Trees lose their leaves over winter. Perhaps we should do the same and experience human dormancy.
After the attractive autumn splashes of orange and yellow leaves, it’s easy to overlook trees in the winter. The bare bones of branches tend to blend into gray skies. They look dead; at the very least, in the midst of an extended slumber. Winter trees are biding their time until the sun re-emerges. Until the threat of frost has subsided. They’re doing what they must to stay alive during the bitter cold cloudy days. We have much to learn from trees, and winter dormancy is one such lesson.
For that oak in your backyard or the walnut down the street, metabolism, growth, and energy consumption slooooooowwws as winter approaches. The temperature drops and the leaves follow suit, shedding anything that requires excess energy. Like a bear in hibernation, stored food is used slowly and activity nearly comes to a stand still.
In some parts of the world, entire forests will go dormants for several months. This is necessary — trunks remain strong and branches don’t crumble under the weight of the snow. The seeds stay safe, their genetic information contained safely in hard shells until warm weather arrives. Sleepy trees use shortened days and colder temperatures as signals. They adapt to the weather in order to stay healthy. We would benefit from doing the same.
Let Nature Run Its Course
Winter rest is no new fad for nature. Plants and mammals alike are familiar with torpor — physical or mental inactivity. Conservation is a part of life — and reprieve is something that we need too. Cold dark days and their accompanied cravings often go unrecognized. Rarely do we use winter as an excuse to sleep more, eat more, or simply curl up by the fire. Productivity dictates everything. Seasonal changes are emphasized by fashion trends and Starbucks coffee specials but are otherwise ignored. Civilization didn’t always live in a pretend year-round summer. Weather once dictated our behaviors, impacted how we lived our lives.
Humans don’t produce and maintain leaf growth, but they do produce and maintain relationships, work commitments, and exercise routines. While we can’t and shouldn’t practice dormancy periods that are several months long, we should, like our woody brothers and sisters, learn how to slow down. Just like trees, we need cycles of growth and rest. Hormones amp up our energy levels and metabolisms in summer. In winter, we require rest in order to restore our minds, bodies, and souls.
If you’re SAD — suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder — it might just be your body telling you to take a hint from the weather and chill out. If you feel like withdrawing or eating that extra Christmas cookie, that’s okay. Put down that fourth cup of coffee and take a nap instead. You can choose to binge-watch Netflix or unplug from the world, and this is healthy. Sunshine and warm weather will return and it’s alright to put those projects and plans on hold until they do.
Come spring, we too can unfurl our leaves. We’ll send out new shoots and our flowers will begin to bloom. Our souls and bodies will feel well-rested and we can get started on those to-do lists we’ve been working on all winter.