Embracing Winter & Avoiding Burnout

It happened this week. We were making last-minute preparations for the inevitable winter and it showed up. Early and unprepared…like a guest that comes when you’re still in your bathrobe. Shocking and uninvited…like that gray hair that pops up when you’re still way too young.

It seems we had barely stepped into pumpkin-everything season and everything is buried under a layer of snow. My flowers were still blooming. My potatoes and carrots are still in the garden. I haven’t washed the summer grime off my windows. I wasn’t ready. Okay, let’s be honest, I’m never really ready.

I rescued this lucky planter from a sudden early winter storm! It seemed to be totally unaware that the seasons had changed and it was time to slow down the blossoming.
…and I felt horribly guilty because I couldn’t save them all! Cruel winter storm.

Here on the northern prairies we are very aware of the weather. Within a few short months our entire wardrobe changes.  Our shoe racks become burdened with heavy insulated boots as the flip-flops are stowed away. The tires on our cars need to be changed so we can maneuver the icy chaos. Our sprinkler lines need to be blown out before they freeze and are destroyed. The days get shorter and shorter until “getting up at the break of dawn” means you’re definitely going to be late for work.

Seasons happen.  I think in California you can believe it’s always summer but you can’t here…the reality is too cruel.  Our lives and activities are dictated by the changing of the seasons.  Perhaps we should open our eyes and  take a cue from the world around us.

The Myth of Year-Round Productivity

There’s a myth out there that we can be in peak productivity and maximum potential all the time. It’s a myth.  Don’t believe it or you will end up facing some damaging results. We all have periods of great motivation and productivity as well as periods of tiredness and inactivity. What if we accepted that as normal and learned to live within the limitations of that? What if we learned from the natural world and started watching for the rhythm of seasons in our lives?

What does that look like?  It means stopping your inner critic from berating you for not being 100% consistent all the time and instead allow yourself a period of rest. Or on the opposite end of the scale, if  you are hibernating year round, it may mean starting something new to push the spring season forward in your life.

Mark Buchanan in his book, Spiritual Rhythm introduced me to this idea of seasons in our lives.  The concept of seasons relating to life is not a new one but most often we define the seasons as young equals spring and old age heralds winter.  This is not the type of seasonal outlook he is referring to.

“Our hearts that, like the axial turnings of earth, mark out seasonal rhythms in our lives: flourishing and fruitful, stark and dismal, cool and windy, or everything coming up new…Our souls, our hearts, have seasons, too…The seasons of our heart are no respecter of age, and seldom of person.  I’ve met children bleak and dour, octogenarians playful and whimsical, middle-aged women enthused about everything, fifty-year-old men bitter about everything.”

Think about your life having a regular turn of seasons.

Spring – a time of growth and new ideas.

Summer – long days and lots of productivity.

Fall – a reaping (positively or negatively) of what you’ve invested in  the other seasons.

Winter – a time of renewal. To rest. To recover. Hibernation.

The Tasks of the Seasons

Buchanan wisely points out there are things that need to get done in each season.

Spring is the time you start new things. You allow yourself to dream and you shake off the negativity of winter. Things start in come to life and you have renewed physical and emotional energy.

Summer brings long days with lots of work and play. You feel equally alive and profoundly relaxed. You do things you love and thoroughly enjoy them. You have the ability to change and try new things.

Fall delivers the rewards of summer. You have waited and things are bearing fruit. What you’ve invested in other seasons is bearing fruit now.

Winter is a time a pruning. Scaling back. Eliminate and minimize. Un-commit and simplify.  Sometimes winter happens in our lives like this year, sudden and unexpected. We get blind sided by the unexpected – a death, sickness, an injury, a job loss – the ways are endless of how winter can move in on us.

Accepting Winter = A Better Season Ahead

Too often we despair. The lack of motivation scares us. We think winter has come and it will never leave ending up like the characters in the Chronicles of Narnia – always winter, never Christmas.

The most beautiful flowers only bloom after they have been fed well,

  then brutally cut back and forced to rest for a season.

Part of thriving in winter is acceptance. Acceptance that winter comes and there is work that needs to be done in silence and darkness. Internal work. Slow things down and notice what is going on inside you. Watch for crazy thinking. Detox from hurry sickness by forcing yourself to only do to one activity at a time. Practice deep focus. Take naps. Drink warm soul nourishing beverages. Shut off the alarm.

Do you feel guilty when you slow down?  Do you want someone to give your permission to rest?   If it’s summer in your life and you are doing nothing, then yes, you need to get moving.  But be discerning, learn from the world around you.  If your soul has moved into winter, you need to pare back and restore your heart. The world will learn to manage without you. Someone else may be forced to stretch and grow for a season in order to take over for you.   Consider the most beautiful flowers and trees only bloom after they have been fed well, then brutally cut back and forced to rest for a season.   Rest.  The world needs you to bloom profusely, but if you don’t rest your blooms will be sparse or non-existent.

The winter season in our lives can bring on a period of forced inactivity. We may flounder on the edge of depression. Things in general feel dead, endless, lonely, sad, bankrupt. Hold on. Realize it is only for a season. Spring will come but for now rest your body and work on the discipline of resting your mind.

If you stop fighting winter in your life it will give you gifts. You will come out of this season with a better perspective on what really matters. You will know who your real friends are and hopefully treasure them more. You will know you have greater strength than you thought possible. You will be in better touch with your real self and more willing to live by principles you truly value.

Ignoring the Signs of Winter = Inevitable Burnout

It is a myth that we can go full steam forward forever. Ignoring the signs of winter can lead to a crash. Like a winter storm, we unintentionally can force the season upon us.  Stress related sickness.  Injuries from carelessness or moving too fast. Exhaustion. Depression. All of these knock on our door in small ways saying it’s time to take a break. If you ignore the subtle signs, I guarantee you will be in for a hard season of winter ahead.  For you who think it’s perpetual summer, winter will hit and force its inactivity on you.

Learn to see the seasons in your life. Respect them. If you know you have a busy season ahead plan for a time of inactivity to follow. Move with grace through your seasons so you don’t bring on a winter storm.

What season are you in?

When was the last time you went through a winter?

Are you in winter now?  Recognize it and give yourself permission to scale back on the busyness. 

When you reflect on seasons and your life, what should you be doing and preparing for?


3 thoughts on “Embracing Winter & Avoiding Burnout”

  1. Thanks Trish..Timely! For us puts the past few years into perspective. Can see where we (Husband too) have been and moving forward with a change of seasons.

    1. Thanks Glenda. I really appreciated Buchanan’s perspective in that book. I know way too many people who get wiped out by “winter” in their life instead of simplifying and taking care of the tasks at hand. Watching you (and Husband too) manage this extended season of winter that was forced on you with grace, growth and deepened faith is an encouragement to many.

  2. Pingback: Unstoppable You! Get Out of That Slump - Life Coaching with Trish

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