In case you haven't noticed, the days are a whole lot colder and shorter now, and winter is truly upon us.
This time of year can be hard on the physical and mental health, as sunshine - and therefore our friend Vitamin D - is hard to come by.
But there's a solution to the winter blues: Ingrained in our DNA is pleasure in getting rugged up and cosy by a warming winter fire.
But why do we find this experience so comforting? According to a 2014 study, flames are proven to bring down our blood pressure and make us feel more at ease. That's because thousands of years ago, we relaxed around campfires to "benefit in the social milieu via fireside interactions," - basically we made friends, ate and relaxed fireside.
Even now in 2019 we desire connection with our fellow man, and after the hustle and bustle of summer it can feel like you have haven't seen your loved ones in months.
Escea Fireplaces wants you to reconnect and relax this winter, so they've put together some of the best ways to gather around the crackling flames.
Shift family time to the lounge:
Often when families eat around the dinner table, it's easy to disperse off around the house after the meal is over - kids to the bedrooms, dad to the computer, mum to the television...Instead, bring that post-dinner cuppa down in front of the crackling flames and actually talk to each other about your days. Last year, a group of MIT researchers found one of the best things parents can do for their children is to have frequent back-and-forth exchanges with them: the stronger communication skills are more likely to lead to healthier relationships, longer marriages, higher self-esteem and overall satisfaction in life.
Break out the board games:
The humble board game has taken a backseat in recent years - video games and Netflix are much more likely. But in my house a good board game is a key ingredient in a cosy winter night in. My top picks for guaranteed laughs are Cranium and Articulate. It's not just fun, it's mentally beneficial too. A study by Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center confirmed regular game-playing and puzzle-doing were shown promote mental stimulation that dramatically kept memory function performing at a higher level.
Start a book club:
It's not just family you can connect with by the fireside. Get your best friends round and start a book club - wine and cheese platters optional (but recommended). Some of the best chats I've had have begun with a conversation about Sally Rooney’s work. A little pinot accompanied by a crackling fire sets a scene Jane Austen would be proud of. Sign up to Goodreads for some great recommendations.
After all that social reconnecting, you might need a little alone time. Meditation is a great way to centre yourself and take care of your mental health this winter, with countless studies showing it's great for both memory function and lowering blood pressure. When you mix that with the relaxing nature of a fire, it's a winner of a calming combo.
Kale Panoho, who runs Escea’s wellbeing programme, says there are a number of benefits arising from the added bonus of meditating with a fire in front of you. The first is the flames will offer you a centre point to stare at which will stop your mind drifting while you practice. The second has the added bonus of having your heart rate and blood pressure drop throughout the practice giving you a greater release of stress.
- Sit roughly 90cm away from the flames before you begin or wherever you are comfortable with the heat
- Sit still however you're comfortable on the ground staring at the flames for three minutes
- Take three breaths inhaling deeply through your nose and exhale through yourmouth
- Begin the rest of your meditation practice
- Upon finishing open your eyes and continue to stare at the flames for another two minutes
So get beating those winter blues by the fireside tonight, and reap the benefits of both mental and physical health. And hey - a glass of mulled wine doesn't hurt either.