Looking after your mental health during the winter

One of the biggest things I struggled with over the winter during the pandemic was my mental health. And I know I can’t be alone in this. Being at home pretty much every day with my whole family was quite tough.

There have been a lot of memes going around about extroverts. I say take a moment to consider introverts. They are the ones stuck at home with their families with nowhere to escape for some recharge time!

Why is winter hard for mental health?

While not everyone experiences challenges for their mental health during the winter, it can be common.

In some cases, it’s the lack of sunlight from the shorter days that creates seasonal affective disorder, a type of seasonal depression. And it’s more serious than the winter blues. There are even some places in the world that don’t get any sunlight during the winter months.

For many, the physical health benefits from exercise have an impact on their mental health issues. 

A recent study by American Psychiatric Association found that almost 40% of Americans face a declining mood during winter.

Looking after your mental health during winter

Working from home can be hard at the best of times. But when you have your husband also working from home as well as your daughter home from childcare, it’s exceptionally rough. Here are a few things I did to keep my mental well-being on track during the winter.

Know your triggers

If you know the kinds of things that upset or annoy you, it’s a bit easier to come up with a counter plan.
I know that I feel so much better on days with blue skies and a bit of a breeze.

So that means I need to prepare myself for seasonal changes and when the weather is less than perfect. And after a few rotations around the sun, I know what I can do to look after my mental health during the winter season.

Some things that help get me through are

  • having a goal to work towards
  • making time for exercise
  • drinking enough water and limiting caffeine
  • making healthier food choices
  • maintaining a tidy house
  • getting some fresh air and natural light
mental health in winter

Get outside

As the colder weather starts to hit in late fall and early winter, you can be less likely to spend time outside. With less sunlight, it can be harder to prioritise getting enough vitamin d on top of keeping up with everything else.  

It is absolutely amazing what a little bit of fresh air can do for you. Even more so when there is little reason to leave your house, thanks to the pandemic.

In the dead of winter, I felt like I was in a real funk. But I was also working with an accountability partner on some goals I had. So we both decided that I needed to spend some time outside the house. Not necessarily going for a walk, but just anytime outside would count.

So I did it. I decided that I would spend 20 minutes outside every single day. And I was amazed at how I felt after a few days.

I’d sit outside under the pergola with a book and read a chapter or two of my book. Most days before I knew it more than 20 minutes had passed.

Some days it was cold and windy, and I really didn’t want to go outside. But I rugged myself up with a beanie and a blanket, spending the time reading or watching my daughter play.

Other days were beautiful sunny winter days. My daughter and I would set out the picnic rug and eat our lunch in the sun, letting it warm our bodies.

Challenge yourself

I think taking up a challenge is a great way to mix things up a little. Get out of your comfort zone. You never know, you might learn a new skill or find a new hobby! And maybe even make some improvements to your life.
Some challenges you could try are:

I challenged myself to do some physical activity every day for a month. I did Alo Yoga’s Elements of Summer: 30 Days of Mindful Movement. My yoga abilities improved greatly in such a short amount of time.

mental health during the winter

Find ways to unwind

This year I have managed to read more books than I intended. Mostly because I had more free time. I actually got to the point where I was sick of reading eBooks. So I pulled out a copy of The Hunger Games. If I’m honest, I was actually looking for Twilight…

But I am so grateful that my library has so many digital services as a part of my membership. And it’s perfectly acceptable to spend hours curled up with a book and a cup of tea during the cold weather.

I also like to watch movies and television shows. But I am pretty picky about what I like to watch. I like action movies, so I decided to watch all of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That provided me with entertainment for over 20 nights. After I finished those, I decided to move on to the X-Men series, which provided another 12 nights of entertainment. Perhaps I should look into the Bond films next?

My favourite television show, The 100, was about to air its last season. So in preparation for that, I watched the first six seasons again and read the four books that the television series is based on. Sadly for me, I am still waiting to see the final season.

My favourite easy-to-watch television shows are:

  • The Good Place
  • Friends
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • Sex & the City

I like to think that the laughs from these shows increase our serotonin levels.

Get enough fluids

I mentioned a few times before that I made it a goal of mine to aim for one drinking one litre of water a day, on top of anything else I drink. I started trying to build this habit back in August 2019, and it took me four to six months to start actively being able to hit that milestone of one litre a day.

By keeping myself hydrated, I put my best self forward for both myself and my family. I’m less irritable, get fewer headaches and know that I won’t feel like rubbish the next day.

Make healthier food choices

We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And I know I’m usually ravenous by the morning. But since working from home, I started skipping breakfast, instead of having a coffee around 10 am. Now I know this isn’t a good choice, but it’s still one I make quite often, even now.

There are a lot of simple swaps I’ve managed to make to ensure I am making better food choices, for my health and my future self.


Instead of sugary breakfast cereal, I choose Vegemite on toast or oats with fruit. My daughter and I often share a ‘snack plate’ filled with healthy foods and a treat for morning tea. Lunch is usually leftovers or a pack of two-minute noodles with some added frozen vegetables. And for dinner, we normally have a combination of meat and four vegetables.

A snack plate normally consists of fruits like strawberries, blueberries and grapes, vegetables such as carrots or cucumber, cheese, pretzels and sometimes some chocolate poops (chocolate chips) or Skittles.

Keeping up a healthy diet during the colder months can help balance out your energy levels and the potential lack of regular exercise.

8 ways to look after your mental health during winter and a pandemic

Connect

Keeping connected to friends and family when it’s cold out can be quite a challenge. I know I don’t like to leave the house, but it’s still important to try to make that connection.

The emotional support you gain from social interaction with friends and family members can do wonders for your overall health.

 And, you never know who you might be helping when you reach out to someone.

Exercise

It feels like a no-brainer to mention exercise here. But I don’t think this list would be complete without it. And I know it can be hard to stay motivated to exercise in the colder weather.

You may or may not know about the wonderful endorphins that are released during exercise. They reduce the perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in the body. Good vibes only, anyone?

And if you’ve got young kids at home, why not find a way to exercise with them? My favourite ways to workout at home are:

  • dance party
  • go for a walk
  • watch tv or read on the treadmill or stationary bike
  • workout video from YouTube
  • does housework count?

But if getting motivated is your issue, here are

Sleep

You might be surprised at how sleep plays a vital role in our body’s internal clock.

However, during winter months with less daylight, it can be challenging to synchronize our circadian rhythm. Which regulates our sleep-wake cycle, aligning it with the natural patterns of day and night.

Establishing a regular sleep schedule and getting the recommended hours of sleep supports both mental and physical health in your daily life.

Create a plan

Create a plan for when you have low-energy days. Days where maybe you didn’t get enough sleep. And days when you didn’t eat well or hydrate the day before.

Having a plan for times of low energy can be helpful at any time of year, even during a season of chaos.

looking after your mental health during winter


And if you’re celebrating during the holiday season, it’s even more important to take care of your mental health during winter.

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