Winters in Utah are often bleak and gray. I know that some of my Canadian friends see a lot more snow and cold than we get here in Utah, but generally winters are filled with lots of cold, snow, bad drivers and trapped pollution. We spend hours scraping snow and ice off cars, driveways and sidewalks only to spend hours on our morning commutes, puttering along the slick freeways at speeds barely higher than the temperature outside. The world around us seems to slow down in the winter.
Winter is also a time when the natural world slows down. Animals go into hibernation or migrate. Plants and some animals go into a state of slow or no growth, only using resources to survive the long, harsh winter months. Everything seems suspended in a holding pattern until spring arrives and life bursts forth again.
I think humans have a tendency to naturally slow down during the winter months as well. We’re not as well adapted to the extreme cold and regular dark that accompanies wintertime, so our minds and bodies seem to naturally go into survival mode. The world, our jobs, our busy lives will push us to stay in go, go, go mode, even though it might be better to slow down.
We don’t always need to slow down during the cold winter months and the time when we need to slow down doesn’t need to be during the wintertime. Oftentimes our “winter” comes after a period of prolonged stress or after a tragedy or intense situation, good or bad. Slowing down isn’t bad and it won’t ruin our productivity or turn us into lazy people.
In fact, when pilots encounter turbulence during a flight, the best course of action is to slow down and ride out the turbulence, rather than speed through it.
Right now I feel like I’m in a mental and emotional winter. And that’s OK. I’ve been going through some turbulence. I’ve had a few good winter storms come through my life and I’ve needed to slow down a bit, hunker down and wait it out. Not all of life’s problems are solved by trying to power our way through them or continuing on with business as usual.
Here are 7 ways to slow down during the winter, whether it’s actually wintertime or not.
1. Find time to relax
Relaxing is something of a lost art in today’s society of busy-ness and productivity. Our time is precious, so why shouldn’t we use some of it to take care of our mind and body? Relaxing gives your brain and body a chance to rest, reset and switch gears for a short time. Put away distractions, to-do lists, phones, computers, and worries. Take a hot bath, read a good book, go for a leisurely walk around the block. Relaxing takes many forms but is so important for slowing down. Winter is the perfect time to relax and get back to what’s important in life.
2. Take naps
This could fit into the section above, but I think napping is awesome and underrated. Find time during your day to take a nap. There’s nothing better than to curl up under a warm blanket in a patch of sunshine when it’s cold outside. Take advantage of the cold weather, icy roads and warm blankets and take a nap. Slow down and give your body a mini-hibernation whenever you can.
3. Don’t add anything new to your plate
Part of slowing down is focusing on the most important things in your life. When a bear hibernates, it doesn’t worry about much. It worries about warmth, food and sleep. It doesn’t go out hunting or gathering or find a new place to live. Likewise, trees aren’t concerned with enormous growth during the winter. They aren’t sprouting leaves and flowers, extending roots and branches or expanding their trunk. They stick with what keeps them alive. We should take a page from the book of nature and learn to focus on what we need to do to keep us alive and thriving. Other things can wait. Slowing down means saying no to new commitments, projects and activities. It means taking care of yourself.
4. Focus on what’s really important
In nature, winter is generally a time when animals focus on only the essentials of survival. The cold weather generally makes it hard to find food, mate, build a home, etc. They focus on what’s important for the time until a new season of growth arrives. We, too, can learn to focus on what’s important. Focus on your values and only do things that align with those values. Cut out extraneous activities that don’t add value to your life. Make a list of things you do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. See what on that list is really adding value and bringing joy into your life. Work on eliminating the rest.
5. Don’t neglect your health
Your health is vital to thriving in life. I always seem to get sick in the wintertime for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve been rushing, stressing and worrying all year and all that self-neglect catches up to me by the end of the year (usually during Christmas break). Second, everyone else is sick too, so I almost always catch a bug one way or another.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Focus on your health during the winter to ensure you’re energized and ready to go when spring comes. Get plenty of rest, eat well, drink lots of fluids and take it easy instead of always pushing yourself. Physical health is so important and can make or break how we feel through the next seasons of life.
6. Slow your daily pace
I often find myself rushing through the day, like I’m in some kind of race against the clock. No matter what we do, though, the clock always wins. So take a step back from the hustle and bustle and slow your pace. Enjoy a healthy breakfast one bite at a time. Appreciate the sunrise. Notice something cool on the way to work. Take a walk during lunch. Single task while you work. Life isn’t a race, so slow down and enjoy the little moments. You’ll be much happier and more at peace with yourself.
I took a trip to Denver a few years ago. The trip was fun, but the most memorable part for me was traveling by train back home. Yes, it took about 10 times longer than flying, but this was a planned part of the trip. I wasn’t in a rush to get home. I wanted to slow down and admire all the scenery that I missed in our flight. Sometimes we fly through life, watching the ground rush by below us. Sometimes we should slow down, take the train through life (or even ride a bike or walk!) and watch the mountains turn into canyons. See the local wildlife and small towns that we never would have seen from a plane.
7. Don’t feel guilty
Guilt. It plagues us constantly in this world of side-hustles, productivity hacks and rat races. If even thinking about taking some of the suggestions above makes you feel guilty, know this: It’s OK. Let go of the guilt. Take time to slow down, rest and sharpen the saw. You don’t have to do it all or be the best at everything all the time. We all need a time of slowness so we can focus on what’s important, check our vital signs and relearn what we value. Guilt, in this case, is a trick learned by our minds from social conditioning. It’s our minds telling us that we’re not living up to the world’s expectations of us. But why should we let others set expectations for us? We need to learn to quiet the fake guilt and focus on taking time to reduce our speed and restore our health.
Also published on Medium.