The winter months are drawing in and with this comes the cold, dark, and rainy English days!
As if that weren’t enough to contend with, we are also all having to grapple with the pressures of a global pandemic, social distancing, and another nationwide lockdown stopping us from doing all the things that make this time of year more bearable.
Now more than ever it is important that we look after our mental health. I sat down and spoke with one of my good friends and clinical psychologist, Dr Freya Rumball, to talk about what we can all do to support our mental health this winter.
Tip #1: Book things in to look forward to
Whilst the list of normal things we would normally do to cheer us up during the winter aren’t available to us, it is important to have a mix of things that give us a sense of achievement, enjoyment, and closeness to others. This could be as simple as doing a crossword or sudoku, watching your favourite film, writing letters to people that you are thinking of, or a virtual catch-up! You might want to try an activity tracking app such as Daylio where you can make weekly goals, set reminders, and track your mood and progress.
Tip #2: Mindfulness
Engaging in activities that ground us in the moment, in the here and now, can help to calm our minds. Mindfulness is about slowing down and focusing on the now, rather than being stuck in our heads with thoughts about the past (that we can’t change!) or worries about the future (that we so often can’t control, especially at the moment!).
Many of us began going on walks more in the height of lockdown – next time you go out for a walk try taking a deep breath, focusing on all the small details around you, and engaging your senses. Try noticing the different colours, shapes, textures, smells, and sounds around you in nature. Or you might want to try a free guided mindfulness app such as Smiling Mind. Just 10-30 minutes a day can make all the difference.
Tip #3: Writing down your worries
If 2020 gave us anything, it is time to think, and whilst that has been great in some ways, it can also be hard to switch off and relax. By writing down your worries and concerns and setting aside a 15-30 minute period in the day to think about these – in that period you can work through the list to decide which issues can be problem solved and which one may need to be accepted as being out of your control. Leaving the rest of your day for you to spend as you please!
Tip #4: Get Creative
Whilst you might be sick of Instagram pictures of sourdough, getting creative has been shown to not only help boost confidence but also help to reduce stress and anxiety. Put on your creative hat and see what you can come up with! Bake some cookies or a cake? Remember that really cool crafts project you saw on Pinterest? Crack out that dusty sketchpad? Or maybe do an early spring clean? What about redecorating your space? No matter what activity you might pick, the important thing you need to remember is to stay active and occupy your mind with productive activities.
Tip #5: Balanced diet
Try adding some immune-boosting fruits and vegetables to your diet (we could all probably do with some natural immune system boosting right now!). Keep hydrated and keep eating the foods that make you, but also your body feel good. The temptation to eat and drink what we want whilst in lockdown, especially in Winter is rife and whilst in moderation, these can be a nice treat try to limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol particularly if you are prone to anxiety, low mood, or difficulties sleeping.
Whilst the pandemic has focused attention on staying physically well (and for some even physically fit with the help of Joe Wicks in our living rooms!), mental health has not been such a focus. Now more than ever it is also important that we look after our mental health by being compassionate to ourselves and others in these difficult and uncertain times!