By: Jane Nowlan
Not medically reviewed by Erin Stair, MD, MPH
It can be tricky looking after your mental health at the best of times. However, the struggle can be even greater whenever winter comes around.
The short days and cold weather often make everything seem miserable, which in turn dampens your spirit and leaves you feeling vulnerable. Winter doesn’t have to be this way if you don’t want it to, though. There’s so much you can do to ease your mind and make it through to spring happy and healthy.
Blood Sugar Levels
A good diet is essential for maintaining your physical health. However, what you eat affects more than just your figure. Certain foods can have a significant impact on your blood sugar levels, which in turn can affect your mood. Processed foods and foods containing refined sugar are particularly bad for this, so avoiding those in the winter is a good idea. Moreover, increasing your protein and fibre intake will help regulate your blood sugar levels, so the chances of them spiking and plummeting will decrease.
If the sun’s going to abandon us during the winter, we may as well make the most of all that darkness, right? Getting a good night’s sleep can help immensely when it comes to your mental health, so making time for 7-9 hours of it a day is essential. That can be difficult for some people, especially if you have a lot on your mind. Therefore, it’s worth taking an hour or so every day to properly wind down before bed. That means doing things like deep breathing exercises and turning off all technology.
Physical activity and mental wellbeing go hand in hand, no matter what time of year it is. That’s because exercise releases endorphins which play a vital role in improving your mood. So, if you want to keep yourself smiling during the winter months, taking up an activity like running or cycling might be a good idea. We know that cycling in the winter might not always seem like the best or safest idea, particularly if you’re cycling in the snow. However, it’s preferable to exercise that’s based indoors for one very good reason.
The sun does more for us than simply keeping things light and warm. It’s through this flaming star in the sky that we’re able to get a regular dose of vitamin D. A deficiency in this can lead to mental health issues like depression, so keeping your body dosed up is an excellent idea. Obviously, exercising outside and exposing yourself to natural light is a great way to achieve this. However, it should be noted that this isn’t as effective during winter months due to lower levels of UVB radiation. So, it’s a good idea to combine outdoor activities with supplements and vitamin D-rich food to keep your levels strong.
With the days being shorter and colder, the temptation to stay at home can be overwhelming during the winter. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do for your mental wellbeing without ever leaving the comfort of your sofa, provided you’re happy to get creative. Activities like painting can really help to relax the mind because they offer a distraction from everyday stressors. Plus, they provide you with a canvas to express all your negative thoughts and feelings, rather than letting them set up shop in your mind. Who knows, you may even create something that you feel inclined to share with the world, and from there, anything could happen.
While enjoying natural light is important in the winter, people can’t always get as much of it as they’d like. If you find yourself missing out on too much sunlight, investing in a SAD light might be a good idea. These are lightboxes specially designed to help those with a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. They aim to mimic the positive effects of natural light, something that typical household lights can’t manage. Although they’re no replacement for the real thing, they make an excellent alternative if you’re stuck inside most days during the winter.
Talk To People
When is talking to someone ever not a good idea for improving your mental wellbeing? Whether you’re a social butterfly or not, having at least one person to lean on when times get tough is crucial. Even if they don’t have the answers to your problems, simply having them around can work wonders for your mood. It’s important to remember that in the winter when going out and socializing may not seem like a fun idea. Thankfully, the beauty of modern technology is that it’s so easy to keep in contact with others, so even if you live alone, you don’t have to be lonely in the winter.
We can’t change the drop in temperature and fewer daylight hours that are so often associated with winter. However, with these suggestions, we can hopefully help you to cope better when those colder months come around.