Image for How to look after your mental health this winter, according to you

How to look after your mental health this winter, according to you

We asked Positive News readers what they do to boost their mental health during winter. From mushroom foraging to ice baths, this is what they had to say

We asked Positive News readers what they do to boost their mental health during winter. From mushroom foraging to ice baths, this is what they had to say

To mark World Mental Health Day today, we asked Positive News readers to share their tips for better wellbeing during the winter. As ever, we were flooded with responses and are grateful to our community for getting in touch. It was inspiring to read all the messages. 

Inevitably, some common themes emerged. Many cited food, music and talking therapies as sources of comfort. Interesting to note was how many of you attributed vitamin D supplements and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamps with a mood boost.  

It was encouraging to learn that many of you lean into nature despite the urge to stay at home with a cup of tea. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothes,” was a phrase that came up repeatedly — although evidently not something the cold water swimmers among you subscribe to. Kudos to those who plunge into icy lakes without a wetsuit.

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Below are some of the responses we received. We couldn’t publish them all. And in the spirit of giving each other space, we had to trim some down to allow for more inclusions. Thank you to everyone who got in touch.

Your tips for boosting mental health in winter 

1. Lean in to nature 

“It has been shown that for people with bad mental health, a daily walk in nature improved their symptoms. Key for motivating yourself is to find the essence of nature and its beauty in every season. At this time of the year, I go mushroom foraging. Mushrooms are booming at the moment and different types will pop out of the ground and out of tree trunks throughout autumn and winter. Foraging is brilliant for me. Having a goal or mission motivates me. I love the complex dynamic of searching for objects and navigating environments such as hilly moors and rugged forest floors, which stimulate my brain and eyes that usually spend most of the day in front of a computer screen.” – Jakob, Bristol, England 

“I wrap myself up in my favourite blanket, go outside into the garden with my first coffee of the day, listen to the wood pigeons cooing and the birds begin their morning song, as the sun gently wakes us all up.” – Jules, Bristol, England

“I swim in the sea in Pembrokeshire. I also walk in the woods and along the coastline. I live alone since a breakup with a longterm partner and losing my new partner to cancer. Without nature through those times and Covid I don’t think I’d be here. Nature dispels the loneliness and gives me hope.” – Nicola, Llandeilo, Wales

World Mental Health Day

Foraging for fungi is a good reason to get out the house as the weather turns. Image: Annie Spratt

2. Break a sweat 

Exercise is key. The dark evenings make it difficult to get outside, but something as simple as a 10-minute YouTube workout in your living room, or a dance around the kitchen, can do the trick. Second, find a memory of a time you felt relaxed, and really visualise it. Think of what you could see, hear, taste, smell and feel at that time, and spend a few minutes closing your eyes, thinking of this place. Third, challenge those negative thoughts. When we think negatively about ourselves and others, ask yourself if you have any evidence for this and if you’re helping yourself by focusing on this, and instead focus on an activity that you enjoy. The winter can be difficult, but focusing on what makes us feel good, even when we don’t want to, can have such a positive impact.” – Catrina, Telford, England

3. Embrace the cold 

For three minutes a night I have an ice bath.” – Richie, Llanelli, Wales

My saviour is open water swimming — the colder the better. It has kept me sane. Just getting in the water and letting it wrap around you is the best feeling.” – Elizabeth, Scotland

World Mental Health Day

Counterintuitively, perhaps, many of you seek solace in cold water. Image: Seregei

4. Practice gratitude 

“Keeping a gratitude journal really helps me. I find myself noticing lovely things that have happened that day, and it shifts my focus away from the things that have stressed or drained me. It also helps to have a news blackout. I find that the news is permanently full of awful things and if that’s what I read about, I feel helpless and despairing. If I focus on sources of positive news (for example, Positive News magazine), I can face the day with more energy and a sense of possibility.” – Sophie, France 

“I focus on what I do have. A warm, secure home with a kettle at the ready. A sweet husband and dog for comfort. Memories of happy years tucked in my heart. Health enough to take a walk. Books to fill my mind and soul. A full refrigerator, cosy bed, birds to feed, muffins to bake, neighbours who need a muffin.” – Nancy, Virginia, US

5. Create an activity jar 

“I recently created a jar of activities that I can do in winter. I took four coloured papers, wrote different activities on them, folded them up and put them in the jar. The colours were to signify four categories: free activities, daytime activities, nighttime (post-work) activities, and activities that require money. I use the jar when I need a lift. For me, being outdoors or listening to music are two things that always make me feel better, so most of mine centre around those activities; from listening to my record player to taking my camera somewhere new for some photography. This can all be tailored to where you live and the core interests that cheer you up. It’s simple and can take you out of mundane routines even just for a day or evening.” – Bethany, Sheffield, England 

Gratitude diaries help many of you maintain perspective. Image: Lilartsy

6. Talk and be open 

“Talk to someone about your anxiety and how you’re feeling, We must raise awareness rather than suffer in silence.” – Carrie, Bedford, England 

7. Seek out good news 

“I suffer with winter blues on top of depression and anxiety. As soon as the days get shorter, the blues set in. To try to counteract that, I eat healthy foods and drink a lot of water. I also cut down on the news I look at and regularly check out Positive News for a boost.” – Sera, Suffolk, England 

8. Nourish your body and soul 

What always works for me is a small tin of mackerel or sardines. The lift it gives me is almost instant.” – Helen, Cornwall, England 

“Cooking hearty meals and inviting friends or family around for lunch for cosy chats works for me.” – Nigel, Dorset, England

“I have set up a biweekly roast club with my closest friends where we go to each other’s houses for roast dinners.” – Alex, Brighton, England 

Breaking bread with others helps many of you stay positive. Image: Stefan Vladimirov

9. Let go of what you can’t control  

“I try not to worry about things I have no control over, and seek help when I need it. If I’m feeling down and am by myself, I try to keep busy doing something positive and creative. If that doesn’t work I put an old ‘comfort blanket’ movie on. I have lots of those that I can watch again and again. They calm me down and help me to feel better. If I’m able to (I’m disabled), I go outside and feel the elements on my face, look at the sky and listen to nature. Music helps, as well. I try to go swimming every morning. It helps to set me up each day.” – Davy, Hebburn, England 

10. Follow the Danes

“We embrace the Danish concept of ‘hygge.’ It roughly translates as ‘cosiness’ and means putting on big wooly socks, lighting lots of candles and putting fairy lights in every available space. It also means filling the house with warmth and fun by spending time with close friends and enjoying comforting food together. It’s so important to create a warm and inviting atmosphere in the home, a place to come back to after a cold and blustery day, where you can feel relaxed and at peace.” – Naomi, Northern Ireland

11. Take up a hobby 

“I just started knitting and I’m halfway through my first beanie. Crafting can make great Christmas gifts with a personal touch, so it’s good for saving those pennies too. Knitting has helped me gain a new sense of achievement, and you don’t need to spend much. There are loads of free patterns online.” – Louise, Uxbridge, near London

The quiet winter months can also be a good time to take up a hobby. Image: Margarida Afonso

12. Plan a trip 

“Planning a trip that I look forward to helps me get through winter.” – Jo, Christchurch, New Zealand 

13. Help others 

“Look for opportunities to do something for someone else.” – Kathy, US

14. Start a DIY project

“I try to find a house project to be done over winter. Something that keeps you busy inside. It could be a bit of DIY, some clothes mending, some extreme house cleaning, or even organising your loft.” – James, Leeds, England

15. Get a SAD lamp 

“This year I bought an SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamp and so far so good. I use it for half an hour every morning. It’s lightened my mood and I have more energy.” – Margaret, Scotland

Main image: Thom Holmes

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