7 Ways to Look After Your Mental Health This Winter
Winter can take a serious toll on our mental health.
As we bring the majority of our lives indoors for the winter, serotonin and melatonin levels tend to take a dip. Since these hormones are responsible for feelings of happiness as well as sleep quality, winter can cause quite the stir in our internal body clock.
For some of us, this goes beyond winter blues. The onset of winter can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. As with any mental health issue, such as depression and anxiety, self-care plays an important role in managing the day-to-day impact of SAD.
But harsh weather, reduced daylight hours and busy schedules in the run-up to the holiday season make for a difficult self-care environment.
Putting together a self-care plan that you can fall back on is a great way to manage stress levels, elevate your energy and look after your mental health, even on the gloomiest winter days.
Here are seven priorities on our winter self-care plan.
1. Check in with yourself every day
Self-care starts with self-awareness. In order to look after your wellbeing, you have to start by assessing your physical and emotional needs.
Taking a few minutes every day to check in with yourself and acknowledge how you are feeling is essential to any self-care plan. It allows you to make space for your emotions, examine their sources, and follow up with positive actions.
You can do this on paper, as part of a meditation or simply by running through a checklist in your head.
Here are a few examples of questions to ask yourself during a daily check-in.
- How are you feeling today, really?
- How does your body feel today?
- Are you feeling anxious about anything? If so, what is causing these feelings?
- Have you been speaking to yourself kindly today?
- What can you do right now that would make you feel better?
By checking in with your physical and emotional needs every day, you can keep tabs on any negative emotions as they arise, and adjust your actions to match.
2. Keep an eye on your cravings
During the colder months, it is especially tempting to reach for comfort foods and sugary treats. Cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods are common in the winter, but they can also be a symptom of SAD.
While it is perfectly normal to treat yourself once in a while, overindulging in highly processed foods and takeout meals can make you feel sluggish and tired in the long run. This amplifies the negative effects of the winter season on your wellbeing.
You can curb these cravings by incorporating a healthy meal plan into your winter self-care routine.
Instead of relying on takeaways and ready-made meals, try to opt for a balanced diet full of leafy greens and seasonal fruit and vegetables. Nourishing your body with nutritious meals will give you plenty of energy throughout the day.
Taking a Vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin complex is also a great way to boost immunity and keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy in the winter months.
If you don’t have enough time to cook from scratch every day, you can make meal prepping a regular feature in your self-care routine. Think of it as an investment in your future self: you’ll be saving time, looking after your health and sparing yourself worries about what’s for dinner.
3. Move your body
Although exercise may well be the last thing on your mind on a cold winter morning, moving your body is one of the best ways to look after your physical and mental health.
That’s because exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, the feel-good hormone that helps to regulate your mood, appetite and digestion, sleep and memory. Since serotonin levels naturally dip in the wintertime, it’s important to find ways to boost them.
Studies have shown that running for just 15 minutes per day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. This means you don’t have to commit to a complicated, time-consuming workout regime in order to feel the benefits.
Instead, you can focus on activities you enjoy, whether that’s running, yoga, walking or simply dancing to your favourite playlist. The trick is to find what you like and keep moving.
Whichever form of exercise you choose, daily movement can help you manage stress levels, beat the winter blues and release negative emotions in a healthy way.
4. Get outside whenever you can
Getting your daily dose of movement outside is double the fun — and double the benefits! Not only is getting outside a great way to get some steps in and clear your head, but it also works wonders for your long-term mental health.
Since sunshine is in scarce supply during the winter months, we tend to miss out its feel-good effects.
Just like exercise, sunshine boosts the production of the happy hormone, serotonin. But getting outside during the day also encourages the production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone, which is essential to getting a good night’s rest.
If you suffer with irregular sleeping patterns, insomnia, or mental ailments such as depression or anxiety, getting a daily boost of sunshine and fresh air will help you feel well-rested.
With all these benefits in mind, it’s time to put your boots on and get walking. Just remember to wear SPF to protect your skin from UV rays — even on deceptively chilly days.
5. Stick to natural sleeping patterns
Our bodies are designed to function in alignment with a natural sleep-wake cycle known as the Circadian rhythm.
The Circadian rhythm is the body’s natural clock. In essence, this is what makes us feel sleepy at night and awake during daylight. Irregular sleeping patterns can disturb this rhythm, stirring up complications for both our physical and mental health.
While we should all aim for 6 to 8 hours of shut-eye every night, sleep is especially important for those of us who are vulnerable to mental health issues, such as depression, SAD and anxiety. Studies have shown that “nearly all people suffering from mood disorders have significant disruptions in circadian rhythms and the sleep/wake cycle.”
As part of your winter self-care routine, try to cultivate healthy sleeping patterns that align with your natural sleep-wake cycle. You can try out these tips if you’re stuck on where to start:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time most days of the week. Setting alarms and using the Do Not Disturb function on your phone can help you adjust.
- Try to avoid blue light from screens before bedtime. Instead, try a screen-free activity, such as reading.
- Switch out bright fluorescents for soft lighting such as candles and night lights in the evenings. Not only does this prepare your body for rest, but it also creates a cosy atmosphere in your home. Our soy wax candles create the perfect warm glow for your self-care evenings.
- Take walks during the day to boost melatonin production at night. This will help you get a good night’s rest.
6. Create a wind-down routine you love
Self-care is about carving out time for yourself, but many of us feel that we don’t have enough time to spare. Between meetings, deadlines and commitments, finding time to relax every day can seem like an impossible feat.
Creating a reliable nighttime routine will help you switch off in the evenings, spend some quality time with yourself, and set you up for a restful night.
Here at The Sun & My Soul, we like to wind-down with:
- A soak in the tub with some Himalayan bath salts to relieve stress and reduce muscle pain.
- Jotting down our thoughts in a journal to reflect on the day.
- Switching out caffeinated drinks for organic sleepy herbal tea.
- Lighting a soy wax candle to set a relaxing mood.
- Doing a 5-minute bedtime meditation to ease into rest.
7. Reach out to your support network
Winter can be an isolating time for a lot of people at the best of times. This year, amidst lockdowns and restrictions, it is especially important to reach out to friends, family and loved ones.
Your emotional wellbeing is closely connected to the circle of people who surround you. Whether you are able to meet in person for a coffee or organise catch-up Zoom calls, factoring social time into your self-care routine is essential.
Self-care does not have to be a solitary activity. This winter, why not join a supportive community of like-minded people, such as a book club or virtual co-working club? Dedicating time to social activities that support your interests will help you feel less alone while staying indoors this winter — and you’re bound to make some new friends, too.
Depending on your individual needs, your emotional self-care might also include chatting regularly with a therapist or counsellor. Making this commitment to yourself will allow you to share your struggles, face your emotions, and work through them with a caring professional who can guide you on the road to recovery.
If you think you might be struggling with a mental health issue such as depression, grief, anxiety or an eating disorder, we encourage you to reach out to a counsellor.
Brighten up winter days with self-care essentials
Here at The Sun & My Soul, we know that self-care plays a key part in our wellbeing over the winter months. That’s why we’ve teamed up with inspiring independent businesses across the UK to bring you a hand-picked selection of eco-friendly self-care products to carry you through the season.
From hand-poured soy wax candles to soothing bath salts, our winter self-care box has all the essentials you need to cultivate a winter self-care routine that makes you feel nourished and appreciated both inside and out.
Treat yourself, or gift it to a friend or family member who could use some quality ‘me’ time.
Winter Calm Self-Care Box