Health and Wellness, Mental Health, Self-Care

How to Stay Mentally Healthy During Winter

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As the daylight wanes and the weather starts to get chilly, many of us might be starting to feel the first pangs of sadness about the coming of winter. I know I am.

For me, it seems to start after the fall colors have faded and daylight savings time has ended. I find that my energy and motivation starts to dwindle, especially as night begins to fall earlier and earlier each evening. I usually fade fast once my daylight is gone, and I start to adopt the bedtime habits of a grandma. (8:00? Is that too early to go to bed?)

All joking aside, seasonal dips in mood and energy can really take a toll. Those of us who suffer from anxiety or depression might struggle a little extra with the coming of winter. Plus, we all tend to be less active and stay at home more during the winter anyway, and with the pandemic still raging, we might feel the effects of isolation even more acutely this year. 

I want to talk today about how we can prepare ourselves for this season — how we can take steps to love and care for ourselves now to stay resilient, adaptable, and able to handle the lows that may be coming in the months ahead.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If you struggle at this time of year, you’re far from alone. It’s common to feel a little under the weather as the winter approaches. But for people who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it’s more serious than a case of the “winter blues”. SAD is a form of cyclical depression that usually sets in during the fall and lingers through the winter. 

Somewhere around 5% of American adults experience SAD symptoms such as:

  • Feeling down or sad
  • A loss of interest even in favorite activities
  • An increase or decrease in appetite
  • A change in your sleep patterns
  • A low energy level
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of guilt or low worth
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions

Although it usually starts to subside when spring rolls around, SAD can make you feel miserable for a few months. And if you’ve got underlying anxiety or depression to begin with, your symptoms could be more severe.

Winter and Isolation

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For a lot of us, winter also means that we don’t get out and about as much. This year, the pandemic will probably keep us at home even more often since it could be a challenge to safely spend time with friends and family. Feeling cooped up at home could lead to feeling lonely and isolated.

We’ve got some unique challenges ahead for the coming winter, but that doesn’t mean we have to resign ourselves to feeling lousy until spring arrives. Here are some ways we can proactively bolster our mental health and keep ourselves well throughout the winter season.

Tips for Staying Well Throughout the Winter

Eat a balanced diet.

I know that eating healthy probably sounds like really obvious advice. We all know eating a balanced diet is good for our long-term health — but did you know the foods we eat can also have an enormous impact on how we feel day-to-day?

I should know. I’m a stress eater. I eat pretty decently most of the time, but I have a tendency to load up on junk food and sweets when I’m stressed or in a low mood. And in the moment, sugar does give a quick boost of feelgood chemicals. It activates reward centers in your brain and boosts levels of dopamine — the same neurotransmitter that cocaine releases in huge quantities.

The problem is, after the dopamine high wears off, your blood sugar plummets, and you wind up feeling more crappy than before. According to Healthline, eating a high-sugar diet increases the odds of mood disorders in men and women. Sugar is also addictive and can make you reliant on its fleeting mood-boosting effects.

You don’t have to swear off all sweet treats. But especially if you know you’re prone to anxiety, depression, or SAD, you might want to reduce your sugar intake this winter and opt for more nutrient-rich foods to support your mental health.

Make sleep a priority.

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Along with eating a nutritious diet, sleep is crucial for good mental health. Our bodies and brains need this time to regenerate, repair, and rest. Poor sleep not only leaves us feeling cranky and on-edge; it actually reduces our ability to manage stress. Studies have also shown that people with insomnia may have twice the risk of developing depression as people who sleep normally. 

Of course, stress and depression can also make sleep more challenging, which may create a vicious cycle. Practicing good sleep hygiene –such as sticking to a regular bedtime and unplugging electronics before winding down for the night — could help you develop healthy sleeping habits. Doing a little breathing work or mindful practice before you go to bed can calm your mind and set the stage for a good night’s rest.

If you’re struggling with getting adequate sleep, you may want to talk with your doctor. They might suggest taking supplements or even medications to aid with sleep. And a therapist can help you work through anxiety or other issues that are keeping you awake at night.

Ask your doctor about light therapy.

Light therapy is a recognized form of treatment for SAD. It involves sitting near a box that radiates a bright light, similar to the natural light you’d see outdoors. The extra light exposure is believed to alter brain chemicals that affect your mood and sleep patterns, which can alleviate some symptoms of depression.

Although it’s generally safe, it comes with some risks and possible side effects — so make sure to check with your doctor before beginning light therapy. 

Get creative.

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Expressing yourself through creativity is a marvelous antidote to anxiety, depression, and winter doldrums. Taking part in creative activities has known benefits for mental health, such as reducing depression and anxiety, increasing positivity, and possibly even boosting our immune system.

And creativity doesn’t only include artistic activities like drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument. Most of us are creative in some way. Think about what you enjoy doing or making, whether it’s cooking up new recipes in the kitchen, quilting, webpage design, or flower arranging. All of these hobbies have a creative component, and all of them can potentially boost our happiness. It’s about finding something that’s meaningful to you and making time to do it.

Even if you’re feeling a little blue, you might be surprised at how doing something creative can lift your spirits and brighten your day.

Connect with friends and family.

While it might be hard to gather with friends or family in-person right now, it’s vital to stay connected with the ones we love. If you don’t already have a video chat app such as Zoom, Google Duo, or Skype, I highly suggest you download one of these programs, sign up for an account, and learn how to use it before the winter comes. 

Having virtual chats with your favorite people can be almost as good as seeing them face-to-face, and you won’t even have to leave home to do it. Another huge upside of these apps is that you can use them to host (or attend) virtual gatherings — so you can see all of your nearest and dearest ones for the holidays without compromising anyone’s safety.

Stay active.

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Physical activity is one of the best stress-busters I know of. Even during some of the hardest times in my life, if I could get myself to work out, it always made a positive difference in how I felt. 

Exercise is extremely effective at reducing anxiety and depression — it releases endorphins, refocuses your mind on something new, and gives you confidence, all of which can give your mood a boost. When you’re in a funk, it can be hard to find the motivation to work out. But staying active can help you blow off steam, clear your mind, and arrive in a clearer, more peaceful headspace. 

And you don’t have to go to the gym to add some movement to your day. With all of the online options available these days, you can easily find online yoga routines, Zumba workouts, and fitness classes to do from the comfort of your own home. 

Create things to look forward to.

Many of us aren’t traveling or going out a lot right now. But if possible, start making plans for fun things you can do in the future — whether it’s this weekend, a few weeks from now, or a couple of months down the road. 

You could set dates to meet up — in-person or virtually — with your friends and family. Or think about the next road trip you’d like to take. Or plan a Netflix night with your sweetie to watch a new movie as soon as it comes out. Pick some things that get you excited about the future so that you can give yourself something to look forward to.

Distraction isn’t always bad.

I’m going to share something with you that my therapist told me once: sometimes, when you’re in a really bad place, one of the best things you can do is distract yourself

I’m generally a huge proponent of mindfulness and delving into difficult feelings to find what’s at the root of them. But if we’re starting to spiral out of control, focusing more on those feelings only magnifies them and makes them worse. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to distract yourself until you’ve calmed down. Turn on some music and sing at the top of your lungs. Watch an outrageous movie, or a few Youtube videos filled with adorable baby animals. If possible, resist the urge to self-medicate, no matter how tempting it may be.

Once you’re back to feeling calm, you could try some meditation or breathwork to gain some clarity on what you’re feeling. But if you’re not there yet, don’t force it.


What about you? What do you do to lift your spirits when you’re feeling down? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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Does wintertime get you down? Learn how to stay happy and well through the cold months and isolating at home. #health #wellness #anxiety #depression #SAD #mentalhealthmatters #winter

Health and Wellness, Self-Care

8 Self-Care Tips for the Fall Season

Feeling a little off-balance? Learn some of my favorite self-care tips for keeping yourself healthy and well in the fall. #fall #health tips #meditation #mindfulness #selfcare
Photo by Amber Carlson

Fall is the season of deepening shadows; of longer nights and ever-shorter days. The trees turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, red and purple as they shed their leaves and sink their roots deeper into the earth; animals gather food and seek shelter for a long winter sleep. There’s a slowing down of the summer festivities as we unpack our cool-weather clothes and shift into a quieter, more introspective season.

This time of year makes me want to cozy up with a mug of hot tea and spend whole mornings writing, sketching, or dreaming. I can just as easily spend afternoons cooking green chile or spiced apple cider while my house fills with delightful aromas. Fall seems to bring out my creativity, and yet the mood is bittersweet as the daylight begins to fade and the nights grow colder, reminding me that winter is on its way.

As a gardener, I feel a little melancholy around this time of year because fall brings the end of the growing season. My beautiful plants that thrived and bore fruit during the spring and summer months are starting to die back. In a few weeks it’ll be time to clear out the garden beds and get them ready for winter. The summer went by too fast, as it always does. And yet, I understand: the earth needs its time of rest. Things have to die and go back to the soil so that new life can come back next year.

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And just as the earth needs time to regenerate, so, too, do we need periods of quiet and stillness for rest and contemplation. Fall provides us the perfect opportunity to slow down, to take stock of our lives, and to give thanks for all that we have. Because it’s a season of change and transition, fall can also leave us feeling a little anxious and unsettled, and our bodies can become more vulnerable to illness as the weather turns cold.

I’m always an advocate of self-care no matter what time of year it is, but as the fall arrives it seems especially helpful and important for us to nourish ourselves in various ways — at least, it does for me. So in case your body, mind or soul is also feeling in need of a little TLC, here are eight of my favorite self-care tips for the fall season.

1. Cultivate gratitude for your life.

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If you don’t already have a gratitude practice of some sort, now is a great time to begin one. As the summer activities wind down, it might be easier to find a little more space in our days for quietly reflecting on everything we have to be thankful for. According to Psychology Today, practicing gratitude on a regular basis improves our physical and mental health, makes us more empathic, and increases our self-esteem. 

And the more often you take the time to be thankful, the more you’ll find you have to be thankful for. You may start noticing smaller, more subtle things that you’ve previously taken for granted as you shift towards a more positive mentality. Cultivating a sense of gratitude will open your eyes to the beauty that is already around you.

Having a gratitude practice doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy. It can be as simple as spending five minutes before you get out of bed in the morning. If you like, you can keep a specific journal for writing lists each day of what and whom you feel grateful for. I like to give thanks before each meal because I feel lucky to have food on my table (not to mention a wonderful partner to share it with).

Another idea? Every time something positive happens in your day, write it on a slip of paper and drop it into a jar. Keep filling this jar with beautiful moments, uplifting experiences, and even inspiring words people have said. On days when you aren’t feeling so great and need a boost, you can open the jar and read these stories of sunny moments to lift your spirits and remind you of how wonderful life can be.

2. Ground yourself through meditation.

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I wrote a previous post about how beneficial meditation can be, and how little time it truly takes to have a regular meditation practice. The changing weather of fall can leave us feeling a little extra stirred-up, so I like to focus on re-grounding at this time of year. I find it helps me stay focused and centered.

There are tons of ways to do a grounding meditation, but one of the best ways involves (literally) sitting on the ground. Go outside on a nice day and sit underneath a favorite tree, perhaps with your back against the trunk. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes and drop your attention inward. 

Take time first to notice your breath and the way your body feels, and then sense the earth beneath you. Visualize sending roots from your sit bones down into the soil, going deeper and deeper with each breath. Each time you inhale, imagine drawing nourishment from the earth into your body. Stay here for several more minutes, mindfully breathing and deepening your roots as far into the earth as you can imagine.

3. Keep a journal.

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Because fall can provide more space for stillness and reflection, it’s also an excellent time for personal journaling. I’ve been keeping a journal in some form since I was 10 years old, and I can’t imagine giving it up. For so many years now, it’s been my private space for thinking, feeling, reflecting, processing, dreaming, and making meaning of all that has happened in my life. It’s allowed me to explore my mind, heart and soul at a level of depth that I wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise. It’s helped me develop my awareness of who I am and what’s important to me.

There’s no “right” way to keep a journal. Some people use theirs for documenting what happens in their day-to-day lives, and others write more sporadically. I don’t write in my journal anywhere near every day. Usually I only feel moved to journal when something important is happening in my life and I need to sort through my thoughts and feelings about it. But every person is different, and your journal can be whatever it needs to be to support you in your journey. No matter what your personal practice looks like, journaling can be profoundly healing, impactful, and illuminating.

And one of the best parts? If you keep journaling over the years, you’ll start to accumulate collections of old journals that you can read through for years to come. You’ll be able to trace the changes that happen in your life over time and the ways you evolve as a person because of it. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can take long walks down memory lane and spend hours reminiscing about bygone days. Sometimes, reading through old journals can even provide fresh insights about life or remind you of long-forgotten dreams. These letters from your previous self are a gift unlike any other.

4. Go for a walk in nature.

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Another way to re-center yourself is to take walks outside. Being outdoors boosts your energy, reduces stress, and improves sleep, and if you live in a temperate area, you won’t want to miss the magical fall colors! They usually only last for a few weeks, so make sure to get outside and enjoy them while you can.

Leave your phone at home (or put it in airplane mode) and treat yourself to a mindful stroll through a park, open space, or along a hiking trail, savoring the sights and sounds you encounter along the way. You may want to bring a camera so you can take pictures of anything and everything that inspires you. Go as slowly as you want — you can even turn it into a walking meditation, only taking a single footstep each time you breathe. You’ll be amazed at how much more you notice and take in when you slow down the pace.

5. Take a hot bath.

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Nothing is more luxurious and soothing than a hot bath. The heat calms your mind and relaxes your muscles, and you can add other elements such as bubbles, a book, or a cup of tea for a truly indulgent experience.

Set aside 30 minutes when you won’t be interrupted, then draw a bath with water as hot as you can comfortably handle. Add scented oils, a bundle of herbs, a bath bomb, or whatever accoutrements you’d like to the water. Pour yourself something to drink, light a candle, put on some music, and let yourself soak for up to 15-20 minutes. (Just make sure to drink some water afterwards since the heat can be dehydrating.)

6. Give yourself a massage.

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Doing a little self-massage can be a lovely practice, especially just before bed or immediately after a shower or bath. Massage is famous for its stress-reducing, pain-relieving benefits, but it also increases feelings of connection and well-being. And in the fall, giving yourself (or your partner) a little love can leave you feeling comforted and nourished.

For extra grounding effects, focus on the feet and lower legs. You can use a scented massage lotion or oil, if you have one, or you can just grab an oil you already have at home (such as sunflower, olive, or coconut oil). Apply a small amount of oil or lotion to your hands, then use your thumbs and fingers to massage the soles of the feet, toes, ankles, calves, and muscles of the shins. Cover feet with warm socks when you’re done to help them soak in the moisture.

7. Sip on hot tea.

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Although I’ve become a coffee convert recently, I’ve always been a tea lover at heart. “Real” teas, made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, come in varieties such as white, green, black, oolong, and pu-erh (all coming from different ways of oxidizing and preparing the tea leaves), but if you prefer a caffeine-free variety, there are all kinds of herbal teas that are lovely for sipping on chilly days.

Teas with chamomile or lavender have relaxing effects, while peppermint or ginger brews can help with digestion. Herbal teas such as nettle, raspberry or blackberry leaf are full of nutrients and have a pleasant, earthy taste. Hibiscus or fruit blends have a delicious sweet-tart flavor that will leave you craving more. For a quiet afternoon indoors, try brewing a whole pot of tea and slowly enjoying it cup by cup.

8. Cook with warming spices.

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When fall arrives and the weather starts to cool down, I like to start eating more warming, spicy foods. Southwestern pork green chile is always a favorite of mine, but soups, stews, and spiced meats with roasted vegetables are other fall-time options.The foods don’t have to be spicy, necessarily (although I like a little heat), but spices like chile peppers, garlic, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon will heat you up and may even have some immune-boosting benefits.


What are your thoughts on these ideas? Do you have any favorite ways to take care of yourself in the fall? Please share in the comments below.