With the transition into the fall/winter season, I’ve been noticing some changes in my mood. Lately, I’ve been slower to rise in the mornings, and I’ve not been as motivated to mediate, workout or take afternoon walks. I haven’t felt like I have the energy and I’m not in the mood for any of the things that I now make me feel good. I simply want to spend all my time curled up with a cozy blanket, a cup of tea and read a good book . I want to hibernate like a bear and not emerge from under the covers until springtime.
The winter months can be particularly challenging when you’re dealing with the winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD is a type of depression related to changes in the season), or other mental health issues. The reduced sunlight due to shorter days and colder temperatures can throw off our circadian rhythms. It can push us out of synch with our daily routines, lowering our energy and messing with our mood.
Since we can’t all behave like bears (except maybe when it comes to packing on the extra pounds for the winter), it might be the right time to press pause and check in on your mental health.
10 Ways To Optimize Your Mental Health During Winter
1. Give yourself permission to rest. It’s ok to rest and recharge. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy nor, does it mean you need to take large blocks of time. Setting aside some dedicated time to rest guilt-free is a powerful form of self-care. As they say, you can’t take of others if you don’t care of yourself first. Prioritizing rest is a great place to start when trying to combat the winter blues.
2. Assess what you’re eating. Have you been eating a lot more carbs (homemade sourdough bread, anyone?), sweets or consuming more caffeine or alcohol than usual? It’s been a very challenging and stressful time for most of us, and our relationship with food may have changed as a way of helping us cope.
Take some time to assess your diet and think about ways to make positive changes to improve your mood and overall health.
3. Set some boundaries. This might mean learning to say “no” more often. This may especially be true for work or during the holiday season. Figure out what you’re willing to take on or put up with and what you are not. Then set your boundaries, let go of feelings of guilt, and do your best to protect your peace.
4. Check up on your relationships. Speaking of setting boundaries, when was the last time you evaluated the company you keep. Reach out and connect with the people whose company you enjoy. Maybe check-in and see how they are coping. Consider limiting the amount of time you spend with the friends or family members who drain your energy. Again, do your best to protect your peace.
5. Be Still. You don’t have to be productive or busy every minute of the day. If you allow yourself some time to simply sit and just be still, you can reflect on what’s really going on with you. Ask yourself, how am I doing? What am I feeling right now? And see what comes up for you. Don’t run from the feelings. Instead, try to be curious about it.
A bit of self-awareness about where you’re at can go a long way in helping you identify whether you need to make changes and if you need some help doing so.
6. Talk with an expert. Speaking of needing help, you don’t have to wait until you’re in crisis mode to seek the support of a licensed therapist or medical practitioner. Having a few therapy sessions can help you work through and process some of your emotions and top-of-mind issues in ways that may be incredibly beneficial.
A doctor (not Dr. Google but a real person) can help to determine whether you’re experiencing winter blues or something more serious, like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and suggest the right course of action.
7. Be patient with yourself. Depending on where you are at, feeling like yourself again may take some time. Try to be aware of the negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations you may have set for yourself (see “Be Still” above). Then let all of that go. Give yourself some space, some grace and celebrate the small wins daily.
Say it with me, “This will take time and, that’s ok. I will be ok!” If that fails, just play some Beyonce and dance. Bey makes everything better.
8. Get more sunlight and movement in your day. Moving your body, soaking up the natural goodness of the sun and connecting with nature can help boost your mood and contribute positively to your overall wellbeing. Put on some layer, create a playlist of energy boosting songs, of cue your fave podcast and get outside for a walk.
9. Reassess your sleep routine. Your sleep can get disrupted with the change in seasons and having to set your clocks back an hour depending on where you are in the world. If you’re feeling a little blah, more anxious or depressed, this can impact the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting. Check your sleep routine and make any necessary adjustments.
10. Stop doom scrolling. Try to be more mindful of how often you are scrolling on social media. Pay attention to how often you are picking up your phone and opening the apps. How are you feeling when you see the curated feeds? How are you feeling when you stop scrolling? No matter how self-aware and grounded you are, you may be surprised to find that you’re not immune from the negative impacts that social media can have on your mental health.
Putting the phone away a couple hours before bed can also help improve your sleep quality.
A lot of people struggle with their mental health during the winter months, so you are not alone. You don’t need to deal with these issues alone. You can be proactive now and take steps to improve our mood, energy levels and mental health and wellbeing, not only during the winter months but all year round.
This post first appeared on the Swell Life Blog.