I live in southern New Brunswick and boy oh boy, the winter months in Atlantic Canada sure can be tough – both physically and mentally. The weather can make it difficult to engage with the world the way we want to and shorter daylight hours can have a major impact on our mood and energy level. Let's remind ourselves to check in with our friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers regularly. If you notice someone's a little quieter than usual, declining social invitations for things they'd typically partake in or they just seem "off" from their norm, don't make assumptions or dismiss what could be signs of mental distress: ask. "Is everything ok? You don't seem yourself lately," can be an easy, non-threatening way to start the conversation.
While we're at it, let's be sure to stay in tune with our own mental health. Have you been feeling kind of low? More stressed than usual? Find yourself disengaging or becoming easily irritated with those around you? Take note of these sorts of changes and be diligent about self care, whatever that means to you. Here are a few simple tips to help you stay mentally well during the frosty, dark, long winter months:
1. Stick to a bedtime/wakeup routine
When daylight hours get shorter it can challenge your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. Many people find their overall energy level to be lower during the winter months. You might find it harder than usual to get out of bed in the mornings, feel tired through the day or find it difficult to do much of anything during the evenings. One of the best ways to combat winter-induced fatigue is to adopt a bedtime and wakeup routine that stays consistent day to day (yes, even on the weekend). Our bodies and brains love predictability and routine when it comes to our basic biological needs. My iPhone's bedtime reminder becomes my best friend during the winter months.
2. Stay connected
In last week’s blog post we explored social health and its implications in the workplace. Remember, human connection is a “need to have” not a “nice to have”. Good social health is a biological necessity that, when properly fed and watered, helps us to feel safe, secure and fulfilled. In an age where the convenience of social media is unfortunately replacing human-to-human contact for an increasing number of people, be conscious of how your mental wellbeing is affected when you make an effort (or don’t) to get together with friends and family who make you laugh and feel supported and cared about.
3. Get some fresh air and physical activity (*bonus points if you tackle these two simultaneously!)
When you look at the temperature and feel pretty sure your eyeballs might freeze if you set foot outside, it’s hard to get up the gusto to leave the cozy indoors. The couch is calling and that new Netflix series is just begging to be binge-watched. Believe me, I get it! However, tons of research tells us those sweet endorphins released when we exercise can help to keep our brains fit while we’re working on our physical fitness. Stepping outside even for just a few minutes can give you an energy boost and improve your focus. Make an effort to get at least a few breaths of fresh air and physical activity each day. If you can absorb a little Vitamin D in the form of sunlight make sure to take advantage of that, too. My nine month old Weimaraner Ruby and I look forward to our daily walks in the woods so much that only a serious blizzard can stop us from going! (I couldn’t resist adding a pic here – isn’t she cute?!)
4. Keep your brain stimulated
It’s an easy time of year to become “mentally stagnant”. Keep your brain sharp by trying something new, tackling a project you’ve been putting off or challenging yourself with a task that’s cognitively engaging. Sometimes mindless activities are just what the doctor ordered as we all need time to relax and recuperate, but try to strike a balance. Make conscious choices to do things that either help you unwind or energize your mind by first reflecting on what you need in the moment rather than simply defaulting to activities that take the least amount of energy.
Wintertime carries its own set of challenges when it comes to our physical health (anyone else buying hand sanitizer in bulk these days?) but staying mentally healthy can be equally tough. Check in with your loved ones, your work people and yourself. Until next week: stay healthy, my friends!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.