Looking after your mental health through the winter

With dropping temperatures and shorter days, we might feel the need to sleep for longer, notice a change in our appetite, or find that thing we normally do like going to the gym of socialising with friends are a struggle.

As we continue through winter, it’s a good idea to think about the simple things we can do to look after our mental health, and how to spot the signs that we need some additional support. Here is some expert advice from mental health charity Mind.

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that people experience at particular times of the year, most commonly during winter. 

Most of us are affected by seasons changing in some way, and it’s normal to feel a bit sluggish during the winter. However, for some of us the effect on our mood and energy level can be much greater, often impacting day to day life. If we already experience symptoms of depression at other times of the year, these could be made worse by SAD.

Many people experiencing symptoms of SAD find that self-care strategies help them manage the condition. If you find that you cannot manage your SAD symptoms yourself, or they are starting to have a significant impact on your day-to-day life, you might find it helpful to talk to your GP. They will be able to give you further information and discuss treatment options with you.

What should I do?

SAD is just one way in which your mental health can be affected in winter. Mind’s self-care tips can help your cope with whatever you’re feeling. 

1. Make the most of natural light

We know that being outdoors throughout the winter doesn’t cure SAD because people who work outside also experience SAD symptoms. However, it is still worth taking the opportunity to be exposed to natural light when possible.

2. Avoid stress

Many people find that they are more likely to experience stress in winter. If you find this time of year difficult, try to plan ahead to reduce your number of stressful or difficult activities during this time. Plan the more stressful events for other times of the year where possible, particularly major ones such as changing jobs or moving home.

Take advantage of the times when you feel well to prepare for the winter – for example, by buying Christmas presents or stocking up your kitchen cupboards.

If you can, try to make more spare time to rest, relax or do pleasant activities in the winter. Perhaps pamper yourself physically with a massage, or learn a relaxation technique to help you unwind. Our section on How to manage stress has further suggestions.

3. Connect with people

Sometimes, the last thing we feel like doing is talking to people. You might be feeling anxious, or overwhelmed, or just not very sociable - but connecting with other people has lots of benefits for your mental health. Talking through things that are worrying you can be really helpful, just sharing whatever it is can help you feel supported and listened to. Christmas can also be a really good time to get in touch with people you might not speak to regularly - and you never know who might need a listening ear.

4. Exercise and eat well

Try to keep physically active during the winter. While you may not feel like it at the time, physical activity can be very effective in lifting your mood and increasing your energy levels. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly strenuous – doing housework, gardening or going for a gentle walk, if you are able to, can all help. Doing something physical outside in a green space, such as the park or the countryside, has been shown to be especially helpful.

healthy diet is also important, and you should try to balance the common SAD craving for carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Some people find that taking extra vitamin B12 or a Vitamin D supplement is also helpful.

For more information about a range of mental health problems, where to go for support and tips for everyday living, visit Mind’s information and support pages.