As daylight saving’s time draws to an end (or comes to a screeching halt, depending on how you look at it), and the air turns crisp and chilly (if not downright arctic) while the days become shorter and darker, we need to tune in to our minds and bodies to brace for winter. Not in like, an ominous Game of Thrones kind of way, but in a ‘we’re adapting our mental health routine for the new season’ kind of way. There’s a difference, which is why we’re breaking down six tips for amping up your self-care routine to help support mental health during colder weather.
The good news is that there are several ways to practice more finely tuned, seasonally-specific self-care as we head into colder weather and (literally) darker times so that we can counter the effects of less daylight (and less vitamin D) from the sun.
And, coupled with the pandemic this year, this winter may be a bit different than most. This isn’t just a case of winter blues or the time to say “just buck up” — this season calls for an added dose of self-care.
Here’s How to Amp Up Your Self-Care & Support Mental Health During Colder Weather
First, it’s important to note that if you are dealing with SAD, seasonal affective disorder, this is a real mental health condition that deserves attention and treatment from your doctor. If you’re feeling more down than usual this winter, reach out to your primary care provider.
With that said, with colder days and with less daylight, there are some steps we can all take to help stay on top of our health habits every day, too!
Yes, we can both get ahead of the game and find some self-care hacks that’ll help make this season a little happier (or merrier and brighter, if that’s your jam).
Ahead, some free, simple, accessible self-care hacks to help support mental health during colder weather, and really any other time of the year.
#1 Create a Fall/Winter Exercise Routine
Staying active throughout this season is a must. If you were walking all over town in the summertime, it might feel tough to be cooped up at home, but you can still find ways to move that’ll boost your mood and keep your body feeling strong and healthy.
Try something new this season and feel out what fits for you. Maybe it’s mood-boosting yoga or super sweaty kickboxing class. Dance is a proven way to increase your feel-good brain chemicals (what’s up, serotonin), which can take a hit in the winter months.
#2 Start Your Meditation Practice
Were you dealing with too many distractions in the middle part of the year, so you couldn’t get on top of your New Year’s Resolution of meditating daily?
There’s still time! Meditation is yet another proven way to improve mood and help us better manage stress. The best part is that this tactic is free and takes as little as five minutes to get started.
#3 Become a Sleep Pro
Sleep has become a challenge for so many people this year, and we weren’t doing so great, to begin with. BUT, now’s the time to become a total pro at all things sleep — you’re going to sleep like a champion — the Olympic gold medalist of sleeping.
Because our circadian rhythms get thrown for a loop with the darkening of days and shift away from DST, it’s time to support great sleep habits, like the following:
- Setting a bedtime, and sticking to it
- Waking up at the same time each day
- Unplugging for at least an hour before bedtime
- Having a bedtime routine, including a warm shower (it signals to your brain that it’s time to count some sheep), or sipping some tea, or journaling… you get the picture
- Getting some light exposure within an hour of waking, if you can
Be vigorous about getting enough sleep and getting good quality sleep. Make this your number one priority, and you may see an improvement in your mood and your ability to do everything else on this list.
#4 Enjoy “Mood Food”
We all could use a mood boost this time of year, and there are methods to the madness when it comes to eating well and supporting your mental health during the winter months. Many dietitians recommend eating seasonally to capitalize on the most nutrient-dense produce possible. Think: brussels sprouts, leeks, sweet potatoes and yams, winter squash, grapefruit, kale, apples, pears, parsnips, fennel, beets, and pomegranate.
You can also try warming foods (a tactic used in Traditional Chinese Medicine) — both warm in temperature and warm in effect! Spices like cayenne and cinnamon can actually raise your body’s temperature, even if they’re not consumed in a warm food. And of course, a hot bowl of soup is always comforting on a chilly winter day.
#5 Establish a Social Hygiene Routine
Part of your mental health hygiene includes your social life and staying connected to loved ones. This might be harder in the winter, especially this year, so prioritize virtually visiting with loved ones, and if you find it safe, make sure you get to spend some in-person time, too (even if it’s from six feet away). Our relationships have such a significant impact on our health, and winter can leave us feeling particularly lonely. So get ahead of the game, and try to pack your calendar with some good social engagements that feel spiritually and emotionally nourishing.
#6 Try Setting Micro Habits
To get started with your journey to actively tackle the stressors and challenges life throws at you this winter, begin establishing ‘micro habits’ to include in your morning or evening routine. Something as simple as journaling for three to five minutes in the morning, reflecting on your feelings (the good and the bad), and repeating it at the end of the day.
Find what works for you with the tactics you choose — the trick here is to be active and consistent. Life’s challenges never stop, so our management strategies shouldn’t, either.
There Are Lots of Ways to Bust Through That Winter Funk
Self-care is always important, but this year more than ever, we all could use an added dose. Consider a blend of all of the above tips to add to your daily routine, and as we always say, find what works for you! Everyone is going to click with something a little different, so make sure to dabble a bit with each of these.
And as Ben Franklin put it — “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Get ahead of the game now, and set yourself up for your best winter yet.