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How to keep well this winter

Managing mental health during winter

Winter is the time of the year when not only your physical health needs a lot of extra care and attention, but your mental health too.

The days get shorter and darker, and we tend to stay indoors more and spend less time with our friends or in nature. As a result, our outlook on life, understandably, can get darker too. We might have less energy and zest for life, become more irritable or anxious, and feel much less motivated to do things that normally make us feel lighter and happier.

mental health during winterThere is plenty of advice on what to do to keep your energy and mood up through these dark and cold months, and most of it is fairly straightforward. Make the best use of daylight hours, exercise regularly, eat healthy food, spend more time outdoors… The problem though is not that we don’t know what to do. The problem is that we don’t feel like doing it.

So, instead of telling you again what you ‘should be doing’ to keep your mood up, let me share with you three simple steps that will allow you to build a solid foundation for your mental wellbeing this winter.

If you can implement all three of them, your motivation to keep yourself well will stay with you even through the coldest and darkest months.

  1. Make your mental health a priority – it matters how you feel.

This is the first and most important thing. So often we have so many responsibilities, duties, and commitments that our own well-being lands last on our priority list. We take care of everything and everyone around and there is not enough time and energy left to take proper care of ourselves. This is especially true about our mental health during winter.

We would never say taht we do not have time to brush our teeth in the mornings, but most of us would easily claim there’s no way we can fit even a short meditation or relaxation practice into our morning routine.

But if you stop to think about it for a moment, you will realise that all the things you put on the top of your priority list are deeply impacted by your mood, energy, and motivation. How you feel matters. A lot. Your relationships, your career, your health – all these areas suffer if you don’t:

  • Take time to rest and unwind
  • Learn to say ‘no’ and set clear boundaries
  • Have a regular mental health practice that works for you (meditation, mindfulness, journaling, going for walks, or going to therapy, etc.)
  • Have the right kind of support around you

If you want to stay well through the winter months (and beyond!), make a commitment to your mental health, because how you feel matters. Give it your attention, plan for it, and find time and space to do whatever it takes to take good care of yourself first.

  1. Choose to love yourself. With kindness and healthy discipline. 

Self-love is an indispensable part of our wellbeing and yet there are so many misunderstandings when it comes to what it means to put it into practice.

True self-love is not so much about what we do. And it’s so much more than eating your veggies, doing your workouts, and enjoying things that bring you pleasure or satisfaction (although all this has its place, too).

True and authentic self-love is not so much about what you do, but rather how you do it, and why you do it.

mental health during winterIt is about the way you treat yourself, no matter what you are going through at the moment. The way you think about yourself, the way you talk to yourself, and the way you prioritise yourself when others come into play.

When we feel low, we have the tendency to think of ourselves in very critical terms. Negative thoughts, recurring unhealthy patterns, and old limiting beliefs get much stronger when we are not at our best.

At moments like these, kindness should be your default position when relating to yourself. Learning how to practice self-compassion and being on your side through difficult moments instead of bringing yourself down is an invaluable skill that makes the difficult times less difficult to deal with and process.

At the same time, self-love does not mean making excuses or self-indulging. You also need a healthy dose of self-discipline in order to take good care of yourself.

To achieve this balance, try acting like a good, loving parent to yourself. Supportive and encouraging. Understanding and flexible, but also having clear and consistent boundaries in place.

Loving yourself also means being aware of what truly matters to you. It means living in deep connection with your values, passions, and dreams. This connection, especially when life gets tough, will allow you to stay full of hope and find motivation to find the best solutions to move forward.

  1. Understand what works for you and what doesn’t.

This is a very important step that comes as a natural consequence of the two previous ones. The biggest killer of our motivation to keep well and look after ourselces is our tendency to follow some general advice, even if it is not well suited to our needs.

Mental health has become a very popular topic recently, and thus you can find plenty of information on what you ‘should be doing’ to stay well. There are different articles, courses, tools, methods, and therapies to help you with this. And it’s brilliant that there is so much more awareness nowadays of the importance of mental health, that there is less and less stigma attached to it, and that all kinds of supports are more accessible than ever before.

But, at the same time, our access to a wide range of information and advice, not always reliable and often contradictory, brings its own challenges that we need to be aware of.

Sometimes, we may get overwhelmed and confused with all the options available and give up before even trying to implement anything. Quite often we fall victim to ‘shiny object syndrome’ and try one thing after another, never fully committing to anything.

Or we choose a solution just because it seems to be working well for other people, and push ourselves to get the same results, even though we do not resonate with it at all.

All the above can leave us feeling disheartened and unmotivated. And this is why understanding what does and doesn’t work for you is so important.

Remember, there are no one-fit-all solutions in the area of our mental health.

What works great for your best friend, might do nothing for you.

That is why the two previous steps are so important. Once you make your mental health a priority, choose to treat yourself with kindness and compassion, and really start listening to your own needs and preferences, you will be much more able to choose the tools and solutions that are right for you with intention and clarity.

Each practice that allows you to relax, unwind, and get beyond the chatter of your thoughts is a great practice, whether it is a vipassana meditation, breathing exercise, knitting a scarf, or going for a brisk walk in the park. There is no need to put a lot of pressure, try too hard, or force yourself to do things that are not your cup of tea.

Always follow your likes, your passions, and your values. Think about what worked for you in the past, what you find helpful right now, and try new things, of course, but those that appeal to you.

Create your own wellness map

Creating your wellness map that is tailored to your own needs and preferences is a great method to put in place this winter. Think go this as your own mental health toolbox that contains proven and tested activities and practices that you know work well for you, and which you simply enjoy doing.

mental health during winter

Having this in place will help you navigate your way not only through the winter months, but also through any other challenging moments, situations, or relationships that may arise in the future.

When you choose to follow the three steps outlined above, you will build a strong, reliable foundation for your mental health during winter. A foundation that will allow you to cope not only with winter blues, but also with any other life challenges that might come your way.

Do not be deceived however by how simple and obvious these steps sound when you read about them in a blog post. Implementing them into your life will require commitment, practice, and dedication.

So, there is one more thing that is necessary to mention here.

Always remember to reach out for support.

You do not need to figure it all out on your own. Maybe you need a trusted friend, or maybe a professional counsellor. Because the truth is, walking in the winter wonderland is much easier with the right kind of companion at your side.

If you are struggling with your mental health this winter and are considering starting therapy, don’t hesitate to reach out and find out more about our counselling services. You can contact us on 01 611 1719, or by emailing [email protected]

Written by: Kasia Przybylowicz, MIACP

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