5 Ways to Put Your Mental Health First This Winter

Though some may be hit harder than others by the winter blues, many of us still experience the seasons slump to some degree. So now that we’re in the thick of the season, you may want to consider a mental and emotional well-being check. Ask yourself—how do I feel? Am I experiencing extra stress or feeling lethargic? Do I feel unmotivated to exercise or do daily activities? If the answers are yes, it may be because you’re feeling the strain of the cold weather and darker days

“There are a number of risk factors associated with lower mood in the winter months,” says Jorge Palacios, MD, PhD, Digital Health Scientist at SilverCloud Health. “Diminished amounts of light received on a daily basis can lead to changes in mood and affect, and there is an increased likelihood of being less physically active than in warmer months.”

Not to mention that this year has an added layer of complexity as we continue to deal with the uncertainty of COVID-19, on top of spending more time indoors and less in social settings.

It’s no doubt that the wintertime makes it difficult for us to feel good, which begs the question—are there ways to overcome these challenges? You bet. Read on to learn five steps you can take to ward off the winter blues and keep your mental health on the rise this season. 

Follow a schedule. As our bodies and brains typically function on a 24-hour (circadian) cycle, it’s beneficial to establish a daily routine as much as possible. Incorporating organization into your life with better time management will help you feel less overwhelmed. 

Try this simple routine to start:

  • Wake up at least an hour before work to stretch and get prepared for the day ahead.
  • Try to incorporate some sort of sunlight into your morning, either by getting outside or sitting by a window.
  • Plan a consistent time for exercise.
  • Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at consistent times.
  • If you’re working from home, create a calendar and try to follow a work schedule that feels similar every day. 
  • Get into bed at the same time every night.

Be mindful of screen time. Spending most of the day inside because of the earlier nights and cold temps is usually a recipe for more screen time. Too much screen time can affect your sleep, can cause vision problems, or even lead to anxiety, stress, and depression.

In addition to you using a computer for work or school, many of us are spending a lot of our down time scrolling through social media, texting late at night, and/or binge watching television during the winter. 

”The amount of time spent in front of screens has also been shown to negatively impact sleep, which in turn can affect mental wellbeing.” says Dr. Palacios. “It is therefore important to monitor how much time is spent in front of screens, especially reducing this time just before going to sleep.”

Of course there are benefits of technology, such as using video calls to check in on family and friends during the pandemic, but unfortunately hours can add up and be detrimental to our health. So, how do we find a healthy balance between using technology as a resource instead of a crutch? Setting screen time limits, finding alternatives such as getting outside instead of scrolling through your social apps, and keeping your phone on the other side of the room when you get into bed are all great ways to start.

Keep moving. We all know that exercise is good for us, but during the winter months it can be essential to keeping our mental health in a good place. Though the cold weather may discourage you to exercise outside, there are steps you can take to make your experience more enjoyable—click here to learn how.

Be good to your body. Self-care is important year-round, but during the winter it can be an especially helpful remedy to unwanted emotions like stress or anxiety. Making sure to get the recommended 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night, eating healthily, and getting enough Vitamin D are all key self-care actions you should remember to take.  

“Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet aids individuals in attaining energy and motivation,” says Dr. Leela R. Magavi, M.D. “In addition, individuals with low levels of Vitamin D may experience fatigue, and thus, Vitamin D repletion may improve an individual’s energy level.”

Developing good sleep hygiene habits is also crucial. Dr. Palacios suggests to “have regular sleep and wake times, minimize blue light from screens, maintain comfortable room temperature, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and wake up with a light instead of an alarm to simulate dawn.”

Look after your mind. It’s easy for our minds to wander when we’re feeling unmotivated, bored, or stressed. Whether you’re experiencing anxiety about the past, present, or future, meditation and mindfulness sessions can help. Putting daily time aside to unplug and release tension is one of the best ways to ward off unnecessary stress.

“Fun activities and bonding time also help alleviate overall stress,” says Dr. Magavi. “Listing positive affirmations in the morning can help start your day on a positive note. I also advise individuals to take deep, diaphragmatic breaths and stretch with their loved ones at the beginning of each day. Winter blues could lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects individuals’ functionality and overall wellness.”

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