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Seasonal depression is a common struggle for many Americans. The winter blues can slowly creep into your thoughts and feelings as the long, dark, gray winter months slowly pass. When you also are dealing with a pandemic that has impacted the mental health of nearly half of all Americans, it can become downright exhausting being alone throughout the winter.
If you’re concerned about your mind’s health this winter season, you’re certainly not alone. Here are a few suggestions for ways to proactively keep your mind sharp and your emotions positive despite the stress and chaos that surrounds you.
Tend to the Basics
While there are many interesting and nuanced ways to stay mentally fit this winter, even the greatest coping mechanisms won’t be very effective if you don’t tend to your basic needs first. This includes three major areas:
- Sleeping: You want to get at least seven hours of sleep each night and ideally more than that. A well-rested body is your first line of defense against negative thinking.
- Eating: If you don’t fuel your body well, it’s much easier to be mentally dragged down by tiredness and generally feeling unwell. Additionally, things like weight gain and acid reflux can wreak havoc on your physical condition if you don’t strive to eat a well-balanced diet.
- Exercising: Getting up and moving around isn’t just good for your body. It’s also an excellent way to combat anxious thoughts. Exercise releases endorphins, which naturally combat stress and help you feel more positive.
Before you try anything else, make sure that you’re sleeping well, eating correctly, and exercising regularly.
Set Up and Maintain Routines
One of the biggest issues with short, dark days spent confined at home is that they can, ironically, tend to destroy any semblance of predictability in your life. Structure is thrown out the window as you work, relax, and sleep all within the same four walls, primarily in artificial lighting, day after day.
If you’re living an unstructured lifestyle while you’re cooped up at home, one of the simplest ways to rejuvenate your mental health is by infusing your life with a bit more purpose and drive. One of the best ways to do this is by setting up clear routines that you can stick to regularly. The most critical routine of all is your morning routine. It motivates you, gets your brain moving, and sets the tone for each day.
You can create a good morning routine by starting with the essentials. These are things like showering, brushing your teeth, and eating breakfast. After that, consider additional items, such as:
- Focusing on the present: Spending some time slowing down and cultivating mindfulness is a great way to orient yourself as the day starts.
- Exercise: Getting your blood pumping and reducing stress are excellent motivators.
- Reading a book or listening to a podcast: Stimulating your brain is another quality activity that can help you get going in the morning.
However you go about it, look for ways to set up meaningful routines in your life. You’ll be thankful for them when you feel like you can’t get out of bed in the morning.
Use Light Therapy
One of the most common challenges of the winter months is the unusually short days. If it’s dark when you finish working and it’s still dark when you wake up the next day, it can be difficult to ever feel like you have a life outside of work. On top of that, the gray and dreary weather can even make the short sunlight hours feel depressing.
One of the most effective ways to address the shorter days is by using light therapy. This has been in use for decades and has remained one of the best options for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
All it requires is sitting in front of a light therapy box for 30 to 45 minutes each morning. This is an easy and affordable solution that can do wonders in upping your energy levels and helping you stay more positive.
Maintain Human Contact
It doesn’t matter if you’re hopping on a phone call with a sibling, video chatting with a friend, or participating in a virtual white elephant gift party with coworkers. These don’t have to be saved for the holiday season. They can happen anytime. It’s important to make an effort to stay connected with others throughout the winter months.
Humans are social creatures. Without interactions with others, your mental state can begin to atrophy. Resist this tendency by proactively looking for ways that you can interact with your friends, family, and coworkers.
Staying Mentally Healthy This Winter
From socializing to light therapy, routines, and tending to the basics, there are plenty of ways to proactively guard your mind this winter. For many this isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity. The brutal combination of shorter days and an ongoing pandemic can wreak havoc on your internal thought processes.
So consider the list above, select an item or two that you think would help, and then take steps to try them as soon as possible. You won’t be sorry you put in the effort!