Managing winter blues
A question I have asked each of my clients this week is, "What is your energy like week three of 2023?", and their answers, unsurprisingly, have been varied. Hopeful, motivated, stressed, inspired, engaged, lagging, overwhelmed, positive, confused, exhausted, to share just a few of the responses.
Why do I bring this up you might be wondering? Because it shows the individuality, the uniqueness, and the complexity of being human. Because depression, anxiety, stress, and other challenging emotions don't just appear at certain prescribed times throughout the year. It can impact anyone, anytime, anyplace.
Having spent a large portion of my early twenties struggling with depression, I know that it isn't just something that comes one particular time of the year and then goes. Depression is seemingly random, a cruel master that for days, even weeks, can sit quietly in the background, watching, waiting, and then, without knocking, barge its way in assuming all power, all control.
Having said that, I know for many people, that January and the upcoming winter months, regardless of whether or not they struggle with their mental health, can be a difficult time of the year.
The days are shorter, and the weather is colder. There's financial pressure post the Christmas splurge, plus the cost of bills in winter is typically higher resulting in added stress. There's less going on as people tend to hibernate, or lay low which can cause increased loneliness. Relationships that were already strained often come to an end in January with the mindset of reflecting on what you really want. There's no doubt that January can be a tough month.
So my invitation for you today, however you may be feeling, is to take this an opportunity for you to check in with yourself and spark the conversation of mental health with family, friends, and colleagues. The more engaged we are with this topic, the more we talk about it, the more familiar we can become with the uniqueness of our emotional responses and the strategies we can put in place to manage our mental health.
So regardless of the date, here are some tools and techniques to support you whatever day of the year it is.
Focus on what you do have
It’s not only easy, but part of our nature, to focus on the negatives, the things that we perceive to be missing or lacking in our lives. But science shows that an attitude of gratitude can help to rewire the brain to think in a more positive, open-hearted way.
At the end of your day reflect on three to five things that have been good, that you feel appreciative for. Even if you’ve had a truly awful day, can you connect to the breath, or the way the sky looks at sunset, or how the worst-case scenario didn’t happen, or some silver lining?
Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Exercise keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy, and is also a significant benefit towards improving your mental health.
Eat the rainbow. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.
It’s mid-January, and that can only mean one thing - you probably haven’t seen the sun in a while. But a lack of natural sunlight can not only affect your mood, but also limit the amount of vitamin D your body produces. This means getting outside as much as possible is vital to boost your endorphin levels and increase alertness.
Take a break
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.
Consider your sleep routine. Give yourself seven to eight hours sleep and minimise the use of blue light emitting devices (phones, tablets, laptops, TV’s) at least 90 minutes before bed. Rest is a fundamental pillar for wellness, alongside diet and exercise.
Pay if forward
Sometimes, the best way to cheer yourself up is by cheering somebody else up. Whether you give up your seat on the train, pay for someone’s coffee, or even just compliment a colleague, these little random acts of kindness won’t just brighten someone else’s day, they’ll also improve your own positivity.
There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face-to-face, but that’s not always possible. You can also give them a call, drop them a note, or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open - it’s good for you!
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, comparison is the thief of all joy. It’s easy to get swept into the compare and despair mentality whilst doom-scrolling on social media. So if you know that this can trigger you, limit your time, and focus on what you are doing well - because trust me, there are a million things that you’re succeeding at each day.
Make a list of activities
Schedule activities that excite you, that you’re looking forward to during your week/weekends. Perhaps you’re going to GO APE with the kids, or see a friend you haven't seen in a while, maybe you’ve booked into a new class at the gym or you’re going to bake something you’ve seen on Instagram.
Learn something new
Set aside 15 minutes in your day to learn a new skill that can help boost confidence, overall knowledge, and improve mental health. Instead of scrolling on Instagram for 25 minutes, imagine learning a new language or how to sew!
We grow up believing that treating ourselves is indulgent when in reality it’s a necessary practice of self-care. Whether it’s treating yourself to your favourite coffee, a longer dog walk, reading a book, phoning a friend, taking a bath, daydreaming out the window, these regular habits will have a positive effect on your self-esteem - because yes… you’re worth it.
Use positive affirmations
Set the intention to start every day with a positive thought, saying, memory, or quote that sets you up for the best possible start. Don’t forget to keep reminding yourself of it throughout the day too. Watch my short guided meditation for feeling safe, grounded, and calm.
It speaks for itself really, but managing to maintain a clear head free of confusion and negativity will inevitably lead to a more enjoyable day, whether this is meditation, knitting, colouring - they all have an incredibly positive impact on supporting good mental health, reducing tendencies to worry or over think, fostering self-compassion.
I’m not saying you should turn into The Joker, but studies have found that laughter can help relieve depression, stress, and anxiety. A simple laugh or smile, at ourselves or other people, can instantly lift our spirits. Try holding a pencil lengthways in your mouth and feel the twitch of a smile forming. It won’t take long until the chemicals released convince you that you’re actually feeling a bit better. Listen to my smile meditation.
Talk about your feelings
Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled. Mention how you’re feeling to your boss or co-workers, and you’ll find that a burden shared is a burden halved. You’ll feel supported and have someone in your corner as a cheerleader to get you moving forwards again.
Remember, if you are struggling, you are not alone, nor do you have to struggle alone. Book in for your discovery call to see how I can support you through the darkness and back to your vibrant, loving self.