Winter can be a really tough time of year for a lot of people.
The darker, colder days can make it so much harder to manage mental health issues, and even bring on more issues like seasonal affective disorder. And that’s in a normal, good year.
This year with the pandemic, the constant threat of lockdowns, and not being able to do so many of the things that would normally help get us through the long winter months things will be even harder than normal.
One positive to come out of this year though is that people are starting to be much more open about their mental health issues. There’s a lot more awareness of the issues people face, and more conversations are being started that let others know they’re not alone.
And with this understanding there’s also more and more research being done into the things we can do to help take care of ourselves and our mental health.
If you’re worried about your wellbeing as the days start to get shorter, then here are 5 things that you can try to help look after your mental health this winter.
Spend time outside
When the seasons change and it starts to get colder and darker outside, it can be so tempting to hide away indoors in the warm.
It’s so important though to make an effort to get outside as much as possible. Spending time outdoors in the fresh air and natural light has so many benefits for our mental health, as well as our physical health and general sense of wellbeing.
Studies have found that spending time outside can help improve our moods, reduce feelings of stress and help us feel more relaxed. It’s also been found to help with anxiety, depression and seasonal affective disorder.
If you can’t go out for long walks then try wrapping up warm and taking your afternoon coffee out to the garden to get some outside time that way. And if actually going outside is too hard, then try spending time by an open window where you can see the sky or some greenery in your garden. You can also get a lot of benefits by bringing the outdoors in, by buying houseplants, or growing herbs and flowers on a windowsill.
Take care of your physical health
Our mental health and physical health are so closely linked, it’s important to take care of both to feel well, in every sense of the word, over the winter.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables can not only keep our bodies healthy, it can also help improve our moods, help up think more clearly, and give us more energy.
It’s not all about fruit and veg though.
Making sure you stay hydrated is also really important for helping us feel alert and clear-headed. Water is the best option when it comes to drinks, but fruit juices, milk and squash are also great if you want something a bit more interesting.
You can also help boost your mood by making sure you get enough protein each day. Protein, found in foods like lean meat, eggs, and beans, contains amino acids that help our brains regulate our thoughts and feelings.
Exercise is also a great way to boost your mood and improve your general wellbeing, thanks to the hormones that our bodies produce when we move our bodies more.
Get a diary
Spending a bit of time each day writing in a diary can make a big difference to your mental health.
Studies have shown that journaling can boost our mood and our sense of wellbeing, as well as help with feelings of stress and improving our working memory.
Writing down how we’re feeling can help get it all out of our heads, and gives us a bit of distance from the emotions. It helps us work through and process everything, which in turn helps us start to let go of those feelings and feel calmer.
If you’re not up to writing about your thoughts and emotions in this way, then you could try a daily gratitude diary instead.
Each day write down three things you’re grateful for. They can be really small things, like having 5 minutes peace to enjoy a hot drink, the fact that your new fabric conditioner made your clothes smell nice, spotting a perfectly shaped leaf on your walk. Anything.
The simple act of focusing on all the good things in life that we have to be thankful for is so powerful in boosting our mental health.
Stay connected with friends and family
One of the things that has the potential to really have a negative impact on our mental health this winter is not being able to see and/or have physical contact with our loved ones.
When we can’t visit people in person it’s even more important to find other ways to stay connected with them.
Make time each week to have a video chat with a friend, call your parents as often as you can, send text messages and comment on photos and posts that your friends put on social media.
As well as keeping in touch with friends and family, make a point of connecting with people you do get to see in the real world.
It doesn’t have to be much, just a smile and a hello as you pass someone when you’re out for a walk. These little interactions can mean so much, both to you and the other person.
Be conscious of what you consume
Not in terms of food, but in terms of everything you take in from the news and from social media.
There is so much being shared online about the pandemic that can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, angry, confused and a whole host of other emotions. If you do find yourself starting to feel any of these things when you read the news, then try making a conscious effort to limit how much time you spend scrolling news sites and consider muting certain words on social media so you don’t see those topics in your feeds.
Social media in particular can be harmful to our sense of wellbeing.
It could be that seeing other people not following current guidelines leaves you feeling angry or upset, when you’re being so careful to limit where you go, what you do, and who you spend time with.
Or it might be that it seems like other people are coping so much better, based on the things they share on social media. I know that I can so easily fall into the trap of comparing my life to the seemingly perfect ones I see other people sharing on Instagram, even though I know it’s all staged.
If you’re finding it hard to handle seeing everyone’s highlight reels, then it might be worth deleting the apps from your phone for a bit, or at the very least limiting yourself to just one scroll through them each day. And if you need to, go through all the people you follow and either unfollow or mute the accounts that make you feel anything other than happy. You don’t owe anyone a follow, and you’ll feel much better when your feed is full of things that bring you joy.
I know that there’s no quick fix for mental health issues.
If you really find yourself suffering at any point, then please do reach out to someone. Speak to your doctor about all your options, and be open to trying different things to see what works for you. Some people find that talking therapies make a big difference, while medication works best for others.
Hopefully though the tips in this post will really help with supporting your general wellbeing and mental health over the next few months of autumn and winter.