Have you ever woken up on cold November morning and wished for an extra 5 more minutes in bed? Ever had a nagging feeling that for some reason you would be better off saying no to that invitation and instead find some dedicated ‘me-time’? Well, what about 5 more days of sleep or me-time? Weeks? Or even months? Imagine the rejuvenating benefits of an extended period of downtime like this.
Unfortunately, unlike 200+ species in the animal kingdom, humans can’t hibernate through the winter’s months. However, there’s still a lot we can learn from hibernation, as applying the key principles to our lives can help us to thrive and revive during the shortest, darkest and coldest days of the year. In this article we’re breaking the benefits of hibernation into two parts: 1. Health and wellness and 2. Relationship with self. Join us as we journey into a deep, state of rest, recovery and reflection – prioritising the most important relationship in our lives: the one we’re having with our self.
1. Health and Wellness
Rather than fighting the feelings that are telling you to stay in, why not succumb to your inner hibernator? The part of you that is telling you to sleep more, eat carbs and spend more time alone. Whilst we’re not suggesting you scratch off all of your Christmas plans and parties, we are encouraging you to take some time to cocoon this winter. Your body is sending you signals that reflect the seasons. Listening to these will help you to align with the natural world, bring harmony to your internal clock and will have you energised, revitalised and bouncing into Spring. Take a leaf out of nature’s book…it’s time to get wrapped up and cosy!
Hibernation is defined as an ‘inactive’ or ‘dormant’ state, two words which I’m sure many of us- unconsciously or otherwise- associate with being lazy and unproductive. One of the major blocks that stops many of us from enjoying a period of hibernation is our guilt around needing to be busy and productive. To let go and fully indulge in a quiet evening in, we first need to make this hibernation time a priority by redefining what success means. A successful evening could mean going to a spinning class, before heading to a networking party and meeting some potential new clients. However, a successful evening could also mean having a long bath, followed by a warming home-cooked meal and getting to bed by 9 pm.
Make sleep an integral part of your success story, because it’s an incredibly important part of a healthy, happy life. Matt Walker, sleep study expert and author of ‘Why We Sleep,’ says that losing just an hour of sleep stresses the cardiovascular system, causing some people with heart issues to tip over the edge. Speaking at TED in June 2019 Walker said: “there is a global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people across 70 countries twice a year, and it’s called daylight saving time. Now, in the spring, when we lose one hour of sleep, we see a subsequent 24-per cent increase in heart attacks that following day. In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21-per cent reduction in heart attack.” Take advantage of the shorter days and the darker evenings this winter by catching up on sleep. In fact, your body’s circadian rhythm is probably telling you to sleep more. This is because when the brain receives less light due to longer nights and reduced sunlight, it sends signals to the body to produce melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’, which gets your body tired and ready for bed.
Soak up Sunlight
Changes in the seasons can also trigger lower moods or seasonal affective disorder known as Sad. Sad is a type of depression that shows up during the shorter, darker days of winter and affects around 6% of the UK population. However, Sad is a spectrum and can affect many more of us than the actual diagnosis statistics suggest. Individuals may suffer similar symptoms of Sad- like tiredness, hunger and low mood- without having full-blown depression. This is sometimes called ‘sub-syndromal Sad’ or the ‘winter blues.’
One of the best treatments for Sad and sub-syndromal Sad symptoms is sunlight. A Sad lamp (otherwise known as a happy lamp) can be hugely beneficial, particularly if you are finding yourself going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. Make sure you get a Sad-specific ultraviolet filtered light and enjoy the benefits of sunlight right from the comfort of your desk (or wherever you happen to be hibernating). Even better, take a short mid-day walk. Get outside and soak up the sun. You’ll be giving your brain a boost of the feel-good hormone serotonin. So, if the sun is shining, resist the urge to stay in bed ALL day, and take a short, happiness-boosting break from hibernation.
Do you love curling up in a blanket with a warm mug of tea? Then you may already be practising the cosy, wellness trend hygge, that originated in Danish culture. At the heart of hygge is the essence of hibernation. One of our favourite definitions of hygge is: “a quality of cosiness and warmth that creates a feeling of contentment of wellbeing.” How can you bring more hygge to life? Simple- turn your home into a cosy, peaceful sanctuary. Think candles, blankets, baths, a log fire (if you have one) and a good book to curl up with. It’s a wonderful way of reframing the winter month and using them as an opportunity to slow down, relax and reconnect with what matters most to you. Of course, all the candles in the world can bring a sense of hygge into your life if you are still rushing around and not listening to the signals your body is giving you. To use the words of Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well: “You cannot buy the right atmosphere or a sense of togetherness. You cannot hygge if you are in a hurry or stressed out, and the art of creating intimacy cannot be bought by anything but time, interest and engagement in the people around you.”
Not only does hygge encourage relaxation, it also focuses around taking pause: slowing down, turning inwards and taking track of where you are and where you want to go. Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well describes hygge as: “our awareness of the scale of our existence in contrast to the immensity of life. It is our sense of intimacy and encounter with each other and with the creaturely world around us. It is the presence of nature calling us back to the present moment, calling us home.”
A hibernation period is a great opportunity to take track of how far you’ve come, reconnect to your intentions and perhaps set new goals for the year ahead. If your life is anything like mine, it is fast, busy and before I know it another year’s gone by. So deliberately take a pause by prioritizing a winter’s break. Hibernate and create space for the most important relationship in your life: the one you’re having with yourself.
2. Relationship with Self
Regardless of whether our schedule is overwhelmed at the moment with work overload and social events or whether we are living through a quieter phase of life, many people struggle with alone time.
One study in Science discovered that people would rather do mundane activities (or even administer electric shocks to themselves!) than be left alone with their thoughts. Schedule in some alone time and watch as you and the people around you reap the benefits this holiday season. To quote the wonderful words of Oscar Wilde: “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not defined by another person.”
Build an Emotional ‘Mancave’
Studies suggest that alone time is critical for emotional wellbeing. Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter explains, “Constantly being ‘on’ doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself. Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, focus, and think more clearly. It’s an opportunity to revitalize your mind and body at the same time.”
Building in regular pockets of alone time throughout your week can help you to disconnect with the noise, replenish your stores and then step back in the world with a clearer sense of what you want. Otherwise, if your day is constantly filled with other people’s voices, how on earth are you supposed to listen to your own internal voice! That’s why we’re suggesting you build yourself an emotional ‘mancave’ – or ‘womancave’! – because we can all benefit from spending more time alone. Maybe this looks like a 10-minute walk after dinner while your spouse clears up. Or perhaps it’s a more literal ‘cave’, a space in your house that enables you to quickly sink into your internal landscape and indulge in some well-deserved me-time.
Focus on your Self: it’s Selfless
Taking time out to focus on yourself can help you to have better relationships with others. In fact, as parents and leaders, we can only relate with others to the extent that we are able to relate to ourselves. So, any blind spots, self-limiting beliefs, or lack of self-awareness or lack of self-trust will also be reflected in how you relate to others. This is why it’s not selfish to prioritise alone time because those around you will benefit from a more present, connected and engaged ‘you’.
Writing for the Huffington Post Sheena Amin writes: “ remember the importance of being selfish is equivalent to the importance of being selfless in living a human life. The latter is not possible without the former. Much of our modern world is an existence that forces people to forget that they are human. We often live like parasites, taking all that is necessary from others for our own individual gain. It is when we begin to selfishly love ourselves and selflessly love others that we become in touch with our humanity.”
One 2017 study showed that we can actually build our capacity for empathy by spending time with oneself. Titled ‘Know thyself to understand others’ the study showed that when people develop a better inner awareness about their own mental states, they tend to have a better understanding of the mental state of others. Upon reviewing the findings one of the researchers concluded that: “There is a close link between getting better in understanding oneself and improvement in social intelligence.”
Alain de Botton author of ‘The Course of Love’ (a book we’d highly recommend) says that: “One of the better guarantors of ending up in a good relationship: an advanced capacity to be alone.” Relationships- particularly long-term romantic relationships- can benefit from a healthy dose of alone time. It’s all too easy to get locked into certain roles in relationships and unconsciously become over-reliant on the other.
5 years ago, 4D team member Katie, encouraged her mum to volunteer abroad. Since then she’s volunteered solo in the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Costa Rica and next year’s adventure…Columbia! The trips not only have offered her a huge sense of purpose, they have also strengthened her relationships. Katie says: “I remember before the first trip, my mum and dad were really nervous. There was so much planning and worrying about how they’d cope. But of course, they weren’t just fine, they thrived in the difference. And since then they’ve both stepped into new roles. My mums got so much better with technology and now writes a travel blog when she’s away and my Dad has become passionate about fishing and cooks a delicious pan-fried trout. 5 years on, as she prepares for her next trip, it feels so normal. It’s amazing how quickly we can adapt and how much we can learn from being alone.” So not only does distance- or alone time- make the heart grow fonder, it also makes us stronger.
Feed your Creativity
Sometimes brainstorming on your own may be a more effective way of generating ideas. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Andrew O’Connell writes: “In dealing with highly complex problems, brainstorming can have a stifling effect, dangerously limiting the number of proposals that get serious consideration. You’ve probably experienced this yourself: Your glimmer of an idea quickly fades as other group members talk about their ideas.” This is particularly true for people with qualities associated with being ‘an introvert’ or internal processers. These types of people may find that their creativity thrives when they are given time to think of their own.
So, when you’re next brainstorming with your team, it could be helpful to offer the group some time to individually think about ideas, before coming together. During an idea-generating session, the process of ‘hibernation’ can create space for more ideas to form and gives current ideas the chance to breathe.
Treat yourself to a ‘Me’ Retreat
Developmental Psychologist Donald Winnicott believed what motivates humans is the need and the desire “to find his or her own self […] Be able to exist and to feel real. Feeling is more than existing; it is finding a way to exist as oneself, and to relate to objects as oneself and to have a self into which to retreat for relaxation.”
Hibernation doesn’t necessarily have to be passive or inactive. It could involve a creative activity, like painting or playing the guitar. Nourishment comes in lots of forms and so your ‘me’ retreat could involve a return to some of those nourishing activities that help you to ‘find yourself.’ If you’re anything like me then you’ll have a pile of books you’ve never had the time to read. There is actually for this in Japanese: “Tsundoku’ which is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up. I obviously bought these books with the intention of feeding my mind, but somehow never found the time to follow through. Hibernation gives us the opportunity to get to know ourselves better by returning to those creative pursuits we know will nourish us but haven’t been able to commit to. Yet.
Happy Hibernating (and ‘Tribe-enating!’)
As we near towards Christmas it can be all too easy to get lost in the diary of life, trying to see everyone and getting everything done in time. So before the real festive ‘busyness’ begins, why not schedule in a few nights of ‘hibernation’ time? Give yourself the gift of quality rest and time to reconnect with yourself. Solitude, silence and slowing down are at the heart of hibernation and are hugely beneficial to our health and happiness, and to our loves and learnings.
That said, hibernation doesn’t just have to be a solo activity. Not if you are choosing to spend time with those who nourish you most. So, as we ready ourselves for another holiday season, ask yourself which friends and family members make you feel great? Which people in your life help you to become the best version of yourself? Take time this Christmas to either Tribe-enate (spend time with those who nourish you the most) or hibernate (spend time alone). Let’s take advantage of the darker, shorter days, in order to rejuvenate as well as reconnect with ourselves.