4 Thoughtful Strategies to Maintain Mental Wellness This Winter
by, Dr. Lisa Herman
You busy? Got 4 minutes for 4 tips? Winter = Wellness.
If you’re like most people, especially those who live in the Midwest, turning the clocks back an hour can completely destroy you! It’s so dark outside so early. It’s getting cold. It already snowed and…isn’t winter’s official date of arrival DECEMBER 21st???
Brrr… and what follows brrr… is typically the following:
- I’m tired.
- I’m sick. Literally. Physically. Gotta cold.
- It’s freezing outside. Dark. Snowy. I’m not leaving the house.
- I’m depressed.
- I need a warm vacation.
- Why are the Christmas decorations up – it’s not even Thanksgiving?
- I’m feeling lonely. Alone. And not the good kind.
I’m pretty certain you can think of a few more things that you or those you love have said in the past month since this winter thing started. Unless you are my kid who says “winter is my favorite season!” you are probably like the majority of the population who prefer any other season; those who flock to the south for the winter to seek out the sun, to get a vitamin D break, to feel – emotionally, physically and spiritually – alive again!
#1. Bring the warmth into your home!
Sounds kinda nice, doesn’t it? Where we dwell and spend the most time is in our home. Your memory making, family gathering, good old fashioned HOME. Look around, what do you feel? Is it cluttered? Are there spaces/rooms that you yet to finish? Stock piling papers galore? If we must be in our homes more in the wintertime, let’s think about easy, simple, and cost-effective ways to turn it into a place that exudes warmth, calm and coziness. We don’t need HG TV or even a professional decorator! Think about what makes you feel calm… is it a certain color? A photograph you yet to frame? Antiques from generations past? Use what you already have in your house to rearrange, clean/organize, or paint to freshen up even one space – and make that space into your own. This can be fun for the entire family to be involved and everyone has a specific chore that helps enhance that space.
#2. Remember to give… to yourself!
You thought I was going to say give to others, to charity, to volunteer…and it’s incredibly generous if you can or will do some of those things this year. But, do you purposefully GIVE to YOURSELF? When’s the last time you stopped and said, “Self – what do I need right now?” Some might confuse this act of self-love as being self-centered. And, in a way it is. But not in a negative way. It’s being mindful of yourself and what you need. Chances are if you’re reading this, you are at least spending 150% of your day doing for someone or something else. Challenge yourself to find one thing a week to do, eat, play that’s just for you, and that will be considered HUGE progress.
Today, I had about 20 minutes at the gym before I was to be summonsed to be somewhere for someone else. I’m pretty sure that 10 of those minutes were spent getting ready, finding what to do and just going as slow as possible (because, why not go slow). You know what? Those 20 minutes actually were incredible. I did what I wanted, listened to what I liked, and had nobody requiring my attention. Guess what? It helped. And little things, even 10 minutes of something just for YOU, can really enhance your sense of well-being. Funny how that happens. So next time you say, “I don’t have time!” try to remember this.
#3. Go on…eat the snow!
According to nearly every research study conducted – the positive effects that being outside even in the cold winter has on our health is overwhelming! One NBC news.com article does a great job summarizing the research including lifting your mood, increasing your vitamin D, helping balance circadian rhythms (which in turn helps your mood), improving memory and boosting your immune system! It goes on and on. So when your dogs or your kids want to get bundled up and play – go for it. Get out there and make snow angles while you eat some fresh (non yellow) snow!
#4. Get by with a little help from your friends.
There is this thing called connection. We are attachment creatures, social animals and run in packs like wolves. When we stay secluded and indoors, as most do in the wintertime, we become disconnected. And no, being on social media or your IPad is not really the same type of social connectedness I’m referring to. In the American Journal of Psychiatry, one article that was written on Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Socialization. “Loneliness is a personal interpretation of a psychological state, and individuals from different cultures and historical eras will have alternative explanations for the same feeling.” So let’s not forget that our unique diverse racial/cultural backgrounds may view social connections differently – but the point is that we are driven and feel “more well” when we are connected to those we love and whom love us. So pick up that rotary phone, dial a number if you know one by heart, and speak to someone with words coming out of your mouth. Better yet, make a play date like we used to do in the olden days 🙂
Take away message.
How we view what we’ve been given is more than half the battle in your wellness journey. How we cope with cold, dark nights for a quarter of the year will determine our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you get stuck and feel like your winter blas are feeling more like true Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) then please reach out for help. You don’t have to suffer alone as there are many great therapists, doctors, and other medical/mental health professionals that can implement treatments that help.