5 Mental Health Tips for Winter 2020
By Cori Hill
December 20, 2020
Between dreary weather, holiday blues, and social media reminders of all the things you do not have or did not do earlier in the year, winter can be a difficult time. In 2020 (also known as the year we may pretend never happened), there have been so many additional challenges that may make us even more susceptible to depression and other mental health concerns this season.
Many have experienced grief and loss, financial hardship, new or worsened physical and mental health issues, increased stress and anxiety, and strain on relationships with family, friends, or partners.
Additionally, in the midst of overall pandemic fatigue, many previously effective coping strategies, such as travel or gathering with loved ones, are now less accessible. Whether you faced new challenges this year or are anticipating an annual battle with seasonal depression, here are a few tips that can help.
I encourage you to consider these tips in addition to, not as a replacement for, participation in counseling. If you find yourself having a particularly difficult time or crisis this winter, you can call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support at 1-800-273-8255 .
1. Check on your vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D insufficiency (or low levels of vitamin D) is linked to mood instability, anxiety, and depression. The sun is a primary source of vitamin D during the spring and summer, so you may notice a difference in your mood during the colder months. Spending more time indoors, and in particular this year due to the pandemic, may also put you at higher risk for vitamin D insufficiency. It is important to note that some studies have shown that Black and darker-skinned individuals may be more likely to have lower or insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Since lower levels of vitamin D not only affect your ability to regulate your mood, but may also result in fatigue, pain, and decreased immune system functioning, it is important to recognize how impactful this vitamin can be to how you feel and function.
Talk to a doctor if you suspect your change in mood or other symptoms may be related to a deficiency in vitamin D.
2. Be mindful of holiday triggers.
For those who have recently lost a loved one, job, relationship, or anything else of importance, the holidays can be an especially difficult time emotionally or financially. During this time, you may be surrounded by reminders of fond memories that differ significantly from your experience this year. This time of year may also be challenging if it reminds you of some unpleasant memories.
It can be helpful to make plans in advance for how you will navigate any emotions or holidays you anticipate will be difficult. Consider establishing a reliable support system during this time and have a plan for how you will respond to emotional triggers or hard days.
3. Be inspired by nature.
Nature is full of metaphors that remind us to care for and affirm ourselves, and though nature may be less enjoyable for some in the winter, it still is full of lessons. For example, a snowflake may a reminder that you are unique. You can work to embrace, accept, and love the things that make you you.
Similarly, perhaps you can take a note from animals that hibernate during the winter. Is this season also an opportunity for you to rest?
Another lesson may come from the recognition that many tree branches are bare, but that we can expect the leaves to return in the spring. In the meantime, the tree continues to stand. If you are feeling down, trees may be a great symbol of hope, strength, and growth. You can remind yourself that no matter how difficult this season is, a better one is on the way.
In addition to the inspiration that nature brings, research shows that being in nature can also be healing and restorative. A walk outside will give you exercise, vitamin D, and a interaction with nature, all of which can do wonders for reducing stress levels, anxiety, and depression.
4. Establish traditions.
Relationship experts, such as researchers at the Gottman Institute, know that rituals of connection are an important part of successful relationships. While these rituals typically refer to everyday interactions (such as hugging before work or eating dinner together), annual or seasonal traditions can all be an effective way of staying connected. That goes for partners and families.
Your tradition may be anything from a unique gift exchange to sipping cocoa from special mugs. Though 2020 may have limited some traditions, this can be an opportunity to create new ones. You can celebrate a new holiday for the first time or in a different way. You may choose to cook a special meal or host a virtual game night.
Many of these ideas work if you are single as well! If you are unable to connect with family or friends during this time, or if you find the holidays difficult due to your relationship status, there are things you can do alone. Consider focusing your giving inward; pay attention to your wants and needs and how you might provide them for yourself during this time. If you find yourself having a hard time managing the holidays alone, therapy may be a great way to care for yourself.
If you are grieving, consider new coping strategies for the holidays.
5. Avoid overindulging.
Between holidays, winter birthdays, and often a parade of engagements, opportunities for celebration seem to happen more frequently during this season, which often means a higher consumption of alcohol and food. While there are likely to be fewer in-person gatherings this year due to the pandemic, the increase in anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges may have many turning to alcohol and food for comfort.
Nutrition does impact your mood and overall mental health, so be mindful during this time. If you have difficult relationship to food, you may experience feelings of anxiety or shame and may benefit from working with a health coach, nutritionist, and/or therapist who specializes in concerns related to eating.
Be mindful also of alcohol consumption, as binge drinking can have harmful effects on the brain and other critical organs. While you may experience an elevated mood temporarily, the long-term effects of heavy drinking may actually include increased anxiety and depression.
Do you have your own strategies that help you with the winter blues? Feel free to join the conversation below, and consider sharing the article with a friend who could benefit.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the above article is informational only and not a replacement for therapy or medical advice. You are encouraged to make decisions for your mental health in consultation with a licensed mental health professional.
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