A guide for the cold winter days

We are heading towards the end of the autumnal season, that time of the year when the weather has turned cold for good, rain clouds are a constant visitor, the leaves fall from the trees, the sun visits us rarely and the temperature has dropped dramatically. The wind starts scarring the utter layers of our body, hurting in its path any part of exposed skin. Our mouths become the chimneys we imagined them to be when we were kids, and our thick shoes cover the two heroes that take us anywhere we tell them to, our feet.

Yes, it is December, that time of the year when we instinctively look inside ourselves, trying to decipher that thing called ‘self’. And while doing that, sometimes, it can be confronting or unpleasant. While the weather gets colder as we speak, sometimes it feels difficult to anticipate what’s coming next. It is the time of the year when you go to work and it’s dark outside, and when you are done, well, it’s dark again. That can be very discouraging.

But do not fret, dear reader. Because I am here for you with some useful tips for the cold winter days to make you wise as an owl! I have created a short guide with things you can do to feel better when cold dark days are upon you. Hopefully, you will realize that cold weather can also be as exciting as the other seasons and perhaps this list can be an inspiration and a guide for the upcoming months. Some of the suggestions in this article are based on mindful living that if practiced often, can increase our daily sensation of blissfulness.

Create a safe space at home.

During summer we tend to go out more and enjoy the nice weather, but during winter we become more inward-looking, while we crave being at home more often. That means that having a safe space at home without distractions is vital. You can do that by creating a small space in the house just for your relaxation and winter introspection, also known as hibernation space (yeah, I just made that up). That can be either your couch with some comfortable pillows, your bed with your favorite blanket, or your office with some nice candles. Your space, your choice. Make sure that your space reflects your needs.

Extra Tip:

Since the holiday season has officially begun, it’s time for some Christmas decorations. Decorating your safe space with Christmas lights or a Christmas tree can actually be very beneficial for your mental health. As psychoanalyst Steve McKeown says, decorating for Christmas evokes feelings of nostalgia from when you were a kid. So, decorating can help you relive those happy moments, which can also reduce stress. So, what are you waiting for? I can hear the angel ornaments calling your name.

Put your phone away.

I mean it. Stop checking your phone every hour, whether you are at work or at home. Putting your phone away and focusing on one task every time is vital for being more productive. It is also important to remember that checking our phones constantly is not healthy. It is a huge distraction that doesn’t offer us anything.

Cook a meal for yourself.

Sometimes cooking seems like an obligation, something we need to do to survive. However, cooking can be super relaxing and exciting. And there’s nothing better than cooking a comforting meal on a cold night! Choose a couple or recipes (browse Pinterest for inspiration) you would like to cook and go for it. And don’t forget that cooking a nice meal for yourself or your loved ones is an amazing form of self-care.

Go for a walk in the park.

Put on some comfy clothes and go for a long stroll in the nearest park. Not only is walking good for you, but you will also have the chance to enjoy the crispness of autumnal weather and get some fresh air. I know, if it rains this is not ideal. But, at some point, it will stop raining, and walking in a park surrounded by the beautiful golden colors of nature can be very soothing and relaxing.

Put on cozy clothes.

This is probably my favorite of all autumnal hibernation tactics. I love wearing warm, comfortable clothes like soft sweaters and chill pants and watch Netflix for hours. If you like doing that too, invest in some comfortable “house clothes”, as I call them. When you are at home, you should not wear your pajamas, unless you want to go to sleep. This is also very important for people like me, who work and study from home because being in your pajamas or those tight jeans all day is not ideal. And it certainly isn’t productive.

Declutter.     

Start by cleaning your closet and checking for items you haven’t worn in more than two years. That means you don’t really need those clothes anymore. Or maybe it is time to start wearing them again. Donate the ones you don’t want or even sell them. I must admit, I love decluttering. Somehow, decluttering always makes me feel lighter in the soul. There is something in the reorganizing and the emptying of a space that is very relaxing, and it can help you get rid of the past and set new goals. Do the same with your office: throw away papers you don’t need and donate books you have already read. You will see that getting rid of things you don’t need can be surprisingly refreshing.

Call a friend to chat.     

Talking with the people we love is the best distraction. Call a friend and talk about your day. Even better, invite your friend for a hot cup of cocoa or a glass of red wine at your place and talk about your favorite autumnal rituals. Maybe you can watch a movie or a series on Netflix. What matters is to be present to each other’s company. There is nothing better than sharing these cold evenings with someone else. If that is not possible, then video calls can also work wonders!

Meditate.      

MEDITATE. The simple act of breathing in and out and being aware of it can make wonders. If you don’t know how to meditate, and you feel you need guidance, download Calm or Headspace on your phone to get the hang of meditation. Both apps include different types of meditation tactics and they can teach you useful tips you can incorporate in your daily life. I always say that if more people would meditate then there would be less violence and hate in the world.

Did you also know that meditation can change your brain? Dr. Narveen Dosanjh says that meditating can help shrink the amygdala, which is responsible for anxiety, fear, and stress. So, when we meditate often, we begin experiencing less stress.

Make yourself a cup of tea.      

The process of boiling the water, preparing the mug and brewing the tea can be quite meditative. When at home, make yourself some hot steaming tea, sit on the couch and enjoy every sip. Focusing on small moments like this one makes you aware of what really matters in life. You start appreciating every little thing that you never noticed before. And that is the route towards a happier state of mind. If you are not a tea person, you can do this with a heartwarming cup of coffee. It’s the ritual that counts.

Be kind to yourself.

This is what we all tend to forget sometimes, especially when we are overwhelmed by our busy schedules and routine. Being kind to yourself includes many things. Firstly, it starts by realizing your limits. You are not supposed to be a robot and complete everything you want every single day. Work is fine, but relaxing and taking care of yourself is even better. Only then you can be more productive and certainly more satisfied.

Secondly, start practicing gratitude. Name every day three things you are grateful for. You can write them down or just name them in your head. Practicing gratitude is important for us to recognize and appreciate the things in life that matter.

Lastly, spend some time on yourself. That means do those things you love doing more often. Read, walk, sport, get a hobby, go to the movies or to concerts, anything that brings you joy. I can already hear you complaining that there is not enough time in your schedule. That is simply not an excuse. Make time for the things you love. Doing the things that we love makes us instantly happier and more resilient to daily stress.

 

(Photo: Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. November 2015. Minolta dynax 7000i, Kodak Gold, ISO 200, 35mm film.)

The Art in our lives

Art is present everywhere in our lives. Sometimes we notice it, sometimes we don’t. But what is the role of art in our society? Specifically, how has the role of art in society evolved throughout the years, what is good art and what role does a museum play in preserving, exhibiting and mostly communicating art to the public? These are some of the questions that were raised during the guest lecture hosted by the Dutch United Nations Student Association, also known as SIB. The main speaker of the evening was Andreas Blühm, the director of the Groninger Museum, who was more than willing to share his experience and insight on what the role of art in society is, or even better, what it should be.

SIB Groningen often organizes several lectures on matters that interest the city’s students. In one of the most recent lectures, on the 15th of October, the student association invited Andreas Blühm who introduced to a full house at the Club Kiwi in the Peperstraat the subject of art in society. His lecture lasted for an hour, however, the discussion afterwards was perhaps the best part of the whole evening. But let me get back to that later.

Andreas Blühm has been the director of the Groninger Museum since 2012, and before that, he served as a curator at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. During his concise and informative lecture, he began with a historical view on what the role of art has been in society. Specifically, art made a first appearance as part of society when during the early 18th century Salons were introduced in France. They were the first places where art would be exhibited to the public on a massive scale. A public that didn’t belong to high society and didn’t have access to art before. And that was when the notion of museums appeared. From that point on, the role of museums became clearer. Dr Blühm explained very elaboratively that the role museums have taken in society expands from collecting and preserving artwork of cultural, religious and historical importance, to presenting those artworks to the public for education and enjoyment. The main challenge for museums remains, however, how to communicate art to the public.

Another big issue that was raised during the lecture, was the question of what happens to art when we take it out of the museum. Specifically, dr Blühm told us how last year the Groninger Museum placed the extremely valuable and iconic work of the American artist Jeff Koons, Christ and the Lamb, in a wall of the central mall Bijenkorf in Amsterdam. The initiative was inspired by the 100-year anniversary since Marcel Duchamp submitted to an exhibition his famous urinal, which he called Fountain, challenging in that way what counts as art. Koons’s artwork was placed in the Bijenkorf without informing the public, to discover whether such artwork would be noticed and appreciated once acquiring a non-artful function. As soon as a label was put next to the artwork, that was the defining moment people started realizing and recognizing its worth. The lesson? Art needs museums for it to be appreciated.

After an insightful lecture, the time came for the best part of the evening, the questions. As I mentioned before that was the most interesting and exciting part of the night. The discussion was heated with several questions form the students to which dr Blühm answered diplomatically, but with honesty too. It started with a question about the controversial role of the internet in how we perceive art. Dr Blühm answered that art is indeed more accessible online, only people still have the need to visit the original artworks. Another question dealt with what good and bad art is, and what if society likes art that professionals reject. Art is first and foremost subjective, said dr Blühm, answering the first question. He added saying that if an artwork is expensive, it doesn’t mean it is good, but if it stays expensive and popular, as in the case of Banksy, then we understand its worth. That brought to my mind how Banksy set his famous artwork Girl with Balloon to shred itself, during an auction two weeks ago, as soon as it was sold for more than £860,000. The artist renamed the work Love Is In The Bin and while making history, he also challenges traditional views on what makes an artwork valuable.

All in all, the lecture created an interesting discussion and offered food for thought around the role of art in society. Inevitably art is everywhere, every person can be art, can appreciate art and understand it. Art is after all human creation, and, as dr Blühm concluded, supporting it is very crucial for our society.

Photo: Looking at a Monet painting at the Albertina museum in Vienna, from the travel journal A Winter Weekend in Wien, 2017.