You may have thought I was done talking about vacations, good weather and whatever else I could think of to make you feel jealous. Afraid not.
This week, I wish to cover a related topic which some of you may very well be able to relate to. It is something I couldn’t help but cover to some extent bearing in mind our overall focus of this blog.
I mention weather again because of course this topic is directly related to it. As a species we are conditioned to crave warmth and shelter. Even those who prefer to think of themselves as lovers of the ‘great outdoors’, those who always seem to be on some kind of adventure (you know, the kind of person that will choose camping over a hotel room for some strange reason), will take a secret pleasure in those times when they have the opportunity to enjoy a nice warm bed.
On that subject, have you ever noticed how this type of person will like to make a point of telling other people about this outgoing side of their personality? They may proclaim it like it’s something to be proud of, as if they’ve met some kind of challenge. Even if they’re humble enough to not talk about themselves too much around other people, you may find those other people praising them for this side of their personality in order to make up for it. They’ll speak of an admiration for them, the general feeling being that it takes sacrifice to be the type of person they are – after all, aren’t they giving up on the luxuries so many of us take for granted? You’d scarcely hear of a hermit being spoken of in the same esteem.
My point is simply to highlight our natural sense of admiration towards those who give up what we perceive to be comfortable – that being, in this case, warmth. The fact of it does not tell us our craving for comfort and warmth is a bad thing, it merely confirms that we do enjoy it, and even feel a little guilty when we take it without feeling we’ve done enough to earn it – or proud when we willingly give it up.
Back to the main point, then. This inherent need that we have for warmth leads us to prefer certain weather – certain seasons – over others. Now, I know there will be those of you who see where I’m going with this and may protest that winter is your favourite season. But if I was to ask you why that is, I’d imagine you’d give a reason that isn’t just about the cold. I’d imagine it would have something to do with the snow, or Christmas-time. And I’d also imagine that even when you’re enjoying winter, you still wrap up warm. Perhaps the very reason you enjoy it is because it’s an opportunity to have hot baths or sit with a blanket around you in front of the fire without feeling weird about doing that in the middle of the day.
Regardless, I think the majority of us would freely admit that summer is ultimately our season of choice (yes, even here in the U.K. where the lines between seasons are considerably blurred at times). Summer is when we can go outside and appreciate the feeling of the sun on our skin. It’s when we generally find our body’s physical energy at its yearly peak.
My first memory – and what I think will turn out to be one of my lasting memories – of my trip to Antigua during this Christmas break was the feeling I had when stepping off the plane upon arrival. I’m not here referring to some great spiritual or sentimental experience. This felt entirely physical. It’s something I would continue to find fascinating for the following week: the feeling of my body, having come from almost freezing British temperatures in the early hours of that same day, soaking up nutrients from the sun in a matter of minutes. I felt it in the new energy I found I had and in the way I was able to sleep better than usual for those first few nights.
So what does all this have to do with emotional and mental health, or with our focus on mindfulness this month? Well, I could answer that in two ways. The first would be where I draw attention to ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ and highlight that as a genuine condition that people can suffer from, often unknowingly.
But I think there’s something broader and simpler that each one of us can take from this, without necessarily getting into specifics. It is, after all, easy to forget that the physical state of our bodies directly affects the emotional and mental state of them. In labelling an illness as ‘mental’ and listing whatever unique symptoms may belong to it, we can often look past the importance of first taking care of ourselves physically. Yes, this could be something as simple as keeping yourself warm when it’s cold outside.
Today, then, I ask you to be mindful of how your body reacts physically to your environment, and think about how this correlates with your general mood. If improvement is needed in this area, do your best to implement a positive change.