We are just about halfway through December, which means winter is in full effect! Some delight in this snowy season, while others spend these cold months counting down the days until the warmth returns. Either way, it’s smart to protect yourself from the potentially harmful effects winter can have on your mental health. Follow these 10 tips to combat the laziness, the depressive thoughts, and the negativity that blow in with the cold:
1) Stay on top of your workout routine.
Many of us slack off on our fitness routines when the winter days roll into town—cozying up on the couch or under the covers with hot chocolate is just too tempting! It is important, however, that we find that time and motivation to exercise, as it’s vital to our mental health. So brainstorm a plan that will help you get in a workout here and there! Maybe even bribe yourself with that heavenly cup of hot chocolate we were talking about.
2) Bundle up and go outside!
I know, I know—it’s cold! I’m not asking you to spend every hour of the day outside; but I am asking you to layer up, throw on your winter coat, and spend a little bit of time outside. It’s important that you get sunlight when you can, as a decrease in sunlight means a decrease in Vitamin D and increase in depressive thoughts. So, go on a walk around the block; take some cookies to the neighbor down the street; stroll around downtown.
3) Spend time with loved ones.
It’s easy to isolate yourself or “hibernate” during the winter, but doing so can seriously hurt your mental health, as long periods of loneliness or social isolation can lead to an increased risk of depression, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of worthlessness. I don’t know about you, but camping out indoors for the duration of winter doesn’t sound worth all that to me. Make it a point to leave your home or at least interact with someone daily—spend time with friends, call your relatives, chat with your neighbors.
4) Book a trip or fun outing.
If the last couple tips weren’t convincing enough to get you out of bed, maybe this one will! Take Licensed Clinical Psychologist Cindy Graham’s advice and book a fun trip: “Plan a trip, a weekend getaway, a movie night in another town, anything,” she says. “The goal is to break up the monotony of winter by having periodic outings to look forward to. While on the getaway, be present in the moment. Focus on enjoying the time rather than thinking about how much you hate winter.”
5) Follow a regular sleep schedule.
Staying in bed all morning might sound appealing during these dreary days, but it can have negative effects on your mental health. Instead, you should do your best to follow a regular sleep schedule and allocate time spent in bed specifically for sleep—that way your brain is conditioned to understand that getting into bed means it’s time to rest. Maintaining this schedule is essential to mood regulation, and it will help you stay happy through the winter!
6) Count your blessings.
We tend to focus on the negatives during the dark and dreary winter days: I hate the cold. Going into work today sounds awful. There will be a ton of traffic, thanks to this snow… and on and on. What we don’t do and what we should be doing, is shifting our focus to the positives. And the best way to do this? By counting our blessings. I challenge you to jot down a list of everything you’re thankful for each day. This will quickly put your life into perspective and allow you to see how amazing it really is.
7) Get into the habit of planning.
Your plans shouldn’t stop at that weekend getaway I know you’ve already booked! Instead, get into the habit of planning or, “be intentional about the things you do,” in the words of David Simonsen, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He explains that this could include a number of things: planning to spend time with family, to go caroling, to serve others, to be more involved in church. “The more you can intentionally plan, the more likely you’ll make it through the winter season emotionally intact,” he says.
8) And on occasion… be spontaneous!
As explained above, following a set plan on a day-to-day basis is certainly beneficial to thriving in the winter season—however, everybody needs a little spontaneity in their lives. So do something each week to switch up that routine: take a different route to work; try out a new exercise class; eat breakfast for dinner. Introduce irregularity to your week some way, somehow!
9) Challenge your negative thoughts.
Remember those negative thinking habits we were talking about earlier? Challenge them! Amanda Petrik, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, explains how: “Identify what cognitive distortions, or thinking patterns, are causing you to feel more down at this time. Then it is time to tackle those pesky negative thoughts. For example, winter brings on feelings of isolation and a thought like “I have no one.” This thought is not factual and is causing you to feel depressed, so our role is to squash it by reminding ourselves of who our family, friends, and support system are and that we can still see them this time of year.”
10) Set goals and keep yourself accountable.
An essential to our wellbeing is maintaining a sense of accomplishment: whether it’s due to a promotion at work, an A on a test, or a successful workout. And a vital step toward reaching these accomplishments and catering to our esteem needs is setting goals. So fight through the laziness and the lack of motivation that comes with the cold, and continue to set those goals! Keep yourself accountable so that you’re more likely to stick with them. This will keep you on your toes and working hard throughout the winter season!