The weather may have taken a bit of a turn but believe it or not, we are in the middle of summer! Good ole British weather! Despite the occasional absence of sunshine, summer still feels very different to the rest of the year. The positive energy that comes with the summer is palpable. You can see it in people - in their mood, their mind-set, and their outlook on life. However, I got to thinking - why doesn’t this feeling carry into winter?
Of course, seasonal affective disorder is a very real thing and the good weather doesn’t magically fix all our problems, but a day full of glorious sunshine has a big impact on our mood and mind-set, which has a huge knock-on effect for our mental health. So when October comes around, the clocks go back and it gets cold, windy and pours with rain for weeks on end, you can feel the mood of everybody around you plummet.But there’s one aspect which I think a lot of people, myself included, take for granted – winter may be miserable, but it’s predictable. And if we can predict it, we can take steps to make it more bearable.
I've put together a list of nine suggestions of things you can implement right now in order to prepare yourself for the dreary winter period.
Make plans to look forward to
If you’re anything like me, once the summer holidays are done, life just feels like a downhill slope towards Christmas. There’ll be the festivities for a few weeks around the big day itself, but then it all goes dead until March and Spring makes a comeback. That’s a huge whack of time that we could be making more of! Make some plans that’ll put you in a good mood and get you excited.
Plan a get together with friends, book a cheap weekend break in the off-season, go see a concert, or a comedy night. Anything! It doesn’t have to be much, one thing every month or six weeks will probably perk you up nicely! Even if it’s something small like a new film, book or TV show is coming out, pop it in your calendar, so whenever you look at what’s coming up, you’ll get that little pang of excitement to give you a boost.
Start a new hobby
I think it’s easy to underestimate the power and benefit of having a hobby. The word ‘hobby’ comes with conations of doing something superfluous or fluffy – an added bonus. But that is far from the truth! Having a hobby gives your free time some purpose and structure. Maybe you’re one of those people who is always onto the next thing but if you’re like me, I often struggle with ideas for my free time. That’s why developing a hobby is so good for your mental health.
Having a purpose gives you something to aim for and a goal to work towards, and once you reach that goal you get a huge sense of accomplishment. Knowing you’ve got something exciting to come home to after a boring day stuck in the office makes long wintery days a lot more bearable.Not only that, a creative hobby is an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and express yourself, which again, is of huge benefit to your mental wellbeing. Model aeroplanes, knitting, mindful colouring, cross stitch, collecting stamps – whatever floats your boat! Try out a few new hobbies and hopefully you’ll find one you love, which’ll be embedded by the time the dark nights make their return.
Exercise a couple of times a week
Sorry, but you knew it was coming! Some people thrive on being active, whereas others (me included) dread it. However, it’s well-documented how good exercise is for your mental health, as well as your physical health. Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to exercise in the summer – the days are longer and the weather is ideal for a walk or run. It’s even easier popping out to the gym or a class when it’s not pouring down with rain.
Use the good weather to try out a few exercise options – different classes, walking, running, yoga, swimming, a gym session – whatever takes you fancy. Hopefully by the time winter comes around, you’ll have developed a habit, and interest, which will carry on throughout the dreary months.
Pro tip: Offer to walk somebody else’s dog. If you don’t have a dog, this is a great way of getting some canine cuddles from a local pooch, plus you get the benefits of walking and being outside, without the commitment of owning a furry friend. Check out apps like Meet My Dog to find people looking for dog walkers in your area!
Practice Mindfulness for a few minutes a day
Like all good habits, it’s a lot easier to adopt them when you're in a good place. Mindfulness is a form of meditation whereby you focus your attention on the here and now, rather than being distracted by the past or future. It’s very much focused on breathing, and adopting a more compassionate, non-judgmental mind-set towards your own thoughts and feelings, and not letting them have such a negative impact on your mental wellbeing.
It’s something which takes commitment and practice, and there’s a lot to explore but it is hugely powerful when it comes to boosting your resilience and managing negative thinking.If you get into the habit of spending a few minutes a day practicing mindfulness when you’re feeling good, it’ll build a solid foundation that’ll help you manage the more bleak and stressful winter and Christmas period.
Do something nice for somebody
This is one of my favourite scientific facts – kindness is essentially the opposite of stress. The physiological effects that an act of kindness has on your body are the exact opposite of stress. Stress increases blood pressure, while kindness reduces it, stress suppresses the immune system whereas kindness boosts it, stress increases inflammation, kindness reduces it - the list goes on!
Kindness is so potent, you don’t have to do massive things to feel it’s benefits. Volunteering and charity work are fantastic, and a brilliant way to spread some kindness but they're a big commitment, so if you haven’t got the time, simply giving a friend or loved one a compliment has much the same effect. Make some time to do some special things for others – buying cake for the office, writing a friend to a letter, smiling at a stranger – and you’ll reap the rewards immediately, and lift your mood on the darkest of days.
List three things you're grateful for everyday
Practising gratitude is the act of actively noticing and acknowledging the good things in your life and has been scientifically proven to make us feel happier. By acknowledging and embracing the good in our life, it makes us more resilient against the negative stuff that goes on around us. A good way to start is to simply list three things you're grateful for everyday.
There’s plenty of ways you can do it – in a journal, on a scrap of paper, on the Notes App on your phone! Doing it in your head works too but personally I like keeping a record of things I’m grateful for. Plus if you keep a record, you’re less likely to repeat previous ones, and it will encourage you to think deeper about what you’re grateful for, encouraging and cultivating a more positive mind-set.
Like any good habit, it takes a bit of practice before it becomes second nature. Start now, when you’re in a good mood and it comes easily to you, so when we head into winter and things get a bit dreary, you’ve built up solid foundation to help keep you feeling resilient.
Find your tribe and socialise
Social isolation is a huge problem in the winter. Not only does the winter weather making going out more complicated (you never know whether to risk going without a coat or not!) but the wind, rain and occasional snow blizzard mean we spend a lot more time indoors. This can often mean less time socialising with those closest to you.
Social interaction and connecting with others is fundamental to our wellbeing and a positive mind-set.If you have a job, maybe you get enough social interaction from your colleagues, but it’s important not to forget to spend time with your tribe - the people who make you feel at ease, where you can be yourself, and share a laugh. Schedule in some time with your besties now, for days or evenings through the winter months. Maybe get together for a coffee, maybe have a game night, or even just plan to call each other regularly. Actively planning social time will make it a lot easier to handle the lonelier winter months.
If your tribe isn’t what you want it to be, look into attending local community groups to meet new people. Often a lot of groups take the summer off, so everybody is starting fresh in September! Plus you can never underestimate the power of friendships made over the internet. I've made some of my closest and longest friendships with people I met online via chat forums and social media and get a to enjoy social connection via my laptop or phone.
Be aware of your feelings, thoughts and emotions
Being aware of your emotions, thoughts and feelings is something easy to start doing, but a little harder to get the hang of. Often when we’re low, upsetting and uncomfortable emotions can creep up on us, and cause us to act out without understanding what’s going on. It can also send us spiralling into a different negative thought cycle and leave us in a bit of a funk. That’s why it’s so important to have an awareness of your feelings so you can learn what triggers them.
It’s takes a lot more mental energy to examine upsetting feelings when we’re low, for that very reason. If you’re feeling good now and the summer sun is putting you in a good mood, take some time to think about you’re feeling, and why you’re feeling it. If you have an off day, examine what could have triggered it, what you felt, and explore what the root cause of that feeling actually was. Perhaps even start journaling, and look for patterns in your thoughts. If you get into the habit of being more aware of your feelings when you’re feeling good, you won’t be so overwhelmed by negative feelings when they crop up.
Communicate what you need with your loved ones
The next logical step after being more aware of your feelings and understanding your triggers is to communicate them. If something is prone to making you feel low, or if you’re just feeling low for no reason, don’t suffer in silence. Share your feelings with your loved ones. You won’t be burdening them with your “stuff”, it just lightens your load a bit to talk about it. Plus if they want to help and they are able to, they’ll need to know what you’re struggling with in order to support you.
Like with everything else I’ve mentioned, it’s a lot easier to start this when you’re in a better place. Find a friend or loved one you’re really comfortable with and start the process of opening up. Just share what’s going on for you, good or bad, and build up a foundation. That way if you find the winter months especially hard, you’ll have already established this connection and they’ll be better placed to offer you some support.
This blog has been written with the intention of helping you to develop a more positive mindset. If you have a constant low mood or depressed feelings which are having a serious and detrimental impact on your life, please make an appointment with your doctor or GP, or get in touch with any of the support services listed below:
⭐ Mind – www.mind.org.uk – 0300 123 3393
⭐ Samaritans – www.samaritans.org – 116 123
⭐ Rethink – www.rethink.org – 0121 522 7007
⭐ Gofal – www.gofal.org.uk - 01656 647722
⭐ Young Minds - Youngminds.org.uk
⭐ Find a counsellor near you:
🗣 British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy - www.Bacp.co.uk
🗣 Counselling Directory - www.Counselling-directory.org.uk
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