The Benefits Of Winter Hibernation
In 1992, I moved to Hawaii because Honolulu is 85 and sunny year round. In 2013, I moved back to Minnesota because Honolulu is 85 and sunny year round.
Fickle? Not really. I just missed the change of seasons. Growing up in Minnesota with four distinct seasons gives you something to look forward to. And in Minnesota, each season brings forth different clothing, activities, and foods—even conversations.
“How ‘bout that snow out there—and cold enough fer ya at 20 below?” “Ya sure, it’s cold, you betcha!”
And particularly during the winter months, hearty Minnesotans gear up for some of the coldest living conditions in the northern hemisphere. In -20°F temperatures with only 15 mph of wind (which is common), frostbite can occur in as little as 10 minutes. Minnesota winters are not only dark and cold, but also potentially fatal.
When you live in drastic weather conditions, you learn to adapt. And even though we enjoy a variety of outdoor winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, and snowmobiling, many Minnesotans will limit their time outside in the winter.
We tend to hibernate.
The concept of hibernation is normally attributed to warm-blooded mammals such as bears, bats, and other rodents—a time when their metabolism slows during winter months and they live off body fat as an energy source. The behavior is primarily an adaptation to reduced food supplies during cold and snowy periods.
Humans—also mammals—have access to food supplies through the cold winter months so we don’t need to sleep through the dark, cold, maybe dangerous winter. But to combat the possibility of Seasonal Affective Disorder, many of us still like the idea of winter hibernation—the tricky part is keeping it healthy.
Staying in, staying warm, and staying engaged for short periods of time during icy interludes can have benefits. Winter hibernation is an opportunity to create some fun and relaxing experiences without having to fly all the way to Hawaii to do it. Think of it as planning a winter staycation.
If you happen to be in a cold winter climate (or even if you’re not), here are some potential benefits of winter hibernation:
Starting a new project. Whether it’s initiating a remodeling project, cleaning and organizing the house, or taking up a new hobby, staying inside during cold days can be productive. Many fun and exciting projects can be born during winter hibernations. For example, several seeds for my new book concepts were planted during the winter months so that by spring, the manuscripts were ready to bloom.
Spending quality time with friends and family. Hibernation is an opportunity to spend time together. A favorite pastime for my family is playing cards and board games. Times of spirited fun and playful competition bond us and bring us closer together. This quality time is always a wise investment—especially when family are friends. Wintertime is a great time to start a weekend game tournament. We even award fun prizes!
Binge-watching Netflix or a movie series. Sometimes healthy distractions, like escaping into another world through music and film, can bring relief from stress and anxiety. Plus, if we’re going to invest time viewing something intense—like The Lord of the Rings trilogy—then a weekend marathon can allow us to take a deeper dive and transform the experience into a special event. Do it right: Grab pillows and blankets, make popcorn, order pizzas, and hunker down for the long haul.
Unplugging from the world. We all need to unplug from the constant stream of information flowing to us from traditional mainstream and social media sources. Just like our mobile phones and other electronic devices, we too can “crash” unless we reboot our circuits on a regular basis. Winter hibernations can be great opportunities to detach from the world and reconnect with ourselves.
Regardless of the season, spending times in hibernation can create opportunities for healthy distraction, creative production, and reconnection with yourself and others. And sometimes that’s all we need to experience a better balance in our lives.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg helps people maintain balance through life transitions. Learn more at michaelsunnarborg.com
Image: My sister and family during one of our winter hibernation movie marathons