What Trees Can Teach Us About Self-care

trees in winter.

Frost sparkles at daybreak, the nights grow longer, and temperatures drop: winter is here. In the season of snow, we can learn lessons about self-care from trees. Yes, trees. 

Slowing Down

In winter, leafy trees go through a process called dormancy, similar to hibernation. During this time, the tree slows down growth and energy consumption and focuses on maintaining its health. From this, we can learn that all living things require periods of deep rest. 

For some, rest may mean slowing down the pace of activities and tasks. Taking a simple moment of pause or reflection allows for some recovery. For others, rest may be found in the company of others, by creating connections, offering assistance, or sharing a laugh. A period of rest allows us to reflect and prioritize, and to give care and attention to our essential needs. This winter, make it a priority to care for yourself by finding opportunities for rest. Some tools and resources to help you slow down and rest are available online.

Letting Go

Because trees don’t produce food during the winter, they don’t have enough energy to maintain their leaves. Trees teach us that we must sometimes let go of unnecessary burdens and focus energy on what matters most. Self-compassion practices can be helpful for acknowledging and letting go of painful feelings. Mindfulness practices can help us stay focused on the present moment and let go of worries. During winter holidays, expectations about what “should” or “should not” happen can sometimes result in anxiety, frustration, or disappointment. This season, practice letting go of expectations and refocus on savoring and appreciating the moment as it is.

Transformation and Renewal

To tolerate cold temperatures, trees can alter their cells in a way that prevents freezing. This process of transformation allows the tree to respond to the challenges of winter through self-care and flexibility and prepares the tree for the period of renewal and growth in spring. Transformation may mean reconnecting to personal values and priorities to energize new goals. Writing about challenges can help us shift perspective and make meaning of difficult experiences. Ask for and accept help when needed. Seek additional support and comfort from family, friends, colleagues or mental health professionals. The Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience can help you reflect, explore, and build strengths.

Rooted in Community

In forests, tree roots intertwine, share resources, and support each other—they become a community of strength throughout the seasons. The recent “Be Kind, Be Well” campaign is a reminder that expressing gratitude and practicing kindness toward others can result in feeling more connected and valued. Express thanks and send an encouraging word to a colleague. Check in with your team and listen for what each person needs. Practice patience and gentleness in your interactions. For some, the winter can be a lonely time, so seek opportunities to include others and build community.

When More Care is Needed

If you are worried about yourself or someone else, there are resources available to you through every season of life.

The Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience is available to serve the mental and emotional health needs of Michigan Medicine faculty and staff. It provides no-charge and confidential counseling, consultation and stress debriefing services to help faculty and staff develop strength and resilience in their personal and professional lives.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 734-763-5409 or email counseling@med.umich.edu

The Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office (FASCCO) provides support and assistance to university staff and faculty in resolving personal or work-related concerns. By providing confidential and professional counseling, coaching, training, and consultation services to staff, faculty, retirees, benefit-eligible adult dependents and departments, FASCCO helps individuals develop and foster strengths and resiliency to enhance their personal and professional lives.

For more information or to make an appointment, call (734) 936-8660 or email  fascco@umich.edu.