It might not be the first word on your mind when you think of winter, but to me the season is synonymous with relaxation.
I’m at my most relaxed when I’m cold, when my eyes are stinging and my arms are full of goosebumps, when my left index finger is a worrying shade of purple and my cheeks pink.
When the trees are naked and the sky is perpetually dark. When people spend more time de-icing their cars than driving them, when I know I have an advent calendar tucked away and ready to be gradually indulged. When the wind plasters my hair to my lipgloss and steals my breath.
Winter is the only time of year I let socks into my life, and the only time liquid chocolate presides over solid.
It’s a time when my mug never goes cold and I can never have enough moisturiser. I love the abiding excitement that begins in childhood, when the nights draw in earlier and being outside in the dark feels like something reserved for grown ups.
Reaching winter feels like a homecoming. No sun cream, no wasps, no deathly humid public transport. No sleepless nights missing my duvet, no having to get my legs out every day. Instead, it’s my birthday, and then it’s Christmas. It’s a season that’s always had celebrations. For a few months, nostalgia and excitement mingle together and leave me feeling truly content.
In recent years, however, the cold weather alone hasn’t been enough to counteract my stress. But all other efforts to relax haven’t worked out very well, either. Maybe it's just me, but making a concerted effort to relax creates more tension. It’s like going to a spa, where there’s so much pressure to relax that it can create the opposite effect.
Meditation, which is fast becoming one of the most popular ways to relax, has been the bane of my life for a long time. It looks so simple, yet I haven’t come across anything more difficult since I tried to get through a yoga class without getting kicked out.
I find somewhere comfortable to sit, close my eyes and take a slow, deep breath. By the time I’ve got round to exhaling, my legs feel like they’re in the wrong place, my back doesn’t feel straight enough and I’m either too hot, too cold, or suddenly in desperate need of a wee.
The sounds outside amplify, the ones inside draw closer. The washing machine whirs loudly in one ear, and the voices of everyone in a one-mile radius buzz against my other eardrum. Suddenly, an endless to-do list is projected onto the backs of my eyelids and my hand twitches, desperate to scribble down reminders about the email I need to send and the milk I need to buy.
My inner dialogue switches from a dulcet, Morgan-Freeman-sounding voice to a Janet Street-Porter screech that’s impossible to ignore. Without fail, a million questions and thoughts spring to the front of my mind.
‘Has that extractor fan always been this loud?’
‘How do monks do this every day?’
'Is Jimmy Carr's laugh real?'
Along with understanding all of the words in a mortgage leaflet and always having a spare toothbrush, I assume that learning to relax comes with age. My mind hasn’t yet grown tired enough of the world to be able to block it out for ten minutes a day.
I yearn for that moment you can feel your organs align, the adrenaline in your veins dissolve, and the fear of an early, stress-related death dissipate. A few years ago I had a hypnotherapy session and for the rest of the day I felt like I was being drip-fed Valium. I have since spent every day trying to recreate that feeling.
But winter will always remain my favourite time of year. Who knows – one year I might find the self-control to meditate on Christmas Eve. But until that day comes I will still spend it looking for hidden Christmas presents and accidentally Sellotaping my hands together.