10 ways to look after your mental health in autumn and winter

Kat Nicholls
By Kat Nicholls,
updated on Oct 11, 2023

10 ways to look after your mental health in autumn and winter

As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, we explore some simple ways to take care of yourself this winter

For some, a change in season can bring about a certain energy. It may be excitement as we watch nature shift outside our window, or perhaps joy about what’s to come this season. For others, however, a change in season can invite a particular sense of dread.

Autumn and winter specifically can spark a low mood, as the bright light and warmth of summer drains away. In some cases, this switch can be severe, leading to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you can relate to a struggle in colder months, we’ve got 10 ideas to help you support your mental health.

1. Light up your life

Daylight can have a big impact on our mood and our circadian rhythms (affecting how we sleep). So, to give your mood a helping hand, try to ensure you expose yourself to daylight daily. Ideally, this would look like getting outside in the middle of the day, even if it’s just to stand for a few minutes looking up at the sky.

If this isn’t possible, head to a window or consider investing in a SAD lamp. You might also find it helpful to get some cosy low-lighting going in the evenings, to help you feel settled and safe in your environment.

2. Stay active

While it’s incredibly tempting to hibernate over winter and spend the majority of your time under a blanket (ideally with snacks), this likely isn’t going to help your mood. Staying active can encourage those wonderful feel-good hormones, endorphins, which boost your mood and can even ease pain.

The trick is to find something you enjoy and something that is accessible to you. This may mean heading out for a walk, doing some gentle stretches in front of the fire or hitting the gym. We’re all different, so find what works for you and what makes you smile.

Bonus tip: if you plan to do some walking this winter, invest in shoes with a good grip to avoid slipping on any ice. 

3. Connect with nature

It’s been well-documented that nature has a positive effect on our mental health, and winter can provide a wonderful opportunity to reconnect. As the seasons change, so does the outside world, so why not head out with a notebook to do some nature journaling? Write about what you see, draw some sketches, and ask yourself what emotions it sparks.

If being outside a lot isn’t accessible to you, try to bring nature in. Look into indoor plants, enjoy some bird watching from your window, and pop on some David Attenborough.

4. Keep cosy and warm

This winter more than others may feel especially difficult, with some of us avoiding putting the heating on to avoid skyrocketing bills. Whether this is you, or you simply struggle in colder weather, it can have a real impact on your mood.

Staying as warm as possible can help. Simple steps like wearing thicker jumpers and socks can make a difference. Hot water bottles, electric blankets and plenty of hot drinks can also help.

5. Embrace hygge

The Danish concept of hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) is something more and more of us are trying to adopt. Referring to moments that are ‘cosy, charming or special’, hygge can cover a range of things. From lighting a special candle in the evening to enjoying dinner with friends, embracing the idea of hygge can make winter oh so appealing.

Learn more about finding hygge in your home.

6. Eat nutritious and warming meals

Our eating habits often change with the seasons, and in winter we tend to crave more sumptuous, hearty meals. Ensuring we continue to eat a balanced diet over winter can support our mood as well as our immune system.

Get inspired at Nutritionist Resource’s recipe section.

7. Stay connected

When it’s cold and dark out, it can be easy to opt for staying in instead of going out. While this can be incredibly lovely sometimes, be mindful not to isolate yourself. Staying connected with friends, family and loved ones is imperative to our mental wellbeing.

Try meeting up for a cuppa, having a regular video call or even start your own supper club. If you mostly work from home, see if you can get together with your colleagues. This may mean heading into an office if your company still has one, or even arranging a co-working day at a local cafe with friends.

8. Plan ahead for busy times

As we get closer to Christmas, our calendars can fill up with social events. While this can certainly help with the point above, sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Try to plan ahead where you can, perhaps batch-cooking some meals to help save time, for example.

You may also want to plan some recuperation days, ensuring you’re taking time for self-care when things get busy. And if you need to, don’t hesitate to say no to social invites that feel a stretch too far.

9. Start a winter-friendly hobby

As the days get shorter, it can be helpful to keep the mind busy with a hobby. Think about some winter-friendly activities like knitting, reading or even completing a puzzle. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, lean into the chill and try cold-water swimming.

Bonus tip: arrange a meet-up with others who have the same hobby; start a book club, invite a friend over for a knit and a natter or head to your parents to help them with their latest puzzle.

10. Seek extra support if you need to

Mental health isn’t linear and it can dip at any time. If you’re experiencing a dip and you’re struggling to cope, it may be worth seeking some professional support. This may mean visiting your GP, looking up a local support group, talking to a charity helpline, or finding a therapist.

Know that there are options and you are not alone in this.

Find charity helplines and support forums today. Learn more about counselling and find a therapist at Counselling Directory.

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