This time of year my calendar starts to fill up quickly and, while I'm excited and grateful to have time with family and friends, there's a stress that starts to mount when I think about how scheduled everything is! Given the increase in social events and the shortening of days, this time of year can easily become stressful. It's such a common experience that you can't count on one hand the number of movies with family holiday stress as a central theme. In fact, we EXPECT this time of year to be stressful. And yet, there is a beauty to this season that we desire to be in touch with. The warmth of a fire, the comfort of traditional family foods, perhaps the joy of snow. Of course, for others, this time of year may be particularly hard as the loss of loved ones can be especially poignant. How can we not simply survive this time of year, but rather thrive during it? What are some self-care tips that can increase our capacity to flex into this busy, dark, and cold time?
Winter, which officially started this week according to the Chinese calendar, is symbolized by the contraction of freezing water or freezing ground. It is a time to turn inward and to slow down. So, maybe we don't make it to every holiday party? In fact, the Neijing, one of the most important texts of Chinese medicine, recommends that we go to bed early and waken with the sun (or later). Stillness is recommended and dressing warmly. One is to avoid cold, especially if sweating. Cooking should reflect the season too with slow cooking, roasting, baking and warming foods such as lamb and root vegetables.
I've definitely been heard before saying that acupuncture can help you transition from one season to the next. Here are some ways that Chinese medicine can assist with the winter season:
- Moxa, in particular, can help to warm the body and restore the natural flow of qi so that hands and feet are warmer. Old injuries, susceptible to cold, can be relieved with moxa. Additionally, the immune system is strengthened by this practice.
- Acupuncture also helps to restore qi and enhances the immune system. AND, it's a great way to manage stress!! There are specific points too that can help with cold and flu symptoms.
- Chinese herbs can help with common cold and flu symptoms by shortening duration or managing symptoms. They can also help with sleep and digestion among many other things.
- Cupping and gua sha can help with upper respiratory colds, pneumonia and bronchitis. (I offer cupping only appointments too.)
I would like to acknowledge that this time of year can be physically extremely challenging for our homeless neighbors and for those who have challenges paying for food and heat. In Chinese cosmology, winter is a time to gather together around the hearth. This is symbolic of the necessity of community to survive the dark and cold days. A way to flex into this season and find more "warmth" ourselves, is to help others. Winter giving can strengthen our own connections to others and increase our sense of gratitude.
There are many ways we can help ourselves at little to no cost:
- Warm baths or hot showers (be sure to keep your hair dry or dry it before bed). Try adding a few slices of fresh ginger to your bath (or steep the ginger slices first in a cup of boiling hot tea water before adding to the bath)
- Warm drinks such as herbal teas. Lemon and ginger teas if you are starting to feel under the weather (I especially like cold care teas like Traditional Medicinals Gypsy Cold Care). In general avoid cooling herbs such as most mints or Yin Chin Hao (unless prescribed by a provider)
- Many people swear by elderberry syrups too when colds/flus are going around or fire cider
- Sinus washes before and after travel (especially air travel - I like to take a cheap bottle of saline spray for convenience) or when sinus symptoms first arise
- Saying no to too many activities, scheduling down time and protecting it
- Alternately, reaching out to friends and family if you find yourself isolating - many people host "orphan" holiday dinners where friends gather to provide the comforts of home for one another
- Have plans for alone time/self care during family visits (a quick, I need a nap or a walk can provide you with quiet self-care!)
- Puzzles, card games, etc can provide more quiet and still interaction when it's cold out
- Scarves - in Chinese medicine, we believe that protecting the neck from cold and drafts is really important. And it feels great!
- Good boundaries - don't over commit to anything such as social plans, elaborate meals, etc. If you can afford a rental car when you go to visit family, or have access to taxies/Uber/Lyft etc this can provide a greater sense of freedom during an extended visit. And you know you can help out too by running errands for your hosts if needed! Additionally, planning time to show your spouse/partner your old haunts can provide them with a break from family. Or plan to reconnect with old friends over lunch/tea. The more you provide these opportunities for yourself, the more you might find you have energy and patience with family. Just because it's the holidays doesn't mean you HAVE to spend time with family. If family is not healthy for you, find a group of friends to spend your time with instead and be gentle with yourself if you feel guilty. If family is good for you, it's a great time for extra phone calls, or even letters! Especially to elderly family members who may be especially lonely at this time.
- This is a great time to have a clear budget and understanding of your priorities.
- Ask for help. There are many organizations out there to assist with heat, shelter, food, holiday meals and gifts. This is a time of year when giving is especially popular (many non-profits are inundated) so don't be shy if you have a need!
Just general cold-weather safety:
- If you have a car: Put an extra pair of really warm socks, a scarf, hat and gloves, your car for emergencies - OR, make sure to travel with these if you don't have a set to leave in your car. Carry water and some non-perishable snacks with you in the event you are stuck somewhere. I leave my hiking boots in my trunk in the winter too. Pay attention to the temperature. Temps can drop suddenly leading to black ice. Be especially cautious if the temp drops to 34 or below. Bridges and overpasses freeze more quickly too.
- If you don't have a car, be sure to have warm clothes with you and warm shoes at all times. Public transportation is often delayed when temperatures drop.
- Check on neighbors, especially elderly, ill or disabled neighbors when weather gets bad.
- Keep at least 2 days worth of food on hand if you can -even just a few cans of soup is good for if we get ice/snow.
- Be sure to refill any medications/medical equipment BEFORE you run out in the event you can't easily get to the pharmacy.
So here's to a warm, nourishing winter! Be well friends!