The winter months can be challenging for many people. Walks and other outdoor activities enjoyed in spring, summer and fall give way to time spent indoors, and shorter days mean less exposure to natural light. Even the change from leafy trees to bare branches can trigger feelings of loss.
The holiday season brings its own set of stressors as individuals navigate tricky relationships with family members, pressure to live up to expectations, and increased alcohol consumption.
This year’s “tripledemic” of flu, RSV and COVID-19 adds another layer of complexity to the coming months. With cases on the rise, people may be spending more time at home, apart from friends and extended family.
As a psychiatric nurse practitioner, I encourage patients to make a plan for self-care. Winter offers opportunities for pleasure that are unique to the season. By adopting some simple self-care habits, you can boost your mental and physical health and enjoy the months ahead.
Here are five to try:
1. Watch Your News Intake
If you feel negatively impacted by the news, limit your exposure. Some people spend hours in front of the television watching cable news and getting fired up by the political drama. Try limiting your news exposure to 15 minutes, then shifting your attention to something more uplifting, like a TV show or movie you enjoy. The same applies to scrolling through social media apps. Limit your time and move on to a more rewarding activity.
2. Start a Gratitude Journal
Though it only takes five minutes a day, keeping a gratitude journal can significantly elevate your mood and mental outlook. At the end of each day, write down at least one thing that you are grateful for that day. It can be as minor as, “I enjoyed the sandwich I ate for lunch.” What tends to happen is the nature of your thoughts will change. As you go about your day and consider what you are going to write down later, you’ll start paying more attention to the happier moments, shifting your narrative from negative to positive.
3. Bundle Up and Go Outside
Regular exercise is not only healthy for your body, it is healthy for your mind. As little as 15 minutes of moderate exercise a day can boost your energy, help you sleep better and improve your mood thanks to chemicals that are released in your brain. Being in nature has also been shown to relax your mind. This year, extend your outdoor activities by dressing in warm layers—a quick Google search will yield suggestions—and taking a walk. Brisk winter air can be invigorating and spending time in daylight, even in winter, is beneficial. Here are some ideas on outdoor winter activities you can try as a family.
Meditation is a good practice, even if only for five to ten minutes a day. I recommend to patients that they search for guided meditations on YouTube as a way to get started. Meditating once a day in the morning or before bed can help keep you grounded and ease your mind. YouTube also offers guided meditations specific to sleep enhancement, anxiety reduction, positive affirmations and more.
5. Stay Connected
During the warmer months of the pandemic, it was easier to socialize with friends and maintain recommended distances by staying outdoors. While the winter months make safe visits more challenging, the good news is that by now, most people are comfortable using technology to stay connected. Schedule FaceTime and Zoom visits with friends and family, connect by phone or email, or go old-school and send a letter by mail.
If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, reach out to your provider. Telemedicine visits are still being offered by LG Health Physicians practices, including Specialty Medicine.