As the clocks go back, the nights start drawing in and the weather turns from fresh to freezing, it’s not uncommon for our mood and energy levels to take a dip along with the temperature. Here Natasha Devon, mental health campaigner and author of A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental, gives us her top tips for self-care in the winter months.
Allowing for the occasional global-warming inspired heatwave, summer is now officially over. The leaves have turned to shades of russet and amber and it’s time to dust off your knee-high boots. Many of us, myself included, relish that ‘back-to-school’ feeling, yet I also meet this time of year with a sense of apprehension.
Soon, the clocks will go back. Days will become shorter, skies greyer, mornings and evenings darker and with these come a tangible drop in our mood and energy levels.
This isn’t just a theory. Studies have shown suicide rates are higher in countries which receive less sunlight. According to a YouGov study, one in three of us will exhibit some symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, which can include feeling constantly sleepy, eating more and feeling irritable. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says three in every hundred people experience severe SAD, which feels indistinguishable from depression.
In fact, the festival we now celebrate as Christmas began as a pagan ritual to celebrate the winter solstice, and the start of the days getting longer and lighter again. (Most historians agree the actual Jesus was born during the summer, yet, when Europe became Christian, Easter and Christmas were merged with pre-existing celebrations to ease transition). Those clever pagans knew the importance of a good party to lift those winter blues.
Below are some other tips for surviving winter with your mental health intact:
Invest in a ‘happy lamp’
These are designed for use at your work desk and emit white light to mimic the effect of natural daylight. Lots of people I know swear by them.
Everyone looks great in a chunky knit. Fact. So don’t let the cold weather stop you from getting out in your lunch hour – wrap yourself up and hot-foot it to the nearest park (being amongst nature whilst exercising magnifies the endorphin effect).
Don’t abandon your five a day
When the sun is out, it’s easy to eat your veg. When winter looms, suddenly our thoughts turn to chocolate and pie. Or ideally chocolate pie.
Yet nutrition is important for maintaining mental wellbeing. Take a vitamin supplement. Choose soups and stews with a high vegetable content. And sprinkle turmeric on everything you possibly can – it’s magic.
Join a choir
Studies have shown that singing fires up our right temporal lobe, creating feelings of happiness, and that the impact is increased if we are doing it in a group. So go carolling. I promise to tip you 50p.
Do something for charity
The (brilliant) Netflix documentary Happy looked at various communities throughout the world in order to identify the essential components which make all human beings, regardless of race, gender or financial situation, happy. One of them was helping others. Philanthropy is the gift that keeps on giving.
Be kind to yourself
There’s a period of adjustment between the seasons where the chances are all you’ll want to do is wrap yourself in a duvet and watch re-runs of Ru Paul’s Drag Race whilst munching your way through a bucket of maltesers. That’s ok. Show yourself the same sort of kindness you would to your best friend – tell yourself you’re still brilliant and lovely, even when wrapped in a cocoon covered in crisp crumbs with hair pointing in twenty seven distinct directions.