I talk about self-care a lot here, but something I’ve truly never given much thought to is seasonal self-care. Taking some time as seasons change to check in with my self-care routine and adjusting where needed.
A recent Instagram post from Madeleine Onstwedder sparked a conversation and I realised it was something I wanted to learn more about and share with you. So I asked Madeleine some questions to help us dive deeper into this idea.
Madeleine is a coach who helps people who want to make the world a better place and she regularly talks about the importance of self-care. I’ve been following her for some time now and feel as if we share very similar outlooks, values and beliefs. I always learn something after a conversation with Madeleine, so I’m excited to be able to share that feeling with you all here.
Let’s jump in, shall we?
Hi Madeleine! Can you start by telling us what seasonal self-care means to you?
To me, seasonal self-care means being aware of the unique challenges and joys that each season comes with. That could be the seasons of the year or the personal seasons in your own life. I think there’s two main parts of it: awareness about how the seasons affect you differently, and then adjusting your self-care to meet your changing needs. This both requires a degree of mindfulness, so you can gain that awareness, but it also increases mindfulness as well.
When I adjust my self-care according to the season that I’m in, I find that I’m more engaged in the present moment. I’m more aware of subtle shifts in my environment – and in myself! So it creates a kind of positive spiral of greater mindfulness and awareness of the present moment.
Why is it important for us to keep checking and adjusting our self-care routine throughout the year?
There are five main reasons why I think adjusting self-care seasonally is so important: it makes sure that you’re regularly evaluating how effective your self-care is, it means you can adjust your self-care to meet seasons-specific needs and challenges, it can help you slow down, it provides variation, and it helps you appreciate the unique beauty of each season.
All of us go through periods where we need more of a certain type of self-care than another. The changing seasons is a really helpful check-in point that we can use to regularly evaluate if our self-care is having the impact we want it to have. Of course, you can totally check-in with your self-care more frequently than that! But seasonal change can be a great prompt, especially if you’ve been feeling like your self-care has been a little bit lacking, or you’ve not been making as much time for it recently. It’s a great opportunity for a mini reset.
The changing seasons can also have a huge impact on our mood and so it’s really important to switch your self-care up accordingly. For example, I find summer really difficult. I get really lethargic and unmotivated and often avoid certain self-care practices like spending lots of time outside just because I can’t stand the heat! So my self-care go-tos that work for the rest of the year aren’t as good during the summer. Instead of going on long walks by myself, which I love to do throughout the rest of the year, I find it much more helpful to have a picnic with friends outside or sit in a park and read or knit. That helps bring me some more energy, which I often lack during the summer.
To give another example, autumn usually has the opposite effect on me. I feel all the excitement of the back-to-school energy and usually throw myself headfirst into whatever I’m doing. That means that I have a tendency to overwork during this time of year. So, when I notice the leaves starting to change, I deliberately check in with myself and ask myself if I’m taking enough time to fully unwind and relax.
Checking and adjusting your self-care routine throughout the year can also really help you to slow down and not feel like the year is just passing you by. When I’m less attuned to the changing season, I find myself being surprised that it’s suddenly autumn, and I wonder how I missed the entire summer. It feels like that season of my life just kind of passed me by. But when I slow down and take notice of the changing seasons, it doesn’t feel like life is whizzing by so quickly.
In her book Off The Clock, Laura Vanderkam found that people who had distinct memories of activities they’d done in the past week felt like they had more time overall. I think we can apply the same idea to the seasons and self-care. When I look back at the last summer, I remember different instances where I sat outside in the park near where I live, just knitting and listening to audiobooks under the shade of a tree. Our self-care practices can become these specific memories. Instead of the previous season becoming a blur with the months before it, adjusting our self-care seasonally can help us to differentiate our memories and help us to feel like we have more time.
And, even though each season has its own challenges, each season also has its own unique beauty. I love the cozy atmosphere of autumn, the austere beauty of winter, the hopefulness of spring, and the relaxation of summer. When it’s the middle of January and I feel like I’ve not seen the sun in two months, I love to go to a park and take photos of the trees. There’s something about their wintery silhouettes that I find so beautiful! Consciously deciding to notice the beauty of each season can help to approach each season with a more positive or balanced outlook.
Many people (myself included!) will be working from home this autumn/winter for the first time, do you have any tips to help people adjust to this and adjust their self-care routine accordingly?
I think the most important piece of advice I can offer is to be gentle on yourself. If this is new for you, don’t expect yourself to get it “right” right away. It takes time to figure out any new situation and find what works for you, so try to not put too much pressure on yourself to figure out the perfect self-care routine for working from home this autumn and winter.
One way you can avoid putting pressure on yourself is to use this framework: experiment, reflect, and course correct. This basically means taking a self-care activity to experiment with, maybe something you’ve been curious about trying or think could be helpful. Try it out for a few weeks, and then take some time to reflect about how it’s been working out for you. Has it been helpful? Are there aspects that could be better? Is it actually not right for you at all? Then you can course correct and make adjustments.
Another thing I recommend is getting really curious – and specific – about what unique challenges are coming up for you during this time. Do you feel like you’re barely getting outside during daylight hours, especially now that you’re not commuting? Are you feeling lonely or lacking in social interaction? Do you feel like all the days are blurring together?
Everyone is impacted by the seasons differently, and so what’s a challenge for one person might not be a challenge for you, or vice versa. If you can get really clear about what your unique challenges are, you can start to figure out what self-care will be most effective for you, rather than just following generic advice and wondering why it’s not helping you feel any better.
Once you know what your specific challenges are, I recommend writing out 2-3 different ideas for some kind of self-care that could help with each challenge. Remember: be gentle with yourself. This is a weird and upsetting time, and some of these challenges won’t be able to be “fixed”.
If you’re really missing casual and spontaneous interactions with your coworkers, you could try having one lunchtime each week where you just hang out on Zoom and people can pop on to say hi. Or you could set up a weekly after-work drinks or mid-morning tea break. But it’s also okay if you feel like this isn’t quite as nice as seeing people in person. I wholeheartedly encourage getting creative about ways to mitigate the loneliness of working from home, but it’s also important to be understanding that it’s okay if you still miss being in the office.
To make these (unfortunately inevitable) difficult emotions a bit easier to deal with, I recommend having some kind of plan in place for processing your difficult emotions. This could be regular journaling, talking to loved ones, or even looking into seeing a therapist, counsellor, or coach to help you through. This means that when you have those moments of feeling down about the current situation, you’ve already got a plan in place. That means all your energy can go to actually implementing the plan, rather than having to figure out logistical stuff too.
Something that’s been instrumental for me while working from home for the past year has been getting outside enough. It’s harder as the days get shorter, there are fewer outdoor activities, and lockdown means that your time allowed outside might be limited. That, combined with bad weather, can make getting outside feel like a chore.
I find that being able to get outside while the sun is still out is so, so important in the winter. Do whatever makes this easier for you! I have an alarm on my phone everyday at 10:30 to remind me to take a short walk. Maybe you need to make sure you’ve got outerwear that makes the weather more bearable. Any preparation that makes the actual act of getting outside easier and less effortful is awesome.
It can also be extra hard to set and maintain boundaries with your work at the moment. It’s easy to default to working all the time or feeling pressure to be at your desk every single minute between 9 and 5. There are loads of different approaches to setting boundaries with work: talking to your boss about the pressure to constantly be available, setting an alarm to remind you to take breaks or stop working at a certain time, or simulating a ‘commute’ by taking a short walk before and after your workday. Of course, this all depends on the specifics of your workplace and your circumstances.
The final piece of advice I have is to start small. It’s really tempting to set up a huge 10-step self-care routine that works amazingly for 3 days until you figure out it takes way too much time and feels more like a chore than anything else. To stop self-care from becoming just another thing on your to-do list, maybe just start with one habit, like taking a morning walk or having a weekly Zoom call with your best friend. Or, you can try sprinkling really small self-care activities throughout your day. If you’re interested in this, I’ve found the idea of Tiny Habits really helpful to explore this further!
Start small, stay realistic, and be gentle with yourself. You can always adjust your self-care as you go along – you don’t need to get it “right” first try. This is a hard time and being in a new, unfamiliar situation is always tough. Remember that your self-care doesn’t need to be grand or insta-worthy: it just needs to be helpful for you.
What are some of your favourite ways to check in with yourself when it comes to self-care?
I’m a huge fan of journaling. I don’t journal every day, but probably every two or three days or so. This means that at least a couple times a week I’m checking in with my emotional state. I can see where I’m not doing so well and could benefit from some more targeted self-care and I can see where I’m doing better and can celebrate that a bit. For me, my journal is a really safe space where I don’t have to worry about coming across as big headed for celebrating my self-care successes or self-indulgent for focusing on my challenges.
I also find it incredibly helpful to check in with my body. Several times each day I’ll do a quick body scan to notice if there’s stress bubbling up, if I’m feeling tense, or if I’m feeling calm and peaceful. It only takes a minute or so but it really helps to foster a higher level of awareness. It’s hard to figure out what kind of self-care you need if you don’t really know what exactly you’re feeling, so cultivating greater awareness of my physical, mental, and emotional state is a really important part of my self-care checking in process.
For example, if I’m having trouble falling asleep for a few nights in a row, that’s a big red flag to me that I’m dealing with higher stress or anxiety and need to have some more time for relaxation. Or if I’m having loads of trouble focusing on my work or even concentrating on a book I’m reading for fun, that’s a sign that I need to up my self-care game a bit. I’m constantly learning new signs to look out for! It’s definitely a process that takes time, but it’s never too late to start and can be so, so helpful for adjusting your self-care routine so it’s actually serving you.
I also have a list of my self-care foundations that are my go-tos if I feel like my self-care is ‘off’ in any way. This list has things like getting enough good-quality sleep, eating food that’s really nourishing, moving my body, getting outside, and socialising. If I’m feeling a bit meh, I’ll quickly go through this list to see if all my foundational self-care needs are being met first, before exploring other reasons and solutions.
The final thing that I love to do to check in with myself about my self-care is to set aside a few hours every month or so to do a deep dive into my self-care. I usually do this whenever I’m setting up my next monthly spread in my bullet journal and I’ll write down what I’ve been doing for self-care recently, what’s been working, what hasn’t, what are some new things to try, and what I’m going to keep doing going forwards.
This helps me to take my own self-care more seriously and be able to see if something isn’t working and then gently course correct. Plus, this check-in is usually a moment of self-care in itself! I’ll usually light a candle, get really cosy, make a cup of tea, and enjoy having a few hours just focused on myself.
Thank you so much Madeleine for being so generous with your knowledge! If you want to learn more about Madeleine and her coaching offerings, head to her website, madeleineonstwedder.com.
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