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How To Thrive In Winter

Winter is a time for slowing down and going inward. It’s a time for darkness and stillness. It’s also a time, if you’re like me, where depression can really overwhelm you, especially for those of us living in the upper half of the northern hemisphere. This season is the domain of Saturn, who rules the signs of Capricorn and Aquarius, and as I get older we seem to understand each other better and better. That’s how she rolls. The mysteries of Saturn are the lessons of a lifetime.

I don’t claim to have conquered my difficulties during this time, and I don’t think that we’re necessarily meant to, but here are some practices and tools I’ve found supportive. I think that we can truly learn to thrive in winter when we fully embrace what it has to offer without wishing for it to be what it is not. Please keep in mind that I’m not a doctor and none of these suggestions are meant to constitute medical advice.

Winter Tools and Practices

Surrender

Allow yourself to really feel all the feelings that are coming up for you without judging them. One of the least helpful things we can do when we feel bad is to further compound our suffering by moralizing it or feeling bad about feeling bad. When you notice that you are feeling sad or angry or uncomfortable, practice saying to yourself “it’s ok for me to feel this way.” Repeat it to yourself like a mantra. I found this book helpful for learning to work through difficult feelings.

Rest is sacred and necessary

Learn to say NO to stuff and rest. Everything in nature exists in cycles. Learn to attune yourself with them instead of fighting against them. It’s ok if you make less plans, workout less, etc. Rest is sacred and necessary. Resist the urge to isolate yourself completely however. We are social creatures, after all.

Bring The Light To You (aka “Store-Bought is Fine”)
Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

Get a light box. These are also called “SAD Lamps.” (SAD stands for seasonal-affective disorder.) These are devices that emit 10,000lux of light and mimic the light of the sun. Exposure to these in the morning has been shown to alleviate winter depression as well as supporting a healthy circadian rhythm. I find that mine really helps to energize me in the morning and help me to get going when it’s gray out and all I want to do is crawl back into bed. Here is the one I use.

Invest in a sunrise alarm clock if you can afford it. There is nothing more miserable than being woken up in pitch-black room by loud beeping/screeching. As an added bonus, a dedicated alarm means your phone isn’t the first thing you look at when you wake up. This is the one I use. There are less expensive models available too that will work just as well. I just only feel comfortable recommending products I have used personally.

Go outside if you can and get sun exposure. We have become an incredibly sun-fearing culture which I personally believe is detrimental to our physical and mental health. This is a controversial topic however so please understand that what I am advocating for here is brief periods of responsible sun exposure only. Additionally, consider getting your vitamin D levels checked and if you are deficient, talk to your doctor about supplementing.

Burn candles (safely)

Support Your Body

While I think it’s important to slow down during this time, our bodies still require physical movement. Keeping your blood flowing will help to keep your spirits up and release endorphins. In winter I typically opt for more yin forms of exercise like, walking in nature, yoga, and dance. Find a form of movement that feels right for your body.

Invest in warm clothing. Part of the reason I have historically struggled in winter in the past is due to a feeling of confinement. I longed to be outside but loathed feeling cold. Now I make a point to dress warmly enough that I can still spend plenty of time outdoors and in in nature.

Reduce or eliminate processed food and excessive sugar from your diet. It’s easy when we’re feeling low to reach for whatever is convenient however these types of foods can be highly inflammatory which contributes to depression. Focus on eating as much whole unprocessed food as possible. If you are interested in more guidance and structure around this I recommend the Whole30.

Take hot baths. The nature of Saturn is cold and dry. Stay warm and hydrated. Herbal steams and foot baths are also wonderful.

Get Herbal and Mineral Support from the Sun

Solar medicine as a remediation for the effects of Saturn can be incredibly effective. I find St. John’s Wort tincture to be helpful personally, however as with all herbal medicines, you should check with your doctor before using it and in particular this medicine should not be used by those taking prescription anti-depressants. I also love to work with citrus in the form of teas, flavorings, and essential oils. I find citrus scents to give me an instant lift and I will often add them to a bath or a diffuser. Frankincense incense is also wonderful for lightening the mood and energy of a space. Citrine stone can be worn or carried. If you want to go further with this, here is a list of things ruled by the sun according to Cornelius Agrippa.

Cleansing

Spiritual cleansing is important all year round, but it’s especially helpful for clearing out stuck and stagnant energy. Your home and your body are your temple and keeping them clean and clear is one of the best things you can do for your overall wellbeing, especially when you’re spending extra time indoors. And yes this includes (and requires) physical cleaning. This is my favorite book on the subject.

Do the KonMari method: This is, true to the name, “life-changing.” This was one of the most intense things I’ve ever done. You will be forced to confront the story you have been telling about yourself through your stuff, whether that story is finished or even real, and also to confront the idea that you might not know who you are anymore without that stuff. You will not be the same after, but you will have made space for so much blessing and wonder to come into your life.

Propitiate Saturn

Here are some different ways to propitiate Saturn. In other words, ways to honor and work with the energies of Saturn so they don’t work against you.

Keep a planner/journal. Saturn is literally the lord (lady) of time (Kronos.) Have a healthy respect for time by documenting it and your experiences. This is a great way to contextualize events in terms of larger cycles as well as a way to process a lot of the uncomfortable feelings that can surface during this time of year.

Talk to your ancestors. Saturn rules the dead. She also rules our bones, where our ancestors live. If you look after your dead, they will look after you. If you don’t have an active ancestor practice already, you can start by simply offering your ancestors a candle, a glass of cool water, and a few words, spoken from the heart. For more on that, check out this excellent book on the topic.

Pray the servite rosary. This is a rosary focused around the seven sorrows (or dolors) of Mary and is really powerful meditation on sadness and death, not to mention the use of prayer beads has an incredibly soothing affect. For more on the power of the rosary, check out this book. If the rosary isn’t your thing, here is a Saturn mantra using mala beads from Kelly Surtees.

Firm up your boundaries (whatever this means for you.)

Perform the Orphic hymn to Saturn/Kronos on Saturdays or during Saturn hours. If you don’t know about planetary hours, here is a great resource from my teacher Chris Warnock.

Wishing you a blessed and restorative winter. xo

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