Maintaining Mental Health In Winter

Seasonal changes can affect mood, outlook and motivation. That's why keeping up with your mental health routines during colder months is vital.

words mental health spelt out on wooden scrabble blocks

According to SADAG, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect half a million people every winter. The symptoms include depression, anxiety, lethargy, social withdrawal, overeating, oversleeping, weight gain and difficulty concentrating, among others. Although this disorder is only diagnosed in 2 – 3% of the population, many of us experience one or more of its symptoms during the winter season.

Of course, it is important to practice self-care and mental health awareness all year round. But, keeping track of your moods and behaviour in winter can help combat symptoms of SAD and other mental health illnesses. After nearly two months in lockdown, your mental health may be taking a toll. As we enter a new and unpredictable phase of lockdown, you may face increased anxiety. We are constantly having to adapt to the world around us in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is not always easy.

Upping your self-care in lockdown can not only help prepare you to enter the real world again, but it’s a good time to make caring for yourself a regular habit. Here are a few self-care routines to try out this winter whether you are in lockdown or taking on the world, hand sanitiser at the ready:

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Mind & Soul

Journaling

Writing in your journal need not always be feelings orientated. If your personality type is logic centred, consider making to-do lists or setting goals for yourself in your journal. Laying out your responsibilities in a practical way to curb anxiety, as your mind is able to process the information in a more logical way. Set realistic goals for yourself – you should know your limits and capabilities better than anyone else. Remember to keep focused on your progress rather than the grand outcome of your goals – taking it one day at a time is far more productive than trying to conquer it all at once.

Bullet journals are a great tool for keeping track of your eating habits, moods and to-do lists. Draw up your own mood tracker to find out what may be triggering your negative thought patterns or self-destructive behaviours. Becoming more self-aware allows you to feel in control of your emotions, boosting your confidence and helping you tackle your anxieties. You can find bullet journals at almost any stationery store these days. We found ours online at loot.co.za.

Get Creative

How often do you find yourself wishing you had more time to do the things you love? Now you have the perfect opportunity to get started! So many of us prioritise work or family commitments over ourselves and our well-being, even in lockdown. Make time to do something creative just for yourself. It could be anything, from cooking your favourite meal, to attending an online art class or knitting yourself a colourful winter scarf. If you are more handy than artsy, start a new DIY project. But, be sure to follow through with it – there is nothing more demoralising to the spirit than an unfinished project.

Find A Greater Purpose

Connecting yourself with a higher power, whatever that may mean to you, is a good way to gain perspective and empathy for others. Even if you aren’t spiritually inclined, practicing a few minutes of meditation and mindful thinking a day can do wonders for your mental health. Become present in the moment and rather than focusing solely on yourself, look outwards to find how you can help those in need during lockdown. If you are fit and healthy, consider volunteering to bring food parcels and medication to the needy. There are lots of community drives and initiatives you can join to help make that small difference.

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Body

Get Moving & Spend Time Outdoors

A good dose of sunshine is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to alleviate symptoms of SAD! Get yourself outside this winter, whether it’s for an early morning run around the block or an at-home yoga session in the garden. While you may have to face the morning chill, the fresh air and boost of natural endorphins released while exercising makes it all worth it. If you are working from home, make sure to schedule in time for outdoor activities. Run around with your dog, lay out in the sun or get busy gardening. It’s about taking a break from the confines of your home (and your mind) and engaging your body instead.

Eat Something Delicious

One of the symptoms of SAD is an increased appetite for starchy foods and sugar. Studies show that these food groups may increase allergy sensitivity, inflammation and even anxiety. Curb your cravings by enjoying more legumes and pulses, slow releasing proteins and vegetables in winter. A great way to pack in the nutrients is by conjuring up a hearty pot of soup. But, steer clear of soups laden with cream. Rather use grated carrot or tomato puree to thicken up your brew. Adding natural anti-inflammatory ingredients such as ginger or turmeric may also aid the fight against seasonal depression.

Naturally, the perfect accompaniment to any soup is bread. Don’t reach for the ciabatta or french loaf – sourdough and rye bread are healthier alternatives, as they are slow releasing and have a high glycemic index. However, we know that baking your own sourdough loaf can be tedious and confusing. Woolworths stocks 100% rye bread which is also wheat free.

Get More Zs

Lastly, but definitely not least on the list of mental self-care tips is sleep. We all know how important it is to get seven to nine hours sleep a night. But, how many of us actually achieve this? Make your bedroom a paradise by ensuring there is enough ventilation in the room. Also try to eliminate any bright light nearby. If you struggle with seasonal allergies, your breathing may be affected during sleep, causing you to be restless. Get yourself a humidifier or air purifier. Dis-Chem has a great range of inexpensive Elektra water steam humidifiers available for delivery.

Also, check out @home’s winter sleep sanctuary guide. The guide includes tips on picking your perfect bed linen, mattress and pillow for the ultimate good rest. @home is open for online shopping and deliveries on all winter essentials during lockdown.

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Stay safe and keep well!