Winter months can be a tough time for some people. Reduced sunlight, dropping temperatures and grey days can lead to isolation, lack of activity and other mental health challenges. So how can we look after ourselves when winter is coming?
1. Sleep well
During winter months, when nights start earlier it might be difficult to hold steadfast to a positive bedtime routine but it’s even more important to do so. Research shows sleep is important to maintain mental well-being. Trying to stick to a routine, avoiding screen time right before bed and keeping work and sleep spaces separate are all simple ways of improving sleep quality.
In winter weeks, often people might find it harder to avoid alcohol, especially during the festive season. Staying hydrated is important for health as is moderating alcohol intake. Drinking comforting herbal teas is a great way of staying warm and hydrated.
3. Be social
Research has shown that staying social is good for mental health. So peppering your calendar with things to look forward to between now and when the weather warms up is a great way to get through the darker months. From Guy Fawkes to Thanksgiving, November has much to celebrate. In December there’s many holidays plus the Strictly Come Dancing Final. For those who find socialising difficult, there are alternatives to tackling loneliness.
Much research is being done into the effects of social media on mental health and in January MQ is beginning a new project looking at the way social media and the internet effects young people’s mental health. But for now studies appear to show that social media and the internet can have negative but also positive effects on mental wellness. So if you find going out difficult you might find online social activity such as Twitch streaming communities and online gaming a positive alternative.
Another strong alternative to socialising with other people is the effect pets or ‘support companions’ can have on mental wellness. If you have a pet or can afford one, research suggests they can be wonderful companions, and if you cannot afford a pet then pet-sitting or dog walking is a fantastic option particularly around the colder months and the holidays when owners might struggle to look after pets themselves.
4. Get active
If the outdoors is too cold and difficult for you to enjoy, it’s still important to stay active during the darker months. So consider other ways to get active if the outdoors is your usual playground. There’s fun to be had at indoor exercise classes, dance classes, dance socials, indoor versions of various sports like cricket, hockey, basketball and more. There are plenty of free yoga and aerobics workouts on YouTube or why not wrap up warm and go for a brisk walk with friends.
5. Stay warm
Being cold can have a detrimental physical and mental effect on us. Staying warm can be a challenge during a cost-of-living crisis, when energy bills become more of a strain for many of us, which is why MQ has created a report making recommendations on how we as a society look after mental wellness of ourselves and others. Even when money is tight, staying warm is important. So if you’d rather not turn the heating up, wrap yourself in warm blankets, drink hot drinks and hot water bottles. If you can afford it, investing in thermals can be a great way to make sure you still are able to get out and about and appreciate the beauty of nature during winter months.
6. Eat well
Making healthy eating a priority is vital during winter months. Eating well can keep us mentally and physically well. . Make it a hobby to try out different foods relative to the month you’re in. Trying vegetables from your local market and chatting to the traders about what is in season is not only a great way to eat healthier and try new things but also to stay social and to get outside.
8. Volunteer or fundraise
The winter months can be a wonderful time to fundraise or volunteer for a charity, Around Christmas time there are lots of ways to volunteer for charities. Maybe even for MQ! You can help celebrate our 10 year anniversary by doing a 10 for 10 fundraising activity or take on a new year challenge.
9. Try light therapy
Some people say light boxes and sunrise alarm clocks work wonders for them. And many research studies have drawn similar conclusions. However, it’s important to stress there’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to mental health conditions, even SAD (seasonal affective disorder) so for some light therapy isn’t a great fix. But it might be worth trying if you’re struggling.
10. Start a project
Keep yourself motivated by starting a new project to take you through the colder months. Whether that is something active for body or mind such as training for a charity run, making jams and chutneys to give to friends, sorting out your wardrobe, an arts and craft project or some DIY or something more passive like beginning a new book, watching a new epic series or listening to a new podcast or audiobook – starting something when the clocks go back aiming to finish it when the clocks go forward in the spring is a great way to stay motivated, count down the days and months and when the warmer weather comes back around again you’ll be able to look back at what you’ve achieved, learned, created or enjoyed with a sense of pride.
So while warmer months have their benefits there are lots of wonderful ways to stay mentally well throughout the winter months. It’s a great time to also look out for the mental health of those around you, neighbours who might be lonely or friends who might be struggling or community members you might want to reach out to as well.
Colder months can, with effort, lead to warmer hearts.
Read more about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
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