Although there’s still a long way to go before we achieve a level we’d all be satisfied with, there’s no doubt we’ve made tremendous advances in recent years (and decades) in terms of how many of us understand what we need to do to stay physically healthy. Public education on topics such as exercise and nutrition has been extensive; and although many of us still don’t do as well as we’d like to do, at least we know what we “should” do.
When it comes to “mental health”, there’s also been many words written; yet many people still feel uncertain and repetition is never a bad thing for such an important topic.
In particular, there are certain times and situations where and when our mental health can be challenged; and as a result, we could do with some simple, practical advice that specifically provides us with the ways and means to combat the risks and challenges that can draw us in to the dark.
And one of those situations is winter – how do we stay mentally healthy during the colder, darker months?
So today I’m pleased to offer the following proven, but potentially powerful tips to avoid the “Winter Blues” and enjoy more happiness throughout this time of the year:
- One of the simplest but most effective ways to combat depression and to boost our mental health and wellbeing is exercise. Physical activity is often noted for its physical benefits; but it’s also one of the most potent stress-busters and mental health boosters. Exercising and keeping active are useful all year round; but during the colder months we’re more likely to skip the gym or stay inside more. Being aware of this is the first step; planning an effective way to stay active when it’s cold is something we can all start to do NOW and something we all need to do if we’re to stay mentally healthy
- Along the same lines as the previous point, staying active shouldn't just be about exercise. We also need to ensure we stay socially active. A tendency to hibernate is natural for many of us once it starts to get cold; but if we isolate ourselves from friends and pleasurable social activities, then we’re also denying ourselves a significant source of happiness. Worse, feeling alone can cause depression in those who’re susceptible. So, start thinking about how you can keep in touch with family and friends, and start making some winter social plans
- Here in Australia, where our winters aren’t really that extreme, it’s unlikely for someone to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But that being said, SAD is a very real mental health disorder and those who do suffer low moods may well be likely to experience mild to moderate versions of this specific type of depression. If this is you, then start making plans BEFORE winter hits. Compared to some other stressors or triggers that can contribute to depression, one of the “good” things about the colder months is that they are, for the most part, predictable! As such, if we know we’re going to be at greater risk of slipping into a state of mental ill-health then work out what you can do to manage this in advance. Forewarned is forearmed. If necessary or appropriate, set up a time with your psychologist or a friend or supporter, and work out what you need to do (and not do) to stay mentally healthy during this time of the year
Finally, if you’re reading this and feeling anxious or unsure about how to cope, then remember you’re not alone. Reach out and ask for help; there are always friends and/or professionals who’re willing and able to support you so please take advantage of them.