Everyone has things that can affect their mental health and emotional wellbeing – things that will change our mood and sometimes our ability to cope with life. A common one for most of us is the onset of winter and in particular the period following the new year when the festive season has passed, and spring seems a long way off.
However, there is also evidence that people can withdraw into themselves in a positive way: stay warm, eat well and wait for better weather. This means that as well as looking after yourself over the winter period you can use the early part of the year to prepare for how you are going to emerge from the “emotional hibernation” that often goes with it in a positive way.
But first of all, it is important to note that if you or a member of your family suffers a genuine mental health crisis at and any time of year, including over the winter – and particularly if you have a formal diagnosis or a history of (say) anxiety or depression, or a bipolar condition – then it is important to seek help straight away. You will find relevant contact details at the bottom of this blog.
Some ideas for what to do to prepare ahead for winter
First of all, try to see the medium term and have a plan for each month from November through to, say, April or May. Highlight the good things that lie ahead such as lighter evenings and longer days, meeting up with family and friends, seasonal events.
Everyday human contact is important. If the weather and your personal circumstances allow it, try and shop two or three times a week and get out and meet people rather than shopping in bulk and / or online. If you work flexibly, balance working from home with going into the workplace so you get the benefits of seeing colleagues.
Eating well is really important. Have a daily meal plan throughout the winter and try and find a diet that suits you and which has plenty of good quality fresh or frozen vegetables. If you have the time, cooking rather than buying convenience foods is a great way to be creative and to make yourself feel more positive about eating.
Exercise is proven to help lift and stabilise your mood, so use your gym membership if you have one or find ways of keeping active in the home. Getting out on sunny days is also important. In the south east we get around 70 hours of sunlight a week, which is more than double than of much of the north of the UK. Check out if there are any walking groups near you that keep going throughout the winter.
Look after your physical health as normal seasonal flu, coughs and colds often make you feel down as well as affecting your body. Getting vaccinated against ‘flu and Covid if you are eligible can help protect you and your family.
Keep a journal. There is plenty of evidence that writing down our thoughts and feelings helps us to understand them more clearly, so if you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can be a positive thing provided you reflect on it and use it to gain control of your emotions. You can look back and see whether there are patterns to your feelings.
Monitor your sleep patterns and what happens before going to bed and on rising. Go easy on alcohol in the evening (you can check if you are drinking too much using the NHS online calculator) and plan how much sleep you want to get. Too much or too little is not good for you, and whilst everyone is different, eight hours is a good benchmark. Maintain positive habits such as getting up and showering and dressing, even if you have nothing planned for the day. If you’re struggling to sleep, take a look at tips and further support available at Sleep | Healthy Surrey
Pay attention to the lighting and comfort at home. We spend more time indoors during the winter so making the home as cosy as possible is important. Your health requires a good balance between heat and ventilation.
If you are well prepared and follow the above guidelines, the winter can be as positive as any other time of year. If you would like more information see the Winter ready pages on our website or see Mental wellbeing | Healthy Surrey.
What to do if you are experiencing an emotional crisis
Always seek help if you are in an emotional crisis, or someone close to you is in crisis particularly if you or they have thoughts about harming yourself or others. The following is a list of contacts you can turn to:
- Surrey and Borders Crisis Mental Health Helpline
- Telephone: 0800 915 4644 - open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
- A free 24-hour helpline here to listen to you. The phone line will not appear on phone bills. Call 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Safe Havens
- There are Safe Havens in five Surrey towns that you can access. These are in Aldershot, Guildford, Epsom, Redhill and Aldershot. They provide out-of-hours help and support to people and carers who are experiencing a mental health crisis or emotional distress. They are staffed by mental health practitioners and two trained Safe Haven workers and provide a safe alternative to A&E. Safe Havens are open evenings, weekends and bank holidays. You can drop in and do not need to make an appointment and there are also online safe havens so you do not have to leave home.
- For more information see Dealing with an adult mental health crisis | Healthy Surrey
- Call 999
- Call immediately if you or someone is in a life-threatening situation.