How to help your mental health through the winter months
Our CEO, Jon Neal talks about how to help your mental health through the winter months.
The clocks have gone back, the days are getting shorter and the nights are drawing in. And while we’re still a long way from the signs of spring, the longer days and warmer evenings, there are some things we can do to look after our mental health. And, of course, being active is a really good one.
Many people have heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but even if you haven’t, you might be aware that you become a little less energetic or enthusiastic about things in the autumn and winter months.
There is some science behind this very common and normal experience.
When we’re experiencing depression, we spend more time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the phase of sleep when we dream. In a healthy sleep cycle, dreaming helps to calm the brain down, switching off the worries and anxieties from the day.
But worrying lots about unmet emotional needs increases the amount we need to dream when we sleep.
This extra dreaming burns up lots of the brain’s energy, so we wake up feeling exhausted and lacking the motivation to address our concerns.
When it gets dark, our bodies release the hormone melatonin. This helps us go to sleep, but also increases the amount of dreaming we do.
As it starts to get darker earlier, more melatonin is released, which makes us dream more and causes some of us to wake up feeling low in mood, tired and lacking motivation.
So that’s the science, and what can we do to keep our mood up and stave off the feelings of depression? Here are some tips to help your mental health through the winter months:
- Get active outside. You could sign up to a charity challenge, for example, that helps you meet your need for movement
- Make the most of what light is available – a daily walk or run is perfect, but even creating a routine whereby you pop outside for ten minutes or so to have a break in the morning, midday and mid-afternoon can be helpful
- Some people find that sitting by lightboxes, which give out artificial sunlight, can help reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
- Another factor associated with depression is a lack of vitamin D, which is produced in our bodies when sunlight reaches our skin Research shows that increasing the vitamin D in our diet with supplements, oily fish or mushrooms can help to lift the symptoms of depression
- And finally, it’s important to try and reduce the worrying which results in too much dreaming. The key to achieving this is to find healthy ways to meet emotional needs.