor health. No matter what your fitness level is currently, you can maintain or even increase activity during the winter. You might have to get creative, but the internet is brimming with workout videos for every style and range of mobility.
Although fresh vegetables are a little harder to come by, especially if you prefer to shop local, it’s still important to get that rainbow of produce. The more naturally colorful your food, the more likely you’ll get a wide variety of nutrients. White foods like potatoes and bread might be delicious, but moderation is key with simple carbohydrates.
Cope with Isolation
Winter 2020 threatens to be an especially difficult one. Because of the ongoing pandemic, many of us won’t be able to spend time with our loved ones during the holidays. Others will gather anyway, despite the risks, which brings its own set of problems.
If you are feeling sad or overwhelmed at the idea of spending the holidays without your closest friends or family by your side, know that you are not truly alone. Many other people are in the same situation. Lucky for us, we live in an era where connecting is as easy as waving at our phone camera.
Is a Zoom holiday as good as the real thing? No, of course not. But it’s the best option in a bad situation. Truth be told, winter can be isolating and demoralizing for folks even in the best of times. Make an effort to reach out to people and see how they’re doing. Pick up the phone instead of just liking a social media post.
Find ways to strengthen your connections, not just to loved ones, but to your community as well. Volunteering isn’t just reserved for soup kitchens on Thanksgiving. There are ways you can give back and people right now, often without leaving your house. Be a crisis line counselor. Read stories to kids on Zoom. Knit hats for the homeless. Helping people helps us, too.