Wintertime can be stressful for both body and mind. The dark days cause our bodies to increase production of melatonin, a chemical that makes us feel sleepy, the cold stresses our systems, increasing our blood pressure and forcing us to use more energy to keep warm, fresh food becomes scarce … No wonder groundhogs and many other animals decide to take a miss on the season all together by hibernating.
Hibernation is not the same as sleep. Animals who are capable of true hibernation are able to slow their bodies and metabolism to the point that they do not need to eat, excrete waste or perform many other normally necessary functions, sometimes for months at a stretch. Though scientists are currently studying ways to induce hibernation in humans — as a way to treat people with life-threatening injuries or illnesses, or even for space travel — we do not currently posses the ability to shut down for weeks or months at a time. Even so, perhaps we could learn from groundhogs and take a cue from nature to slow down a bit at this time of year.
Here are some tips for experiencing your very own winter hibernation:
Take Naps: Taking regular naps is a great way to stay healthy and mentally sharp all year long. Studies show a 20-minute power nap is more effective than caffeine at making you feel more alert and mentally clear. Taking regular naps can improve productivity, creativity, memory, and more. This is even more true in the winter time, when your energy levels can start to slump.
Use Up Your Stores: Animals that hibernate usually fatten up before taking their long winter’s nap, and live off of their body fat until the lean times pass. While it’s probably not a good idea to get fat in the autumn, we can adopt the basic principle in our lives by harvesting or buying most of our food in the summer and fall and canning or freezing the excess. Preserved homegrown foods are not only less expensive than buying those same items from the grocery store out of season, they also taste better, have more nutritional content, and usually less sodium, preservatives, and other additives.
Bundle Up: All of that body fat also helps to keep animals warm during the cold months of winter. Luckily for humans, we invented clothes. To prevent stressing your body, always be sure to wear enough warm clothes. Layers are best, and wool will keep you warmer than cotton. It’s also a good idea to wear a hat most of the time, even when you are indoors. By wearing enough layers of clothes at all times, you may even be able to bump the thermostat down a few degrees. Your wallet will thank you.
Look Inward: In many spiritual traditions, winter is a time for introspection and personal growth. Because the weather makes being outdoors for long periods of time difficult, people have historically had to look inward for beauty and inspiration. This makes winter an ideal time to begin a meditation practice, start journaling, or take on some other discipline that forces you to sit still and be solitary for a while.
Shut Off the Non-Essentials: In our hectic world, it’s very easy to become overextended. If you find yourself struggling to find the energy to do tasks you once enjoyed, it may be time to prune back your commitments. Hibernating animals shut down many body functions so that they aren’t forced to find food to keep them going in a time of scarcity. Our lives can be the same. Feeling overwhelmed is a sure sign that we are putting out more energy than we have the resources to replenish. Use that time of introspection mentioned above to consider where your energies are best spent, and cut back on everything else. If you start to feel restless in the springtime, you can always add things back into your schedule.