The air is crisp and cool, leaves are falling, and days are becoming shorter and darker. Whether we load up on immune-supporting foods or break out the winter wardrobe, we often use these external seasonal cues as a reminder to prep our body for the cold months ahead. But our physical health is only one piece of the puzzle — we can’t forget about our mental health during colder weather!
There are several ways to practice more finely tuned, seasonally-specific self-care as we head into colder weather and darker days so that we can counter the effects of less daylight (and less vitamin D) from the sun.
Here’s How to 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. But we get it, when it’s cold and dark outside, sometimes skipping your workout for an extra hour of sleep or a cozy movie night sounds like a much better option. When motivation is lacking, try to remember the much-needed mood boost (and strong and healthy body) that accompanies a good sweat.
If you’re feeling uninspired, try something new this season! 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
Why wait until the New Year to get started with your meditation practice? Get started now and preemptively support your mental health during colder weather.
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.
Another incredible part of this mindfulness practice? It can help support any emotion that’s coming to the surface. Maybe the winter months have you feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. Here’s a meditation for whatever you’re feeling.
#3 Become a Sleep Pro
Sleep has become a challenge for so many people. In fact, more than 1 in 3 Americans are sleep-deprived! BUT, it’s time to change that. 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:
- Set a bedtime, and stick to it
- Wake up at the same time each day
- Unplug for at least an hour before bedtime
- Have 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
- Get 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.
Certain nutrients are known to have mood-boosting effects, too. Consider adding omega-3 rich foods like salmon, flax, and chia to your diet, zinc-rich foods like pumpkin seeds, oysters, and unsweetened dark chocolate, and antioxidant-rich foods like berries and dark leafy greens this winter.
#5 Establish a Social Hygiene Routine
Part of your mental health hygiene includes your social life and staying connected to loved ones. 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.
Some other ideas:
- Challenge yourself to do a five-minute meditation in the AM and 15 minutes before bed.
- Make one small healthy swap in your diet.
- Go to bed a half-hour earlier (an hour earlier if possible!)
- Add in an extra 5-10 minute FitOn burner to your workout schedule.
Start small with your micro habits and work your way up! 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
While self-care is important year-round, we all could use an added dose during the cool winter months. 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.