Preparing for winter can be challenging under the best of circumstances for many of us. However, this year, as we face the ongoing realities of COVID-19 we may be anticipating the coming months with heavy hearts. And maybe even a sense of dread.
Christmas celebrations will very likely look quite different. Looking forward to a brief escape from winter with travel to a warm destination is unlikely to happen. Or if it does, the requirements to have a negative COVID test with 14 days of quarantine upon return create a different emotional experience. Nothing feels the same and this is hard on us.
We have been coping with the reality of the pandemic now for close to 8 months and we are tired. And the harsh reality is that the end is not yet close.
Some might say all of this together creates the perfect storm for depression.
As we approach the winter months, looking at the ways you can boost your mental health, are now more important than ever.
The Top 5 Mental Health Boosters
Rest your Body – the importance of getting enough good quality sleep cannot be overstated. It is an important building block required to support good mental health. We have all managed through periods of sleep deprivation, and find ways to cope – ask any parent of young children! However chronic poor sleep erodes our ability to function well on all levels. As mental health therapists, whenever a client presents with depression or anxiety we immediately assess and address issues related to sleep. The simple truth is that mental health improvements cannot be made without a baseline of adequate sleep. If you are someone who struggles with poor sleep habits, poor quality sleep or other sleep disturbances do not ignore this important cornerstone of your mental health. We have therapists who specialize in finding solutions to sleep challenges.
Move your Body – we all know the importance of exercise for general health and wellbeing, however, exercise has important protective factors when it comes to mental health. Studies have shown exercise to be as effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression symptoms as anti-depressant medication. The key is to move your body regularly, ideally every day to experience the mood-enhancing benefits. Walk, lift weights, watch a YouTube fitness video, develop a yoga practice or do some basic push-ups and sit-ups – as long as you are moving your body, getting your blood and heart pumping you will experience the benefits for your body and mind.
Feed Your Body – what you eat has a big impact on how you feel and how your brain works. It is common to turn to food and/or alcohol during times of stress. It can be a source of comfort or a wonderfully effective numbing agent. And let’s face it, eating a bag of chips or M & M’s is far more comforting than eating a bag a carrots. And that bottle of wine really does help us to feel relaxed. However, we then feel the crash afterwards that leaves us feeling sluggish, bloated and generally unwell. Making the choice to feed your body what it needs to function optimally boosts your mental health, plus your physical energy. Reducing alcohol and sugar, eating more vegetables and lean protein and cooking most of your meals at home are steps you can take to feed your body. Check out our article The Top 10 Foods for Better Mental Health to learn more about the specific foods that can help you feel strong mentally.
Keep Connected – our need for connection to others is part of our DNA – we are simply wired for it. We thrive when we are connected to others. And we experience suffering, often in the form of depression when we experience an absence of connection and isolation. We may be challenged this winter to be creative and flexible about how we stay connected, but it is important that we keep those lines of connection open. Making weekly phone or video chat dates to connect with family and friends is necessary to maintain your mental health.
Find the Laughter – when we laugh, we release endorphins which are a “feel-good hormone.” Endorphins lift our mood and spirits and help us see things from a more positive perspective. Endorphins create positive energy leading to increased energy, motivation and even creativity. Make a point to watch funny movies, read stories that are humorous, or watch blooper reels to receive the benefits from a good laugh.
by: Mary Joan Brinson MSW, RSW
Your mental health is important and needs to be protected. Consider developing a plan for how you can include these mental health boosters into your routine. And if you need support to create the plan that is right for you, we have a skilled therapist who can help.