Self care strategies for the colder, darker season

Autumn and Winter provides us with an immense opportunity to seize a golden opportunity to actually flow and connect with the season and to work on our self-care wellbeing albeit, on a much slower and deeper level. If summer is all about being active, then the colder season allows us to concentrate on a deeper level, especially on the things that are buried deep into the very core of our being. We get the chance to reassess our mental and physical health and to develop strategies, so that we will be our absolute best when the spring and summer comes around again. 

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Medical disclaimer. This article is for information and entertainment purposes only and does not in any way constitute medical advice. If you suffer from any medical conditions such as depression or other mental health conditions or you might have food intolences discussed in this article, then you should consult a qualified medical practitioner.

Start with the small things and the big things naturally take care of themselves.

It can be really tough this time of year on our physical body as well as our mental health. Both our physical and mental health are intricately linked, and it is not only a challenge when one, like our physical well being, is not functioning optimally, to actually maintain a positive mental attitude. “It’s a big issue,” says Joseph Gallo, MD, MPH, a professor in Mental Health whose research focuses on the intersection of physical and mental health. “There’s ample clinical and epidemiologic evidence that shows the risk for depression is higher among those who suffer from chronic illnesses.”  Imagine the body experiencing chronic inflammation, albeit on a very subtle level and couple that with the colder darker and shorter days, the lack of vitamin d in our environment and the risk to our mental health is big. The yin and yang diagram clearly illustrates that our physical and mental health are both connected with each other to make a whole. Our metabolism, our weight, skin, hair, the colds and flu season that places stress on our immune system, can and does bring challenges to our mental wellbeing such as low mood, lack of motivation and a lackluster approach to the day. We do not claim that humans hibernate, that would be incorrect, however, there are environmental conditions that directly affect our physiology.

Healthy mind, healthy body.

The lack of sunlight is a major burden on our wellbeing and summer is the perfect time to employ a selfing strategy to get back on top physically and mentally (see our summer selfing read). However, in this article, we want to explore ways in which we can improve and maintain our self-care wellbeing in the darker and colder months that can and will contribute to a robust healthy immune system and mental attitude.

Most people who are living in the northern parts of the world such as northern Europe and the USA, either love the changing seasons, the changing colour of the leaves that initially turn red, then orange and eventually, golden, or they dread it. As the months progress further, the trees, all bare and grey as nature enters the winter sleep can fill people up with even more dread. The start of the season is marked by those orange round pumpkins, either made into a delicious warming nourishing soup or a divinely sweet pie. The calendar is filled with cozy dates such as Halloween, celebrated everywhere where kids dress up in costumes and go out trick and treating, knocking on doors collecting all sorts of sweets. Additionally in the UK, Guy Fawks night, in celebration of an English catholic who wanted to restore a catholic monarch to the throne in 1605, is celebrated with colorful firework displays organised by private families or larger public firework displays taking place in parks up and down the country. The end of October is marked by the clock going back by an hour and the days drawing even earlier to a close. There is St Martins Day in Berlin, taking place in November, the restaurants brimming with guests ordering goose from the menu, culminating in December with Christmas being celebrated in all Christian countries. Ah Christmas, streets filled with lights and indoors, one finds a tree with shimmering and glittering decoration and gifts under it. Nevertheless, on the other hand though, many people would like to see summer all year round and find the dark days and a colder climate unbearable, finding the months challenging to say the very least. Maybe there are practical things one can do in order to lessen to stress on our bodies, and by extension, our mental health.

What does it actually mean though for our well-being? Let us forget for just a moment and detach ourselves from the memories that we hold from our childhood experiences of this time of year and in fact, consider, what it means for our biological and physiological processes?  

Photo by Ruth Georgiev from unsplash

There is some evidence showing that glucose and the body response to the breakdown of it is modulated somewhat by food consumed and temperature. A study by science advance found seasonal variations in glycemic trends, with patients having worse glycemic control in the months of November to February , and better control in the months of April to August (PRAJAKTA BELSARE, ABIGAIL BARTOLOME, CATHERINE STANeR and TEMILOLUWA PRIOLEAU) Science advance 22 Sep 2023. I know what you might be thinking, but I’m not diabetic and do not have a problem with insulin. That may be true, but we all release insulin when we consume glucose and therefore, it may be affected during these months.

Regulating glucose sounds very scientific but it basically means the way the body breaks down sugar for energy and is of immense importance to long term illness free health, and no, living on a low or no sugar diet is probably not conducive to long term health regardless of what the keto crowd say.

When we write about sugar, the reader often conjures an image in their head of the harmless looking industrial white thing, processed and refined until all things have been removed, the famous industrial, processed white sugar from sugar cane. We we are discussing all products where pure glucose sugar/carbohydrates are to be found, such as flour, rice, baking and bread products and pasta. All these are made up of pure glucose with no nutrional value, such as vitamins and minerals, unless they have been fortified with synthetic vitamins. Taking nature out and putting fake back in is often a recipe for disaster. White sugar is made up of not only glucose, but also fructose a crucial difference.which crucially, is broken down by the body differently.

Fresh and Easy

Learning to cook with fresh, wholesome produce is good for your health, whatever kind of person you are. But I can’t cook I hear people say, but that is not true. Granted, it takes a bit of practice to learn some of the techniques that are used in kitchens up and down the country but it is possible without being a contestant on Masterchef. Deglazing pans brings richness to soups and stews and is a lot of fun to experiment with. Roasting vegetables and using herbs such as rosemary to add flavour to them creates the boring into appetizing. Experimenting with deserts that use no flour allows one to indulge in a dessert without the gluten.

Learning to read labels and taking the time to get to know ingredients listed on labels is essential and is necessary to long term good health and wellbeing and should not be underestimated. We must accept that processed foods are contaminated with chemicals that may on one occasion cause no harm to us, but to repeatedly consume them can have a low level, accumulative effect on our precious and sensitive body. We live by a simple rule at Frederick and Fischer, when a product has a long list of ingredients listed on the package, then caution is called for. It is time that we accept that the governments are powerless to deal with big, multibillion dollar/pounds/euro companies and are unable to allocate resource to research every chemical used to preserve, conserve, improve texture and taste that has the potential to harm our bodies when consumed on a regular basis. It is almost impossible to find the culprit, but we know it from symptoms such as foggy brain upon waking, like a mini hangover, or according to Danial More MD and medically reviewed by Jurairat J. Molina, MD for the site, a skin rash, atopic dermatitis, asthma symptoms like tight chest and often or not, a blocked nose. One does not need to obsess over ingesting such compounds, life is complicated enough than avoiding eating in restaurants or at a friend’s house but limiting, particularly when you cook at home, is the key and cooking nourishing food at home in the Autumn and Winter season is a perfect opportunity for you to do just that.  

Some compounds to look out for when buying processed products in the supermarket would be sulfites, benzoates, nitrates the positive sounding word like, antioxidants. Sulfites are used to preserve dried fruits, benzoates preserve drinks such fruit juices, antioxidants are found in margarines and vegan butter replacements, vegetables oils too because they are very unstable and oxidize super quickly, and nitrates are found in processed meats like ham, bacon, turkey slices and so on. 

In the darkened season, it is imperative that no unnecessary stress is placed onto our body than is absolutely necessary and unavoidable. We also need to consider our age, it may have been all very well in our early 20’s to not really worry about all this, besides, our body could cope with almost anything right? we felt superhuman but eventually we have accept our aging body is no longer robust compared to our younger selves or maybe we have consumed such chemical compounds throughout our childhood, into our 20’s and since then we have developed new found awareness of the response our body elicits, when we ingest such things.

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There are other potential chemical hazards that are not considered allergens by the various regulatory institutions who are tasked with protecting our health from compounds used in the food and drug industries. One of the problems is foods that are stripped of their nutritional value and then fortified with synthetic compounds such as white flour or diary milk fortified with vitamin d. This is much less of a problem in Europe, but in the UK and the USA, it is almost impossible to buy baking products without fortification of flour with synthetic vitamins and iron.  

In general, though, a diet rich in wheat products such as bread or baking goods can be incredibly stressful for our body. It is not only gluten that is hard for us to digest and therefore, eliciting a stress response in our body but white bread for example, releases so much insulin because it is pure sugar without any nutrients and is broken down very quickly in the body, that it causes a whole host of hormonal imbalances in the body. In Autumn and Winter there is evidence to suggest that we are much more susceptible to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a complex condition in which the body does not respond as it should to insulin, a hormone your pancreas makes that is essential for regulating your blood sugar levels. Remember this time of year, lack of sunlight can slow down our physiological processes and therefore results in these kinds of problems. 

Another fad diet, this time from the 90’s.

In the 90’s there was a new diet on the market called the GI diet and the glycemic index is a rating system for foods consisting of carbohydrates. It showed how certain food affected blood sugar level and the amount of insulin released in response to it. The index was remarkable in that it was, in many cases, surprising what everyday food idems where found towards the upper end. The reason why we are writing about this index is just for illustration purposes only because one should, be mindful of the effects of carbohydrates on our hormones and on this index white bread and even healthy, ‘slow releasing’, whole wheat bread is to the top of the high range 75 and 74 respectively, while rice noodle, ice-cream, orange juice, milk is at the lower end of the range, 56, 51, 50 and 39 respectively. A much better option for lunch would be root vegetable soup, such as carrot or squash, a piece of cheese, some fruit and a glass of milk as opposed to a baguette, pasta or sandwich. One can make a large pot of soup and take it to the office or to the construction site in a thermal flask over a couple of days. 

It always about creating balance

High GI foods can increase cortisol according to a study published by Emad A.S. Al-Dujaili,1,2, * Sophie Ashmore,2 and Catherine Tsang February 2019. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is like a built-in alarm system and is the body’s main hormone. It works with certain parts of your brain to control mood, motivation, and fear. It is the adrenal glands which sit atop your kidneys that make cortisol, regulate your blood pressure, keep inflammation down and manage how the body uses carbohydrates and controls your sleep wake cycle. It is responsible for waking early, sometimes at 3am, when cortisol increases in your body during sleep as the body fasts and at the same time, make repairs. 

If your diet contains a lot of nutrient-poor foods, then it is easy to under-consume important vitamins and minerals and unfortunately, bread and baking products are nutrient poor, that is why they are fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals. 

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The protein in bread, baking and flour includes the protein gluten which has an opioid like effect and is associated with the development of celiac disease and related disorders such as diabetes mellitus type 1, depression, and even schizophrenia. (ref Leo Pruimboom et al, j health popular nutrition 2015). Common side effects of opioids are constipation, brain fog, sexual dysfunction and may increase the stress hormone prolactin. 

But I do not have any symptoms you might be thinking as you read this article, but the “beauty” of gluten is that it masks its own symptoms because it is an opioid. Opioids reduce pain; thus, you do not feel the issues that it is creating or causing. It is estimated that 83% of celiac patients are not conscious of their disease. 

Selfing strategy would be to replace pizzas, sandwiches or breaded meat with soups, pasta for stews (without flour as a sauce thickener), deserts such as apple pie or cobbler/crumble or large piece of cake and replace it with a piece of meringue such as pavlova black forest style, or chocolate meringue cookies instead of flour-based biscuits or cookies. Ice cream is a good option but way too cold for the winter months for some people. Breakfast options could be baked fruit in a little butter with yogurt, or quark and honey with an egg side dish for protein. 

Pavlova Copyright and Photo by Léo Roza at

In our place of work, we do not have too much of a choice as work stress is out of our control, but we do have control in reducing and limiting stress that is placed on our bodies in terms of what we are consuming and the choices we are making. 

As you would have seen in our summer selfing read, our ability to access the sun and increase our vitamin d levels are severely restricted in the Winter season and you would have discovered how vitamin d has a multi-dimensional effect on our many physiological processes in our body like sleep, positive mood, healthy fertility, efficient metabolism. At risk of sounding like a broken record, check your vitamin d levels and find your levels on the scales of insufficient, sufficient, or good. Secondly, invest in a superior quality vitamin d supplement and remember, you need to activate vitamin d with sunlight. If you are planning a winter sun escape, undertake a vitamin d cure a week or two before your holiday. It is well worth speaking with your doctor beforehand. 

It is now recognised that wintry cold weather can raise your risk of a whole hosts of heart and circulatory problems such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) particularly in women and heart attacks in men. 

A study by the British Heart Foundation, based in the UK stated that researchers have shown that the effects of health of a freezing day or cold spell can be seen two weeks or more afterwards. Furthermore, BHF funded scientists at the University of Bristol and University College London, who looked at records of people aged 60 and over in the UK, Ireland, and Netherland, found that heart attacks and strokes were more than twice as likely to happen during cold spells lasting at least 4 days. There is a simple reason for this! When you are cold, the blood vessels narrow in your skin, fingers, and toes so that less heat is lost (our bodies are marvelous aren’t they?). This process, (called vasoconstriction) creates more pressure in the rest of the circulation, resulting in the heart having to work much harder to pump blood and oxygen around the body to all the organs as well as the brain. The heart rate must increase, and the blood pressure can rise. This is a normal reaction by the body and the response to its environment, but this extra strain, however, can lead to health problems, especially during exercise. 

Regularly assessing your fitness goals is essential to good health

In the autumn and winter months, it is the perfect time to assess physical goals. Physical goals do not mean spending hours on a treadmill, or running outside, but can mean movement as a whole and can include walking in nature. The most important thing is, to simply move.

A strong body is as important as a strong mind and we wrote at the beginning of the article how physical and mental aspects of our wellbeing are interconnected so when our body is strong, then so too is our mental wellbeing. It is time to step up, but it does not necessarily require a heavy and stressful workout. On the other hand, it does not mean going into a fitness studio and just going through the motions. Here is an ideal opportunity to develop something different. Yes, trying out a new program can feel a little daunting, and particularly coming out of your comfort zone, but it is well worth it to flow with life. 

Things to consider when designing a new fitness program in the winter would be to consider whether you have developed recurring injuries through your earlier workouts and want to heal and restore yourself? Start with the very basics, even if you’re a seasoned fitness studio visitor. Working on your pelvis and strengthen your psoas can have wonderful benefits for back, shoulders and neck health. It comes down to a simple truth, our whole structure is connected, and often a restricted pelvis rotation can affect the psoas, lower back, upper back, shoulders, and lower body.

This time of year, is a perfect time to go back to basics because that way, you protect your health by moving, you make your body even stronger without putting too much strain on it because the body is already under strain from this time of year.  

We touched on a particularly important aspect of health and movement earlier. We showed that research was beginning to show higher rates of incidences of heart health problems and circulatory problems. According to the British Heart Foundation ‘our heart and blood vessels are always adapting to our environment, and to what is going on inside our body’. When we exercise, our heart beats faster and with more force, and blood vessels supplying our muscles expand to allow more blood through. Blood vessels supplying other areas narrow, so that the working muscles have priority. Constricting blood vessels because of the cold and straining the body excessively can cause a whole host of heart problems.

This time of year, is a great time if you are a seasoned gym goer, so be kind to your body, and work on corrective exercises such as your psoas, spatula, and pelvis rotation. Remember, although humans did not evolve to hibernate, we do experience some changes that affect our behaviour and physiology. We may feel inclined to stay indoors and reduce activity levels due to the weather conditions outside. To our body, we are in a sort of hibernating state with our body in a way, down regulating many metabolic processes. What better way to honor our body and the season is to enable our body to be at one with the earth. Yes, it sounds awfully esoteric, but we know that our body adapts to the new conditions of colder and darker days. 

Shake off the blues. Yes, you could literally shake off the blues by doing somatic stretching. What does somatic mean, soma means body in Greek meaning body so being aware or present during movement and being connected to your body.

Your aim is to release stored or stagnant energy. Can you remember the time when you just danced spontaneously and afterwards, everything felt better? It is basically a chance to move energy around our system and with the potential to being stressed all the time in our modern world we certainly need to move around the energy or simply to let go of it. And there is plenty of tension to release says Sarah Warren, a clinical somatic educator certified by the Somatic Systems institute. She further adds, “over the years, our nervous system learns to keep certain muscles tight and move in certain ways as a result of stress, trauma, athletic training, injuries and repetitive daily activities” Warren says. Our muscles tighten so that we don’t stretch them too far and injure them. which can lead to suboptimal movement pattern, chronic pain, and tightness. Have you ever danced in your room and let off steam and afterwards you felt brand new.

Why not begin your morning routine by asking yourself what you need, and you never know, you may find yourself jumping up and down for a couple of minutes and letting all your muscles loosen and let go.  

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Here are some somatic exercises to begin with but it is worth consulting with a certified somatic therapist. 

1. Grounding. 

Put your hands under cold running water and focus on the temperature feels on each part of your hand from the wrist to the nails. Now switch to warm water and focus on how the sensation on your hand changes. 

Or jump up and down. 

2. Self-regulation 

When your emotions are leading you to distress, you can guide yourself through your emotions. Unresolved trauma may lead to a dysregulation of the autonomous nervous system. With your hands in a cupping position, tap your body all over, from your feet to your head.  

3 Resourcing and visualizing 

You can use both resourcing and visualizing anytime you experience distressing thoughts. You will be focusing on creating a ‘safe’ sensation in your mind and body, you can relieve stress. Think about people you care about that make you feel at peace. You could start by looking at photos of them. 

Autumn and winter time is the perfect time to take things a little easier with everything and we need not necessarily to be facing life with as much power as we do in the summer months. There is so much potential to flow with the rythum of the Universe and at the same time feel a whole lot better, restored, peaceful and contented.