self care

5 Self Care Tips for Coping with Winter Darkness

Bleak days are here again. 

I hate to be melodramatic, but short, dark days are hard on me. I'm tired, agitated, and self conscious. I feel unsettled and experience mood swings. This is all relatively new for me, having grown up in the Sunshine State, but I've developed a few coping mechanisms to make these next few months a little easier.

And on the particularly bad days, I remind myself that the days won't always be getting shorter! The sun will shine again.

1. Get house plants

I live in a basement apartment, so outdoor views are limited. I've found that my house feels a little more like a cozy Hobbit Hole when it's full of plants. My current favorites are succulents, like Aloe, and a Cat Palm our old neighbors gave us when they moved.

It's not just seeing green plants that calms me, I've made a ritual out of carefully tending to them, moving around the house, inspecting new growth, and adjusting them so they get the sunlight they need. Plus, plants filter air, making it more oxygen rich and cleaner overall. They also release up to 97% of water they take in, acting as a natural humidifier.

2. Use a SAD lamp

If the darker months mess with your mood, you might want to sit next to some artificial sunshine each day. Though not a perfect solution, light therapy can offer relief from seasonal depression if used consistently. I have mild Seasonal Affective Disorder and this will be my first year using a lamp each day, so I'll let you know how I feel. (I'm using this one, which I purchased secondhand.)

Note: This is by no means a cure all. If you have severe anxiety or depression symptoms, or are having trouble coping with mood swings, see your doctor. 

3. Unplug from social media

Heavy social media use is associated with depression and, according to this alarming article, even developers of these addictive platforms are distancing themselves from them.

Install a plugin to remove your Facebook Feed, uninstall apps from your phone, and seek out real life connections. I use the News Feed Eradicator extension for Google Chrome - it stops the mindless scrolling immediately.

4. Read a good book

Lose yourself in a narrative. For really good, therapeutic reading, I recommend memoirs, YA science-fiction, and anything else that can transport you somewhere else. I enjoyed Scott Sigler's Generations Trilogy and am currently working through Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.

5. Be kind to yourself

This has been the key to successfully getting through the dark months for me. It's ok that you're feeling tired and agitated. It's not your fault. Breathe deeply, cuddle under a blanket, be nice to yourself.

I like to make myself a hot cup of chai each day when I get home from work. The kick of caffeine energizes me enough to finish up what I need to do for the day and the warm spicy-ness is always an indulgent treat.


What are your tips for handling the winter blues?


Photos: Artur Rutkowski and Danielle Dolson on Unsplash

Inward and Outward: A Pre-Inauguration Reflection


I wrote this piece for the Numi Organic Tea blog as a Resolutions Post, but I thought it was appropriate to post here, on the eve of the Inauguration. Though it's always been important to be vigilant protectors and defenders of justice, the rate at which things could take a turn for the worse feel overwhelming. This post represents my first step, but the work isn't done.

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As I sit here staring at this bright, blank page before me, I consider what it looks like to start fresh.

In life, we don't often get a blank page to work from - we all have baggage and commitments from our past that we carry forward - but I think it's right to get ourselves in a head space that allows us to imagine new and better lives for ourselves, and for the world.

As author Barbara Kingsolver once said, "Hope is a moral imperative." At the start of a new year, we collectively determine to hope so that we can make progress.

Too often, though, the resolutions we make feel like a collection of chores predetermined for us by the masses. Eat well, exercise, go to bed on time. While all of these may be admirable, for me they just aren't meaty enough to propel me forward. This year, I want more.

My hope for 2017 and beyond  is that I develop the kind of habits that lead to seeing the world through the eyes of kindness and justice. 


When I started writing on justice issues, my particular focus was on making more ethical purchases. That meant avoiding sweatshop labor and prioritizing sustainable raw materials sourcing. Simple enough, right?

But the Catch-22 of thinking about and working toward justice is that everything is interconnected.

Depressed wages in developing nations are a direct result of political and economic decisions enacted by domestic and foreign governments. The fact that demand still exists for low wage jobs is due, in part, to cataclysmic social shifts that force people out of now unsustainable agrarian lifestyles and into the cities. At each step in the supply chain, someone has been asked to cut costs even when there's nothing left to cut. It's an impossible race to the bottom. There are no winners.

Demanding fair wages is just a start. It won't fix broken systems.

I mention all this because it serves as a microcosm of the broader problem of having a pet issue without considering the big picture. But the big picture can be totally overwhelming. It can overload us to the point of shutting us down. What's the solution?

Put another way: How do I learn to see big problems in their even larger context and respond effectively and compassionately, without total overwhelm?

I believe the first step forward comes from within.

There are relatively immediate, physical lifestyle changes I can make in my life that will have a positive effect on the world. I can shop and eat sustainably and responsibly, for instance. But for long term change, you need buy in, and you only get there when you've changed your point of view, when you see the world through new eyes.

To that end, my resolutions for global change are deeply intertwined with the small, daily tasks of just being in the world. The key is being in a way that shapes you into the person that can effectively bring about long term progress. 

1. Practice humility. 


The first step is admitting that I don't have the complete picture, and maybe I never will. To be clear, I can learn from and trust my own interactions, but I can't necessarily make drastic conclusions based on my highly individualized experiences.

To cultivate humility, I will seek out communities that challenge what I think I know without dismissing me. My workplace is a dynamic and diverse environment, so I will start there, working to have productive conversations on politics and ethics around the lunch table.

2. Think local. 


The concept of social justice didn't really click for me until I joined a local community organizing group. When you work with people you live near, you already know what's at stake for your community. That relative intimacy helps you work through personal issues to find solutions. It reminds you that people - including yourself - are deeply flawed, but that imperfection is not a barrier to doing good.

To cultivate local engagement, I will stay in touch with people working toward systemic change in my own community.

3. Cultivate intention.


I manage a retail space, so on any given week, my life bumps up against the lives of at least a hundred people, from volunteers to staff to customers. I've realized over the last few years that each time I make eye contact with someone, I have a responsibility. I can make someone's day better or not affect it at all (hopefully, I never make it worse). I choose to do what I can to make it better. My shop recently committed to "see our customers as the unique people they are, and celebrate it." Imagine what a difference that could make if we clearly and intentionally projected that ideal. Imagine the hope.

To cultivate intention, I will consider the way I interact with every single person I come into contact with and do my best to celebrate them for who they are, and who they can be.

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I want hope to become habit. 


And the only way to get there is to, slowly but surely, let my heart be changed. I know it won't be easy, but it's worth it for global change.

Making the Case for a Vacation from Conscious Consumerism

Making the Case for a Vacation from Conscious Consumerism
Crashing waves near Point Dume

As a rule, when I travel, I don't network. 


There are hundreds of brilliant, inspiring women (and some men) who write on conscious consumerism around the country who I would love to meet someday, but when I go on vacation, I don't make plans with them.

I travel to visit with friends and family. I often stay at their houses, work with their schedules, and ride in their cars. I have limited vacation time provided through work, so I don't often get more than a long weekend when I visit loved ones, and it's just not worth it to me to carve out a space for friendly networking, no matter how beneficial or fulfilling it might be.

I also travel to get some perspective on my day-to-day. I spend nearly all of my spare time (and some of my work time) talking about consumer ethics, manufacturing, and sustainability. I write and photograph for this blog. I pitch articles and tinker with html and obsessively check Google Analytics. And, while I find it immensely gratifying, I also tend to get tunnel vision fairly quickly and it's hard to get a sense of what matters most.

Physically leaving my environment and visiting with people who know me outside of that context helps me better gauge my long term goals and better understand my role within the world I occupy.

Making the Case for a Vacation from Conscious Consumerism
Daniel and me at a dusty outlook over the city


Sometimes, the best thing I can do for myself is not be a "conscious consumer" for awhile. 


Now, that's not to say that I shouldn't be mindful of the things I purchase on trips, throwing my moral convictions to the wind. It's to say that I strive when I'm away to remember that I'm a person, first and foremost. It's healthy for me to separate the "consumer" part from the "conscious" part for a few days, to practice being considerate of others and myself without that being attached to want.

On my recent trip to Los Angeles, I explored desert landscapes, people watched at Venice Beach, admired modern architecture, ate cuisines not available to me in Charlottesville, watched the grandest ocean sunset I've ever seen, climbed to the top of Point Dume, chatted with the locals, binge watched all of Stranger Things with friends, and took lots of naps. I helped with the dishes and chopped the vegetables for dinner. I set the table and took twilight walks.

And I felt like I was able to get real clarity on what I want for myself and what I need in both a career and in a life. I was challenged by the task of living in someone else's home for a week and learned how to compromise and work through impatience, which reminded me that this task of just being with people harmoniously is something hard and worth accomplishing.

Taking a pause from conscious consumerism to practice self care
The sunset in Malibu


I think a lot of us conscious consumers and ethical bloggers think that if we can reach some secular humanist version of enlightenment and make ourselves perfect, that will have a ripple effect and the world will be forever better. 


But I think that's a lie. If I become a vegan who makes all my own clothes out of hemp I've grown and hand dyed with herbs, if I live on a homestead and sing to the animals and paint with all the colors of the wind, I might find some personal gratification. But that's just a drop in the bucket. The world is vast and it's not my job to change it by myself.

I believe I have a responsibility to act with intention in small and big ways. I believe that my choices matter. But if I burn out, what good am I to anyone? If I forsake intimate relationships for networking visits, if I visit a fair trade store instead of climbing a mountain to see the sea lions play in the water below, if I am nice on the internet and mean to my husband because I'm too tired to practice kindness, am I really succeeding at bettering myself in the end?

Some days, being a person is hard enough.

My advice to myself and to you is to be as patient and kind as you can be to yourself and others. Take a break from your personal brand and watch a sunset. Sometimes in the clutter of war, sweatshop tragedies, and political turmoil, I forget that life is actually still worth living. I forget why I'm fighting or what I'm fighting for.

But after time away, I remember that I'm fighting for my and everyone's right to laugh raucously with friends and binge watch Netflix and get soaked by the cold waves of the Pacific Ocean. 


I'm fighting for a right to live, and live well.


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