Although we are blessed with crisp, sunny winters here in Brisbane, seasonal change can still give us the winter blues – especially if we’ve been diagnosed with a mood disorder. Below we’ll discuss 8 things you can do to support your mental health this winter!
1. Get enough good quality sleep
Sleep is the number one priority for our general health, as it is essential for pretty much all of our physical and cognitive functions. Additionally, neuroscience studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.
If you’re aged between 18-64, you should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. For those who suffer with insomnia, this is easier said then done, and as the days become colder and shorter, your sleep and waking cycles may become disrupted. Your sleeping requirements do not change from season to season (unless you’re recovering from an illness), so the inclination to sleep longer in Winter should try to be avoided. Some general tips for a good nights sleep include:
- waking at the same time each day (and then promoting warmth with heaters, hot showers, warm clothing, hot drinks etc.)
- exposing yourself to sunlight or bright lights during the day
- regularly exercising (at least two hours before bedtime)
- avoiding long naps (no longer then 30 minutes – set an alarm!)
- limiting alcohol, coffee and nicotine during the day and especially after sunset
- adjusting all sources of light, including electronic devices, to red light (as opposed to blue light) after sunset
- establishing a relaxing routine before bed (such as having a bath, using essential oils, reading, listening to soothing music, practising breathing exercises etc.)
2. Eat enough nutritional food
What we eat is another factor affecting not only our physical health, but also our metal health and wellbeing. Making sure we try to avoid either skipping meals or mindless eating is very important, as both under eating and overeating can be symptoms and triggers of poor mental health. We can get the best nutrition from eating colourful, organic wholefoods. More specifically, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fermented foods and fatty fish are believed to have positive mental benefits, while excessive sugar, alcohol and saturated fats can be detrimental. You can still indulge in Winter comfort foods through the likes of stews and swapping out refined ingredients for wholefoods.
3. Exercise regularly
Moving your body produces serotonin and endorphins in your brain, which can improve your mood and decrease your levels of stress, depression and anxiety. It’s recommended that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, and work their major muscle groups at least twice per week (totalling around 1 hour). Taking a brisk walk is a completely free and expedient way to achieve your weekly aerobic recommendations, while regular weights training or yoga can effectively achieve your strength requirements. Exercise is also a great way to connect with others, which can in-turn increase our motivation to do so.
Sleep, food and exercise work together as a sort of holy trinity, in that they all encourage better results from one another. Thus, eating better can help you exercise more and exercising more will help you sleep better etc.
4. Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness is effective in improving conditions such as addiction, chronic pain, anxiety and depression, and can help with our ability to manage stress (even changing the structure of our brains). We have previously touched on how to start practising this skill, both here and here.
5. Commit to a routine
Having a routine can help us to juggle the fundamentals we’ve already discussed – sleep, eating and exercise. Generally having some predictability in our day can also be a huge source of wellbeing, in that we are creatures of habit, and it is even more helpful if this action centres on supporting our health. A simple morning routine could involve waking at 7 am, doing a 20 minute yoga routine, hoping in the shower and then having your regular breakfast, while a nighttime routine could involve preparing dinner with your partner, eating together at the table and making sure you do some reading before bed.
6. Establish and/or maintain a support system
Personal connections are incredibly important for us as social beings, though it is not uncommon to self isolate during difficult times or generally keep our true feelings and thoughts hidden. You may be surprised by the helpful and understanding responses you get when you reach out to people, organisations and information around you. It’s important to make an effort to be with others, even if its small.
For many of us, the people already part of our lives – our immediate family and close friends – will make up an important part of our support system. This may not be the case for others, who may have to form new relationships in order to find people that they genuinely like, trust, share common interests with, and will act in the interest of their health and wellbeing. This might happen through accessing the available resources around you, such as joining a community activity or special interest group, volunteering or taking a course. Maintaining your support system involves mutual support; giving back what is given to you by listening closely, communicating openly, keeping things confidential, not overburdening one person, and generally showing respect, acceptance, compassion and care.
It is also common to seek professional help, especially when experiencing signs and symptoms of a mood disorder. Healthcare providers such as general practitioners, psychologists and/or psychiatrists have a comprehensive range of knowledge and resources that can be hard to find elsewhere. You can learn more about this, as well as other non-for-profit organisations you can reach out to, here.
7. Calm yourself with some coping tools
Coping tools are anything that calms you and makes things seem more manageable. This could include keeping your living space clean and organised, drinking herbal tea or petting your neighbour’s cat. Creative output is a particularly great tool and can allow you to express yourself in many ways – and we can call write, draw or learn something crafty. Creative input, such as reading, listening to music, watching a movie or seeing a theatre show, is also great in helping you feel more connected to the world, others and yourself. Anything that is soothing – be it colouring-in, yoga, breathing exercises, massages, baths, candles – are all great tools that can help centre you in tough times.
8. Consider medication if you and your doctor/psychologist think it’ll help
Sometimes medication is the way to go if you’ve found a doctor or psychologist that you feel has truly gotten to know you and you both agree that this is the best option. Its important to track your progress and regularly check in with your doctor (especially during the initial transition phase or if the medication you are on has side effects) and factor it into your daily routine so you don’t miss a dose.
Don’t let winter get in the way of feeling comfortable, healthy and happy. If these tips aren’t helpful, consider booking a free wellbeing check-in with Cleo or a more comprehensive counselling session. Book your appointment today, online or by phoning us on (07) 3162 8448.