Looking after your mental health this winter

In a post-pandemic world where the cost-of-living crisis is beginning to hit home for many of us, prioritising our mental health and wellbeing is necessary.

hy is looking after your mental health important?

We know how to care for our physical health and what to do when we're unwell or injured. So, we should take the same approach to mental health when we're not feeling quite ourselves.

We can do a lot for our mental health and overall wellbeing. Knowing some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety is half the battle, and identifying them can help determine our next steps in deciding what care and support we need. It’s important that we should seek professional support where and when self-care hasn't been effective.

What signs should we look out for?

Depression and anxiety can present physically and psychologically. While mental health conditions are more common than you may think, not everyone will suffer the same symptoms or experience mental health issues in the same way.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Persistent low mood.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Significant weight gain or loss.
  • Increased or decreased appetite with loss of interest in food.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, fatigue or low energy levels.
  • Extreme feelings of worthlessness, guilt or worry.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  • Loss of interest in personal care, hygiene and general wellbeing.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

How to care for your mental health this winter?

Looking after our mental health during the colder, darker months is vital, as winter weather can cause many of us to feel gloomy. Here are some ways you can lift your spirits:

  • Breathe. Experiencing periods of depression and heightened anxiety often leaves us on edge and tense. We should pause and take several slow, deep breaths, allowing ourselves a moment of calm and a chance to reset. 
  • Find time for yourself. Depression and anxiety can be isolating, so spending time alone can be the last thing we want to do. But it’s important that we try to do things that have made us happy before. Whether you take time to get back into a hobby that has fallen by the wayside or indulge in some self-care, take time for yourself. 
  • Keep active. Low moods and energy levels leave us wanting to stay in bed or curl up on a sofa, but exercise releases endorphins. You do not need to overexert yourself or spend hours exercising. If you can, something as simple as a short walk is all you need to kick-start your recovery. 
  • Get outdoors. While the winter weather does not motivate us to go outside, connecting with nature has been proven to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. The Mental Health Foundation found that spending time in nature can bring consolation in times of stress, reduce feelings of social isolation and effectively protect our mental health. 
  • Sleep well. It can be hard to switch off when we're anxious or depressed, but sleep is the body's way of healing and recovering. Rest supports our mental and physical wellbeing. Consider creating a bedtime routine for yourself to encourage a good night's sleep, avoiding caffeine after three o'clock and screens up to an hour before bed. 
  • Eat well. When we experience periods of depression and anxiety, we should avoid recreational drugs and alcohol and cut back on ''unhealthy'' foods, swapping them instead for healthier, nutrient-dense foods that will provide the nutrients and vitamins our bodies need for healing and energy.
  • Stay connected. Make sure you keep in contact with friends and loved ones – even if this is via text or phone.

Reaching out for extra support.

For some, self-care is an effective way of managing their mental health and overall wellbeing, but sometimes, we need extra support. There is no shame in asking for help. Should you need additional support to look after your mental health and wellbeing this winter, why not consider the following:

  • Friends and family. If you’re not sure where to begin, reaching out to friends and family is a great place to start. A problem shared is a problem halved.
  • Workplace support. Mental wellbeing in the workplace has become more of a priority, with many organisations offering mental health support services to their staff. If you don’t want to confide in a loved one because you feel guilty or embarrassed, using a workplace mental health support scheme could be the right first step.
  • Your GP. They may be able to offer you support and treatment. They can also refer you if appropriate or recommend local options.
  • Mental health professionals. You may be able to self-refer to the NHS in some areas. This means you don’t need to see your GP first. You can also access therapists through certain charities or privately.
  • Charity helplines and support groups. See the websites listed below for some examples.

While mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can leave us feeling estranged and isolated from friends and family, the reality is that our friends and family are a support network we can reach out to for help when we're not quite ourselves. Remember it's ok not to be ok and that you're not alone.