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How to Nourish Our Bodies and Souls With the Changing Seasons

Published:
March 27, 2024
March 18, 2024
Read this article for seasonal affective disorder self-care tips to help you navigate the changes of the year.

We stand at the threshold of a new season: winter lays down her hold on the year and spring takes her turn in the lead. While frost still coats the outside world some mornings, the ground beneath the ice crystals is coming alive. Birds and squirrels bounce around, searching for food stores and sites of future nests. The first floral colors burst resiliently from the grounds in greens, yellows, and purples. The sun's rays feel tentatively stronger, slightly warmer as the days stretch in length. 

I usually love this time of year. Hope and color abound, my birthday arrives, we celebrate a variety of liturgical feasts, and nature seems to vibrate with the promise of growth to come. Yet, there have been times when the winter gray clings to my heart and body long past the change of season.

This year is one of those years. Seasonal affective disorder has hit my mental health hard. Cold and flu season have heavily impacted my childcare network, making my weeks unpredictable.  Lent has felt long: the desert fasting feels unhealthy this year, rather than fruitful. 

As I watch the yard outside my window awake to springtime, I feel envious. I do not have the spark of fresh energy that the birds and squirrels do. I do not have the vibrant color that the blooming first flowers bring. This year, my body needs more nourishment to recoup from a season of deep wintering before I can jump into the joyful frenzy of spring. 

As the sky vacillates between gray and blue and we stand in this threshold, I invite you to consider ways you can nourish yourself in this season of liminality. Below are a few of my favorite strategies. 

Nature as inspiration and permission-granter

Each plant and animal has their moment to shine during the cycle of the year, and I imagine humans follow that pattern as well. The crocus flower is one of the first to show her colors in the springtime, sometimes even pushing through snow to bloom. But the sunflower slowly grows her strong stalks and does not bloom until summer heat.  

Is there a plant or animal whose seasons of rest and blossom resonate with you? Do some quick searching for more information and give yourself the same grace of timing you give that non-human being. 

For me this year, I am relating to the peony. She is not like the crocus, pushing out into the early days of spring with her colors. Rather, she continues to collect nourishment underground in her bulbs. Then she gradually grows her stems. Her blooms finally show their colors only in the company of safety, the marching feet of ants. I am granting myself the time to refuel my body before blooming. I am permitting myself to wait for safe spaces to bloom. 

Rooted conversations

During the winter, many plants go inward and downward. They spend their time stocking up on nutrients in their roots and trunks. They appear stagnant when really, their interior life is vast. They also communicate with each other and share resources through their roots. They appear isolated when actually, their community life is vibrant. 

What are healthy ways that you can go inward this season? What are ways that you can benefit from community in this season?

I am prone to self-isolation when my depression flares. I have a hard time reaching out for help. If I have not responded to a text in a few days, I write it off as lost. I struggle with surface-level conversation and feel more depleted afterward. Having noticed this pattern, I now seek out time for meaningful conversations during the winter and spring. Engaging in deeply rooted relationships helps me to feel connected to something larger than myself and provides the community I struggle to maintain during these seasons.

Bolster support resources

Living seasonally means paying attention to our needs as the seasons of nature and of life change around you. If you are able to anticipate those changes, or notice patterns, then you can plan ahead. Bears are experts at this: they know that they need fuel for their hibernation. They spend the warmer months stockpiling resources in preparation for their winter routine. What are things that you might need more (or less) of during this time? 

  • Consider scheduling extra therapy sessions during seasons that feel harder. 
  • Do you need silence, accompaniment, or a combination? Perhaps you can build a weekly routine for this season that prioritizes what refuels your heart. 
  • Pay attention to the type of media that helps you feel calm or uplifted. Maybe this season of liminality is not the time for social media that makes you feel jealous, fiction that makes you feel depressed, or movies that make you feel anxious. 
  • Reach out to a trusted friend to share your plans for caring for yourself this season. This can establish both accountability and reinforce ties to community.
Intuitive movement

Watching hawks fly fascinates me. They coast, then quickly flap their wings, then coast again. They move back and forth between the two movements. Yet there is little to no discernable pattern; there is no equity in time between the coasting and the flapping. These birds seem to sense when the wind is carrying them further and when they need to provide their own propulsion. Hawks move intuitively, responding to the changes in their environment. 

What type of physical activity makes your body feel energized? What type makes your body feel depleted, maybe even punished? Do your answers change based on the seasons? I invite you to take a few minutes to journal about your answers.

While I enjoy running in the cold, my energy supply is different in the winter. I rely more on walks and strength training than being a cardio perfectionist. Movement plays an important role in staying mentally healthy — it keeps both my depression and anxiety at bay. However, exercise should not be something that punishes my body, but rather rejuvenates it for the rest of the day. 

Food as fuel

Earthworms are the superheroes of the garden. They eat grasses and leaves, turning them into usable food sources for plants. They leave behind fertilizer. Their movements through the soil create a better structure for air and water. But how do they do all of this without eyes? They use their olfactory glands, essentially following the smell of microorganisms that suit their gut. Earthworms have come to understand their surroundings, their food sources, and themselves deeply. 

Maybe take a few minutes to journal about your body and different types of food. What type of food makes your body feel energized? What patterns of eating make you feel depleted? Do your answers change based on the seasons? Provide yourself grace and space to process your answers (or skip this line of questioning completely, if this is a tender topic for you). 

Similar to movement, how can you move towards a deeper understanding of your body and food? This is not an invitation to perfectionism, this is an invitation to relationship. This time of year, I love a hearty grain bowl. I combine a grain (rice, quinoa, couscous, etc.) with roasted veggies, a pan-grilled protein, and a sauce that matches the flavors. These bowls can provide fun moments of creativity too, trying new cuisines and combinations. These meals leave me feeling satisfied, cozy, and energized. 

Our minds, bodies, and souls are all connected. We are our body and our body is us. Same with our minds and souls. In this season of change, how can you nourish yourself? Give yourself time for reflection and permission to treat yourself kindly. When you feel ready, step through the threshold and into spring.

Creators:
Mary Beth Keenan
Published:
March 27, 2024
March 18, 2024
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