Taking good care of your body and mind is important in both everyday life and our outdoor lifestyles. Self care is an especially important concept for winter, when sometimes our mood and energy level can drop. So what does that look like? Here are four tools for wilderness lovers to practice self care this winter.
Titration is one of our most important nervous system concepts here at Mind & Mountain. It’s originally a term from chemistry, but when applied to the nervous system it means adding challenge slowly, in small, and manageable doses. Picture adding liquid one drop at a time into a beaker: that’s titration.
Like a chemical reaction overheating or bubbling over, doing too much too fast can flood our nervous systems. When our brain gets flooded, it literally changes how it functions: the rational part of our brains shut down while our fear and survival zones kick into high gear. This is great for survival, but it also blocks our ability to be fully present and make decisions from a centered place.
So how do you avoid that kind of flooding or explosive reaction? Start at a low level of difficulty and add challenges one step at a time. After each challenge, pause and notice how it felt for you, letting your body rest and return to a feeling of safety. Once you’ve had the time to rest and process, ask yourself if it makes sense to try something slightly tougher, stay at the same level, or even try something easier.
Keep in mind that in winter, the experience of cold is a challenge in itself. Our bodies read cold as a threat – and rightfully so because cold can definitely be dangerous! Building comfort with colder temperatures and gaining trust in your layers and gear to keep you warm enough in cold temperatures require titration too. While your body is building trust in its ability to be comfortable in the cold, it might not be available for too many more challenges.
An additional benefit of titration is that it’s a powerful defense against the “shoulds” that we sometimes feel. It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison trap when we think about where others are or where we used to be. These comparisons can leave us feeling like we’re falling short or like we need to push ourselves harder, even when it’s not good for us.
In winter, remember that our capacity for challenge might be a little bit different than other seasons. For many people, winter darkness impacts energy levels and mood. Instead of comparing to other times of year, titration helps us check in with how we’re feeling now.
All times of year, feeling stressed about whether we measure up is a normal part of how our social nervous system assesses for safety. White supremacy, homophobia, sexism, and all the other -isms piles even more stress on folks with marginalized identities. These unfair double standards add pressure to work even harder, piling on anxiety around whether we are doing enough.
There’s no shame in feeling like you “should” be doing more — it’s built into our social nervous system’s scan for safety! While it’s normal to feel this way, we don’t have to let it influence our behavior. As an alternative, try measuring up from zero. This means celebrating what you did accomplish, instead of what you didn’t. Often you’ll find it adds up to a lot!
The natural world is full of cycles: the changing of the seasons, the phases of the moon, and so many other examples. During these cycles, each phase looks a bit different: some phases are for rest and rejuvenation, while other phases are more energetic and full of life. For example, wildflowers and trees rest and save up resources during winter before bursting with color in the spring.
These natural rhythms have a lot to teach us about both training and life. In training theory, this is called periodization, which supports long-term performance improvements and adaptation by varying exercise intensity, frequency, and specificity. Whew, that’s a lot of jargon! Let’s break down what that means.
Simply put, mix it up! Think of varying exercise intensity and frequency like this: start easy, build up, rest, then start again. This approach applies both within a workout and across workouts and days outside. During a workout, it’s important to warm up before you build up to higher intensity movements. Similarly, getting stronger means building up to more frequent and more difficult training slowly, across weeks or months.
Varying specificity means changing the focus of your exercise based on the season or need. In winter, sports like skiing have a lot of shifting and sliding movements. On the other hand, warm weather activities like backpacking usually involve much more impact. Shifting and sliding movements need different training than high impact movements. Adjusting your training based on the season helps you thrive!
Like the changing seasons outdoors, not every season of life is a time of high activity and growth. Some seasons are more restful or require different priorities. What’s beautiful about these slower periods is that they give our bodies and minds a chance to recover, repair, and be nourished. Often a rest season is followed by a period of big growth. After winter comes spring!
These periods of rest and growth happen on a micro level too: our bodies build muscle after our workouts are complete, when the muscles are resting and fueled. Normalizing and recognizing the benefits of restful seasons can help us avoid overtraining and burnout and help us care for ourselves even when we’re having a less-than-perfect season.
Strength training helps build the physical resilience we need for awesome trips and fun days outside. By reinforcing healthy, functional movement patterns, we both get stronger and avoid injuries.
When we’re moving through the outdoors, we’re usually moving in the forward plane of motion. Side-to-side and diagonal directions are usually not strengthened through activities like hiking or skiing alone. But building and maintaining strength in all directions is vital for injury resilience and balance!
That’s where strength training comes in! Check out this post for some ideas on strength moves for backpacking, or this post for exercises for skiing.
Building strength and resiliency through functional movement patterns and nervous system training is what Mind & Mountain is all about. If you’re looking for more support with your training, our Ski Babes (for winter), Summer Strong (for summer), and Balance Training (year round) programs are all great options!
Spending time in nature is a joyful expression of being alive! Remember that playing outside in winter can be simple and creative. Make a snow angel, build a snow sculpture, or just enjoy a walk in winter wonderland! You don’t need to spend a lot of money or learn a new sport to find joy and playfulness in winter.
To add more joy to your time outdoors, try practicing positive self talk. Notice when your internal voice starts to sound negative or limiting. Remember, it’s normal for these feelings to come up! When they do, consider whether your thoughts are accurate and helpful. Then, try to find a mantra that is both true and helpful. Focusing on that mantra can help recenter your mindset, even on the tough days.
For example, if you’re out skiing with friends, you might find yourself feeling anxious that your pace doesn’t match your friends. A new perspective (or a mantra) could be, simply: “moving is winning.” You don’t need to be moving very quickly to cover a lot of ground. Focus on moving at a sustainable pace that works for your body and you’ll still make lots of progress!
Like building new trails, it takes time to rewire the well-worn paths in our brains. It’s ok if it feels weird or out of your comfort zone when you start playing with these ideas. It’s truly a practice! With time, playfulness, joy, and self-love start to become more and more natural.
With so much information about strength training out there, we know it’s hard to find a good fit. At Mind & Mountain, we created online training programs with outdoor recreation in mind to take away the guesswork and information overload. We use Mindful Interval Training to practice all of the above strategies: titration, periodization, multi-directional movement, and playfulness. Our method builds functional strength for outdoor rec from your living room in a way that supports your outdoor time year-round.
We created Ski Babes, an online training program for winter sports enthusiasts, to help you train for winter with a structured-but-flexible program, supportive community, anti-diet culture nutrition, and nervous system-aligned training.
Join us in Ski Babes for a strong, confident, and fun winter season.
Have a strong, confident, and fun winter season by joining us for Ski Babes. Our next round of training starts Monday, January 16th. Learn more and sign up for Ski Babes here!
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