Discovering glimmers in the darkness of winter
As we move towards winter, the clocks change, the days get shorter. It can be hard to find the light when everything feels so cold and dark. Many of us will experience some difficulty adjusting to the change in season.
At this time of the year, I often feel a pang of dread as my mind defaults to the negatives; months of darkness, limited time to be outdoors, and the chill that winter brings. I detest crawling out from under my warm duvet when it’s dark and cold outside. And there’s a good reason for this; scientists note the impact that a lack of daylight has on our mental health.
Less exposure to sunlight and an increase in time spent indoors during the winter months impacts our circadian rhythm – the body’s natural 24-hour cycle which regulates many bodily functions including mood, sleep, appetite and energy levels. Less light decreases levels of serotonin (the happiness hormone), and increases levels of melatonin (the hormone that supports sleep). This can show up as a deterioration in our mood, and feeling sleepy and sluggish.
With these hormonal shifts within your physiology, it’s only natural that your mood may fluctuate. You may even suffer more intensely from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)*, a type of depression that occurs in the winter months. The key symptoms experienced are low mood, tiredness, and difficulty with motivation to do your usual, everyday activities.
How to embrace winter
Clinician and author Deb Dana suggests that we all have a negativity bias. Like me, you might focus on the negatives of winter over the aspects of it that you like. But, starting to embrace winter means becoming more intentional about finding joy in the season, and embracing the micro-moments in your day that spark a sense of happiness and well-being.
To help with this, we can learn from the Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This focuses on the joys that winter can bring by intentionally embracing feelings of cosiness and contentment during the darker months. These moments of lightness can be like little glimmers of light, helping us to savour the little moments in our days that spark a light within us.
What is a glimmer?
A glimmer might be noticing the changes in the leaves, as they shift from green to crisp golden browns and orange; enjoying the feeling of cosy, fleecy socks as they hug your feet; treasuring the warm heat steaming from a cup of tea, or lapping up the view of snow-flecked mountains in the distance.
When you stop and savour these moments, this acts like a gentle hug to your nervous system. It activates your ventral vagus nervous system, the branch of your nervous system in charge of your rest and relax state of being. This supports you in managing your emotions and connecting in relationships, and your thoughts tend to be more balanced.
Triggers, on the other hand, activate the sympathetic nervous system. This is the threat response of fight/flight within your nervous system (or the dorsal vagus branch of your nervous system), the threat response of entering a shutdown/collapse state. We ideally want to avoid spending large amounts of time in these threat responses, and glimmers offer an opportunity to soothe your nervous system.
In the busyness of day-to-day life, glimmers can easily pass by without us even noticing them, let alone savouring them. That’s why you must slow down and lap up these micro-moments. And with repeated practices of savouring, you can grow a glimmer to a warm glow, keeping you warm this winter.
How to find glimmers in the darkness of winter
Here are seven top tips to help you find joy this winter:
1. Keep a triggers and glimmers diary this winter
This supports you to notice what is it that triggers you (e.g. the dark mornings and the lack of time outdoors), compared with what lights a glimmer within you. Use this information to consider the patterns of triggers/glimmers, and consider ways to invite glimmer micro-moments in.
2. Go glimmer hunting
Set a goal of finding one to five glimmers a day. Find a number that feels manageable for you and make this intentional, carving out time each day to savour your glimmer moments.
3. Time in nature and outdoors
During the winter months, we can spend a lot of time indoors. If it’s available to you, try and spend time outdoors, even if it’s as little as 10 minutes on your lunch break. This allows you to access vitamin D from the sunlight, and nature offers a whole host of other glimmer opportunities:
- noticing bird song
- watching the changing shapes of the clouds in the sky
- admiring the different colours of the leaves on the trees
4. Use your senses
Your senses are a powerful gateway to accessing glimmers, it might be enjoying the smell of a rich cinnamon candle or curating a nourishing playlist that feels warm and holding.
5. Find indoor glimmers
This might be enjoying a hot cup of chocolate or watching a candle flicker in the background.
6. Consider your connections
Who are the people, that support you and feel good to be around? Who are those that trigger you? Intentionally connect with those who support you to be your best self.
Animals are powerful glimmer makers. Notice what it feels like as you stroke their fur, the warmth of their bodies, and the cute sounds they make.
Try embracing glimmers this winter – they might just be your light in the darkness.
*Please contact your GP for further support should you have the symptoms of SAD. They can complete an assessment of your needs about your mental health.