In the upper Midwest, we enjoy 5 distinct seasons: spring, summer, late summer (aka Indian summer), autumn and winter. These seasons have their own unique characteristics that - when we tune into them - influence our experiences in body, mind and spirit. Some people are going to be affected by this more than others. Personally, I experience seasonal shifts pretty dramatically and need to adjust how I care for myself to find balance in the dynamic shifts of my environment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda both do a good job of explaining the energetic qualities of these seasons and how they manifest in the body. I'm not an expert in either of these medical systems. Over the 15 years or so that I've worked in holistic health care, I've picked up a thing or two that has influenced how I think about wellness and nutrition. In working with clients, we sometimes can't explain why one day a way of eating works for a person and the next they feeling poorly eating the same exact foods. Ruling out physiological and biochemical imbalances, we're often led to view the imbalance from a more energetic perspective. That's when I draw on these traditions for insight and direction.
For me in my personal life, seasonal eating satisfies my desire to connect with nature. It also aligns with my food values, supporting my commitment to local and sustainable food systems. These topics exceed the attention span of this article, but I promise to circle back in future posts to elaborate.
Autumn in the Spirit
Autumn carries a level of melancholy - not just because after autumn comes winter, a season most Northerns both love and dread. Looking around at the landscape, trees are losing their leaves and plants are dying back for winter survival. This is a time for reflection and inner work. You may be surprised by existential crises that make you question everything in your life. Tears may flow more freely as old hurts resurface from out of nowhere. You may be tasked with letting go of the past - no simple thing.
Spiritual Self-care Suggestions:
Autumn in the Mind
This can also be a really creative time of year, but your creativity may be disorganized and hard to contain. The blustery winds of this season are stirring things up...and not necessarily putting them back down where you expect them to be. Anxiety may be heightened, thoughts may be clouded by emotion. Don't feel surprised if you crave dissociative behaviors like drinking alcohol or doom scrolling. I'm not saying these are activities that are going to help you, but their attraction will be heightened, so have grace with yourself around these cravings.
Mental Self-care Suggestions:
Autumn in the Body
Physically, autumn may present as symptoms in the lungs or colon: respiratory infections, shortness of breath, constipation, gas, bloating...you know, the fun stuff. The dryness may also make you feel more achy and uncomfortable. Supporting your immune system is key (download my Eating for Immunity Guide for some tips on how to do that).
Body Self-care Suggestions:
Finally, autumn is a season of preparation. I think most Northerners experience some level of seasonal depression, which will likely be exacerbated this year due to our limits for socializing during a pandemic. In addition to finishing house projects and getting things in order for a rejuvenating winter, I want you to consider self-care techniques you can employ to nourish your mood through the cold, dark months ahead. Simple things like supplementing with vitamin D, cultivating a gratitude practice and drafting a list of nice things you can do for others (the most effective way to increase happiness) is a good place to start.
I hope these adjustments to how you care for yourself help you navigate Autumn this year with more ease, balance and pleasure.
Every client I met with last week said (a variation) of the same thing:
"With everything that's going on in the world right now, taking care of myself feels low priority."
I get it. Things are really wild right now. We're all holding A LOT: a pandemic, an uprising. We're faced with our mortality while examining our thoughts, behaviors and actions that are either a solution to the problem or part of the problem. We're talking about hard stuff every day while trapped in our homes.
This is uncomfortable stuff.
It's also the stuff that changes the course of humanity. So keep doing the good work...AND let's get you back to caring for yourself while you're doing it.
I keep coming across the flight attendants' reminder from the beginning of every flight: put on your oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs.
This idiom reminds us that before we can do any good for anyone else, we have to first do good for ourselves.
If you read nothing else on this page, read this: You are no good to any movement or cause or community or human, animal, or environment if you are not good to yourself.
How you care for yourself right now might differ from how you cared for yourself before the pandemic hit the US. It might differ from how you cared for yourself before George Floyd's murder. The self-care you need now might be totally and completely new to you.
Have you taken the invitation to explore that and make a self-care plan that's just for you in this specific moment in your life?
Shelly Tygielski (@mindfulskatergirl) has authored a number of articles on this topic for Mindful.org related specifically to self-care during the pandemic. She gives 3 good reasons why taking time to do some internal inventory and create a plan for caring for yourself is not just important but critical. I think these are especially important for those of us who are activated by recent events in Minneapolis and the movement they sparked in our nation and world.
Here are Tygielski's reasons to make a personalized Self-Care Plan:
"Customizing a Self-Care Plan is a preventative measure." Ultimately, you can prevent all kinds of suffering by taking some time to reflect and strategize. You are going to be much better ally and activist when you are NOT in crisis mode. This movement needs you thinking, feeling and communicating clearly and effectively. That is not possible when you're exhausted, burned out and fueled by caffeine and sugar.
"Having a plan takes the guesswork out of what to do and where to turn in moments of crisis." Don't wait until you're fried and inconsolable to decide how to care for yourself. Plan ahead, so you can respond instead of react to your circumstances and what you're experiencing in that moment.
"A Self-Care Plan helps you stay the course." You don't need to put your health goals aside to participate in protests and social activism. You don't need to put yourself last because this moment feels bigger than you. This moment is bigger than you...which means that we need you to be your absolute best right now! And we need whatever action you take to be sustainable - this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Now that you know you need a Self-Care Plan, follow this link to get Tygielski's directions on creating one for yourself or download this worksheet I made adapting her recommendations to a visual form.
Time for true confessions: this is hard for me too. My stress response is to freeze. I have felt frozen in anxiety and fear for months now. I try to care for myself by eating regularly, exercising and meditating, but I'll go days - or even weeks - without any real success in that department. I'm more successful with my favorite dissociation techniques.
I followed Tygielski's prompts to come up with my own self-care plan. Here are some activities I'm working on in my Self-Care Plan right now:
Eating at regular intervals. Instead of stress eating, I tend to neglect eating when I'm stressed. This leaves me feeling my worries even more acutely. Not helpful! I'm setting a calendar reminder to go off midday every weekday to remind me to take a lunch break and again mid-afternoon to offer a snack break.
Start the day with movement. Moving my body is my 2nd favorite medicine following closely behind my #1: eating delicious food. I tend to come up with all kinds of excuses about why I can't exercise as the day goes on, so I'm working this into a morning routine. Which brings me to...
Meditate daily. I am needing more grounding and focus right now. I am still sheltering in place, which means my life schedule is lacking the kind of structure I had before of going to the office and the gym, etc. I am not good at maintaining a routine, so without structure to my day I feel untethered. Meditation helps me connect to myself in a very helpful way. I'm working on 20 minutes every morning after my morning movement.
As you're working on your own Self-Care Plan, notice any resistance you have to giving to yourself. Here are some wise words from Rachel Elizabeth Cargle (@rachel.cargle) that helped me put this in perspective for myself this week:
"...Meditate AND call your senator.
Go to yoga AND go vote.
Breathe deeply AND donate to causes that matter.
Go on a retreat AND go support small businesses.
Enjoy your essential oils AND check people on their bullshit in the community."
This blog has been moved to a new location! Please visit Jesse's blog at Wellness Minneapolis for this and more on a food-first approach to mental wellness, seasonal and ethical eating, and mind-body medicine.
Recently, I wrote an article about emotional eating. At the time, it felt important to recognize the mental, emotional and social challenges we were faced with as we collectively navigated life in a pandemic...challenges and stresses that often drive us to the kitchen looking for comfort or stimulation.
More than a month later, this conversation may be even more relevant as an uprising has sprung around us in Minneapolis since that last article. More challenges. More stress and uncertainty.
Here's a brief recap of what we know about emotional eating:
Our brains respond to foods we find pleasurable with a dose of dopamine (our "feel good" neurotransmitter). This brings us satisfaction, calm, comfort...really, dopamine is the balm to any negative feeling! So really - truly - emotional eating works.
People are motivated to come see me by health challenges or goals they have. Emotional hardship definitely makes the list of things they want to work on. I work with folks who experience depression and anxiety, emotional states that are often triggered by moments of acute stress or struggle. And many of my clients effectively use emotional eating to soothe these negative feelings.
While we see a chemical benefit to eating comforting food in response to a negative experience or emotion, ultimately we know that ice cream is not the solution to loneliness. Corn chips cannot entertain us out of our boredom. And no amount of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will bring us back to our childhood where a caring adult was telling us everything was going to be ok.
Emotional eating also poses the threat of numbing us to our emotions or aiding us in dissociating from what we're experiencing. Eating instead of dealing with our feelings head on isn't going to solve the problem of that loneliness. Or the boredom. Or the insecurity and disappointment of being an adult and finding out that everything is not ok.
Instead of eating when we feel these things, I propose experiencing them. For you in the back, yes I am suggesting that you experience the yuck. Keep in mind that you may need some support with this. Before making a choice to actively heal, get yourself a counselor or other mental wellness support to aid you through the hardship of feeling your feelings.
When you're ready to proceed, give this a try:
When we practice mindfulness we become better at being ourselves. We can be more honest and reflective, which means we are better partners, better parents and just all around have more ease and peace. We bring that ease and peace into the world we live in.
This is what self-care looks like. It's not always sexy. Sometimes, it's really hard work. But it's hard work that pays off. It's hard work that brings healing. And who knows what beautiful things you'll create with your hands and your heart if you let yourself grieve and be angry and transform hurt into health.
I love food.
I love thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it. I love growing food, cooking and eating food. I use this space to try to convey that. Follow me on social media for more day-to-day inspiration on these topics.