Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy During Winter
Updated: Jan 29
Everyone knows that health becomes harder to maintain in the winter. Hazardous conditions, illnesses, colder temperatures, and, this year, a pandemic, make winter a difficult time to stay healthy. But it’s not only your physical health that can suffer.
All of these factors, plus others like the holidays and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can make wintertime especially hard on mental health. So it’s important to recognize these challenges, and to find ways to keep yourself mentally healthy throughout the colder months. Today, let’s talk a little bit about that.
While there are many things that challenge our mental health year-round, winter has a few extra factors that can make it especially difficult. The days are shorter, meaning that we get less sunlight— which is a vital part of maintaining good energy levels and alleviating symptoms of depression.
Colder temperatures also make it challenging for people to get out and exercise, so many people may stop doing that, which can have detrimental effects on mental health. This lack of outdoor time also contributes to the more isolated lifestyle that people will naturally take up in the colder months.
Of course, this year, isolation has been taken to a whole new level. Having to isolate from others due to Covid-19 is important, but we have to acknowledge that it can harm our mental health. Not seeing other people makes it easier for us to forget how connected we are to the world, and fall further into negative symptoms.
And, of course, there is illness. Getting sick isn’t good for you, physically or mentally. It can wreak havoc on your body and your mind. Illness can also carry with it a fear of serious outcomes, especially if you get sick with Covid-19. And there’s always seasonal depression, or SAD, which affects many people this time of year. So what can you do about it?
Even if you’re not exercising, getting outside is an essential part of staying mentally healthy in the winter. Sunlight legitimately helps ease symptoms of depression and lighten your mood, among a myriad of other benefits.
If your life won’t allow you to get outside often, or (like me) you’re constrained by a walking boot or other health issue, still make sure you get sunlight. Sit in front of open windows that get plenty of sun, or just spend some time on your back porch. However you do it, getting your daily dose of sunshine is important.
Exercise isn’t for everybody, I know. But for those who do enjoy it or who are willing to try it out, it can really help your mental health.
In short, exercise releases chemicals that boost your mood and help lower stress levels, among other things. In the cold months, people tend to exercise less, but it’s important to not drop that habit. Figure out ways to modify your exercise habits to still work with you. You can:
Get a treadmill so you don’t have to run in the cold
Find workouts you can do indoors
Take up dancing
Make plans to be accountable with other people
Hydrate or die-drate
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Hydration is key to maintaining good physical and mental health, but many people tend to not think about it. In fact, somewhere around 80% of Americans don’t drink enough water daily, even if they think they do.
Dehydration, or even underhydration, can cause physical issues such as headaches or nausea, worsen mood, and cause other problems. So staying hydrated will help prevent all of that.
In general, a good rule of thumb is this: drink half of your body weight in ounces daily. So if you weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water a day. Of course, this is just a baseline. You can adjust as necessary, especially if you are on medications that dehydrate you, as many antidepressants do.
And if you need a good way to remember to drink water, drill this phrase into your brain: hydrate or die-drate.
Stay physically healthy
Among exercise and hydration, keeping yourself free from illness as much as possible will help you stay mentally healthy. Getting sick weakens your body and can worsen your mental state, which is never good.
This means taking all the precautions you can to avoid illness. Wash your hands, stay hydrated (it affects your immune system too!), wear a mask if you go out, and take care of yourself if you do start to notice signs of illness.
Although it’s hard to do, minimizing stress levels also helps your physical health, as stress can weaken your immune system. And, if you notice any signs of illness and are able to do so, head to the doctor right away. Some illnesses, most commonly the flu, can only be treated well if treatment is started in the first couple of days— and trust me, getting that treatment is a lot better than just riding it out.
Don’t stay isolated
I know, that’s a contrary message to what the officials are saying. And I am not advising you to go out and do unsafe activities with others. By all means, isolate as much as necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
But even if you isolate physically, you don’t have to isolate socially. Staying connected to other people can help mental health in all sorts of ways, and there are ways you can do it safely. Set up virtual events with your friends, or maybe sign up for an online class in something you’ve always wanted to try, like yoga or cooking.
And if you know it is safe to do so, you can also see others in person. Having a couple friends, who take the necessary precautions and are healthy, probably won’t increase the risk of transmission if you see them, and it will help you get through this difficult period. So even if you are more isolated physically, make sure that you have at least some type of social activity going on.
Talk to a professional
Whether you live with mental illness, have mental health problems, or simply need someone to talk to, a therapist or psychiatrist is always a good way to go. Mental health professionals exist to help you, and there’s nothing wrong with making use of that service.
If you can afford it, I guarantee you that therapy could have some kind of benefit to you.
And if you aren’t sure about it, think about it like this: if you had cancer, would you deny treatment just because it’s “only in your lungs”? No, of course not. So even though mental health may be “only in your mind”, your brain is an organ, and it sometimes needs treatment just like the rest of your body.
Continue coping mechanisms
If you have developed coping mechanisms, either with yourself or the help of others, continue to use them now. And if you don’t have any, it’s never a bad time to come up with some, or change them around for the winter season.
This can be anything that helps you get through the day and stay mentally healthy. Journaling, coloring, going for walks, playing video games, gardening, cooking, yoga, meditation, candles, pets, anything that helps you out. Take some time to take care of yourself, and you will be more ready to face the rest of the world.
Keeping mentally fit
There are a lot of challenges to staying mentally healthy in the winter. But your mental health is important, and taking care of yourself even more so. So this winter, amidst all of the craziness, take a little bit of time to focus on yourself, and set plans in place to help keep your mind just as healthy as your body.
Do you have other challenges that winter brings, or other ways you like to stay healthy in the winter? I’d love to know! You can leave a comment or share on social media and tag us (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram) to let me know!