Welcome to the season of expectations — not only the expectations of those around us, but our own expectations to have a magical time, to create a magical time for others, and to generally make it the most exciting season of the year.

However, the holiday hoopla, the lights, the excitement and non-stop activity — as much fun as they are — are really down to cultural conditioning.

Mother Nature, if left to her own devices, has other ideas for us at this time of year.

In nature, winter isn’t a season of ornamentation or excess; it’s a season of stripping back, of bare branches, of hibernation, of rest. Or retreating to your warm burrow. Of preparing for the metamorphosis of spring.

And by refusing to look inward, to recharge, to slow down, to really listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us at this time of year, we often end up upsetting the delicate balance of energy within us.

Embracing the water element: the perfect way to rebalance.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the water element dominates during winter. The water element is a vital one; it’s said to store our very essence. When our water qi is strong, we feel powerful yet adaptable and gentle, creative and motivated. We have the strength to look inwards and reflect without fear or anxiety.

Unfortunately, our lives don’t tend to be geared towards keeping the flow of this essential energy, particularly at this time of year.

You see, the kidneys and the bladder are the key organs associated with the water element — they are the foundation for all yin and yang energies in the body. When we burn the candle at both ends, overbook our schedules, subject our bodies to cold weather, over-consume fatty, sugary foods, and rely on coffee or alcohol to help us deal with energy crashes and stress, we put our kidneys under enormous pressure, and compromise their qi.

And this loss of qi brings a whole host of negative effects: physically you may experience lower back pain, urinary problems, fatigue, dizziness, loss of libido, and headaches. Mentally and emotionally you could be looking at anxiety, fear, inability to cope with change, and even a lack of willpower.

None of which you want to be dealing with through the holidays, right?

How to nourish your water element this winter.

There are a number of things you can do this winter to keep your kidneys healthy and your water energy in balance.

Nourish and hydrate.

Support your kidneys by keeping yourself hydrated. Think herbal teas, warming broths, veggie-packed stews, and keeping coffee and other diuretics to a minimum. And don’t shy away from salty foods, which can help restore balance.

Keep warm.

Cold weather can put excessive strain on your kidneys so it’s important you try to keep warm. Key areas to protect from the cold are the soles of the feet, the lower back, and the neck. So keep those fluffy socks and scarves close at hand.

Embrace the darkness.

When you’re surrounded by cold and darkness, as we often are at this time of year, it’s tempting to try to overcome it with light and endless social activities. But winter is a time to relax and build your reserves for the coming spring. It’s important to take the time to listen to your body and recharge: to focus on being instead of doing. To listen to what your heart is telling you without fear, without over-analyzing, and without judgement.

Instead of thinking of winter as something you have to endure, try to view it as a gift. Embrace it for its reflective energy and its gentle encouragement to explore your worries, your creativity, and your hopes. Make the most of winter’s invitation into your inner world.

And above all, remember that the energy you conserve now, during this quiet, reflective period, will be the energy that bursts forth during the rebirth of spring. So it’s worth taking the time to truly listen to your body even through the white noise of the holidays. And if it’s telling you to slow down — do your very best to honor the request.