Here in the northern hemisphere, we are traveling towards the coldest, darkest part of the year. The last of the pale yellow leaves will be gone soon, leaving the forest bare. Before long, we will see the first snowfall.
I love this transition into winter - there is so much beauty and richness to enjoy. I look forward to the chance to sink deeper into my inner life. The autumn and winter are a time when we can take a look back at the year so far and assess where we are. It's a good time to let go of things that no longer serve us and to plan ways to make our lives better in general. Now is the time to root into the earth, to plant the seeds of change, to hibernate and dream ourselves into a new year of exciting stuff.
This is also a time when we can really feel our moods dip, and our health can wane a bit if we're not careful. The transitional nature of the season, the ups and downs of the temperature as we shift to colder times, and even the emotional transition into darker days can leave us more vulnerable to sickness. And, of course, here in the states we are approaching a time of travel, holiday gatherings (which have their own set of serious stressors, both mental and physical), and endless to-do lists.
It can be tough to stay well and balanced in general, but add in all the extra stuff winter throws at us, and it gets even harder.
So, I thought I'd offer up some of the things I do to stay grounded and feeling good throughout this transitional period and the (sometimes) intense holiday season. I'm sure it's not perfect, and the things I share probably won't work for everyone, but I hope this might be a good starting point.
Eat Hearty, Warming Foods
As any decent herbalist/nutritionist/grandmother will tell you, diet is the absolute foundation of wellness. Our gut is an incredibly complex microbiome that also contains its own vast nervous system, and I can't emphasize enough how important it is to keep it happy and balanced. The gut-brain connection is strong; eating nourishing foods not only boosts our immune systems, but helps to keep our mood balanced as well.
Now is the time to build ourselves up with root vegetables, squashes, and warming herbs and spices like rosemary, thyme, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg...and all those delicious fall faves. Focus on hearty soups, roasted vegetables, and warm grains. I also love to incorporate infused vinegars and honeys into my meals for a little extra herbiness.
Take Your Elderberry Syrup and Fire Cider
When the temperatures really start to dip, I make a big batch of fire cider - a spicy sweet oxymel infused with things like onion, horseradish, ginger and turmeric. Sounds kinda weird, and maybe a little unappealing, I know...but it's very warming and packs a real antiviral punch.
Another thing I always keep on hand in the winter is Elderberry syrup. Elderberries are strongly antiviral and give the immune system a gentle nudge. Taking a little bit every day, or when you start to feel ill, can help you stay well and could reduce the duration of colds and the flu. Plus, it's delicious, so it's something everyone will be happy to take! (The recipes and more info on both fire cider and elderberry syrup can be found here, if you want to check them out.)
Many people take fire cider and elderberry syrup as a daily practice throughout the winter, and that's probably a very good idea...I try to remember to do it, but I am whimsical and inconsistent, and I end up just taking a little shot of it whenever I feel something coming on, or when I feel particularly chilled. It always does the trick.
Drink a Daily Cup (or Cups) of Tea
When it's cold out, having a pot of tea on hand is just really, really nice...especially if it's full of herbs that can help keep you well.
I like to make a nice daily infusion with a base of deeply nourishing nettle and raspberry leaf - both of these plants contain vitamins and minerals that help to build general health. I like to mix up my blend a bit with things like oatstraw for extra nourishment, chamomile if I'm feeling a bit wound up, ginger if I'm feeling chilled, lemon balm if my mood feels low, or peppermint if I want something a little more refreshing. I recommend trying out different stuff to see what you like and what tastes delicious to you.
Just the practice of making yourself a nice cup of tea everyday can have a positive effect. Which bring me to...
Create Daily Rituals
Putting a few daily rituals in place is so important for feeling at peace and keeping stress at bay, which in turn can help keep your immune system healthy. It's a nice way to create space for yourself and stay grounded no matter what is going on around you.
So, you know what, buy yourself that fancy coffee every day. Read your favorite column in the paper while you eat breakfast. Meditate for 10 minutes during lunch. Take your dog for a walk after dinner. Draw yourself a nice bath. Bake something. Or, if you're wtichy and strange like me, make yourself a little altar that you can visit every day to help set your intentions and recharge.
Don't be afraid to put yourself first and indulge in little things that bring you joy.
Yes, even if it's cold. If you can go outside and get a little fresh air and sunlight and get that dose of Vitamin D every day, you will almost assuredly notice a positive change in your mood. Extra points if you can go to a park or forest and spend time in nature.
Keep Your Skin Healthy
It's probably not something we give much thought to, but our skin is our largest organ, and it's also the one of the first lines of defense in our immune system. It functions as a barrier between us and all the pathogens and pollution floating around in the air - winter can do a number on the skin, and when it gets dry and cracked, that barrier gets a little weaker.
Keeping your skin moisturized daily with a rich cream or body oil is not only a nice daily ritual, but one that can really improve and maintain the outer terrain of your immune system.
Wear a Scarf!
Ok, don't laugh.
Well, you can laugh if you want, but I don't care because I'm right.
The older I get the more I realize how important it is to layer up when it's cold. All those times your parents (and probably grandparents too) told you to bring a jacket...they were right. The head and neck are especially vulnerable - they are sensitive areas where a chill can creep in, bring our body temperatures down, and weaken our defenses. Especially during transitional periods like autumn, it's easy to underestimate how cold it's going to be and how fast temperatures can drop.
So, always take a scarf!
Be well, friends, and enjoy all the bright, beautiful things this season has to offer.