CHILL IN THE CHILL Embracing the warmth of evenings by the fire allows us the space to relax, rest and ultimately, improve our wellbeing and yes, ultimately, our productivity.
An ode to quiet winter evenings by the fire
An Cailín Rua
Dare I ask, dear readers - how are your new year’s resolutions going? If you made any, that is. I made two. One, as per my last column was to rest more. (Thank you, by the way, to all who got in touch about that – it seemed to strike a chord.) The second was to not make any more resolutions. I say it every January – why set yourself up for failure, at the most miserable time of the year?
Now, all that said, I do like January. I like the clean slate and the clean house once the Christmas kitsch is cleared. I am, instead, a February-Fearer, but I accept I am in the minority. Yesterday, the third Monday in January, was ‘Blue Monday’, though Mayo’s own Blue Monday probably arrived a week early, when Lee Keegan hung up his intercounty boots.
While the Blue Monday concept is unscientific and merely a marketing ploy created by a UK travel company to get people to book holidays, it is now commonly known as the most depressing day of the year due to its timing, and the combination of post-Christmas fatigue and debt, failed new year’s resolutions and the miserable January weather. It has also been related to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where the lack of daylight contributes to low mood. Here in North Mayo, we’ve almost forgotten what the sun looks like. (Actually, if you do make one resolution, make it your daily Vitamin D dose).
All of this really begs the question – why on earth do we pick January to attempt big life changes? Getting through the darkest, greyest, most wretched time of the year is surely challenging enough for most of us, without inflicting additional pressure on ourselves, and self-flagellating if we don’t sustain our resolutions.
The most common pledges include increasing our exercise levels, getting healthier and losing weight, which typically involve outdoor exercise, often in the worst weather imaginable. It is not unreasonable at all to want to avoid heading out for a walk or run in January’s typical rain torrents and tornadoes, but if we do, we pile guilt upon ourselves, as if we weren’t miserable enough already. Let’s be very clear here. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sitting by the fire on a cold January night, so stop giving out to yourself for doing just that.
No, winter is not the time for making big life changes. The very idea goes against nature. Around us, our wildlife is sleeping and resting. The trees are bare, the animals are hibernating – slowing down their metabolisms and hunkering down, filling their cups, conserving their energy for the longer, brighter, busier days. We could learn a lot from the natural life cycles of work, preparation, rest and recovery.
Getting outdoors is a good thing, of course, during daylight hours, but embracing the warmth of evenings by the fire allows us the space to relax, rest and ultimately, improve our wellbeing and yes, ultimately, our productivity.
Obviously, there is huge merit in wanting to develop healthier habits and ways of life. But such habits don’t develop overnight – changes happen gradually, and by degrees. If we set ourselves up for success by sustaining small, habitual changes, like drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning for example, followed then by taking a 15-minute walk outdoors at lunchtime perhaps, and stacking these habits gradually, we have a better chance of achieving our goals and making long-term changes.
It also might be worth gently questioning why so many of us want to make these types of changes. Is it for health reasons, or is it because we are unhappy with our bodies? If the former, good and well, but if it’s the latter, it’s worth remembering that all bodies are good bodies. Our worth and wellbeing is not dependent on our body shape or size, despite what Operation Transformation would have you believe.
Returning to Blue Monday and Seasonal Affective Disorder, there is, too, a much wider conversation to be had around mental health in Ireland. Isn’t there always? The poor relation when it comes to the wider health service, there is gathering evidence to show that post-pandemic (if it ever ends, that is) that the collective trauma of Covid – the fear, isolation, social anxiety, and loneliness – will have widespread, long-term psychological effects, placing more pressure on mental-health services than ever.
So let us mind ourselves where we can and embrace the concept of Wintering. Of slowing down, recuperating and replenishing ourselves. Giving ourselves a break from guilt and going gently. There will be plenty of time for pounding pavements after the spring equinox, when the green shoots appear. And may the longer days bring the sunshine with them when they arrive.