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Looking after your mental health is always important, but this year it’s become even more vital. We’ve put together some tips for this difficult time.

Between anxiety about the pandemic itself and long stretches of isolation, things have taken a toll on everyone. But with a second lockdown and winter around the corner, things are going to get harder for many of us. Shorter days, less sunlight and gloomy weather have a huge impact on mental health, especially on those facing Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Also known as SAD or Seasonal Depression, it’s a condition that can affect anybody, regardless of your mental health in general. Significant changes in the weather can lead to feelings of constant fatigue, struggling to enjoy things, and being in very low spirits. Sleep can be disrupted and for some people, it leads to serious mental health problems. Add another month of staying inside, and this is a problem which is easy to let get out of hand.

But there are some changes you can make to help reinforce your mental health! They might not fix everything but these tips can help take the edge off, so you can get on with your day:

CATCH SOME RAYS

Vitamin D is a proven pick-me-up. Being stuck indoors this year means a lot of us missed out on soaking up the sun, so we’re running particularly low on this stuff. With the nights stretching on for longer, vitamin D deficiency is common. Just about everybody will notice an increase in fatigue and common colds over winter. So whether it’s taking yourself out for a socially distanced walk, or even just sitting yourself next to an open window for yet another Zoom meeting – make sure you catch as much daylight as you can, as directly as you can. Think of yourself like a houseplant; lots of light and plenty of water is always a winning combo.

FITNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH

If you can exercise while you’re outside, you can double up your mood boost. Keeping yourself active isn’t just good for the body, it’s good for the brain. Exercising releases endorphins which help to alleviate stress and anxiety, giving you an overall more positive feeling. Even though you can’t get to the gym right now, you can still keep your mind and body engaged with home workouts. If you’re not one for working up a sweat, ease yourself into some brisk walks or ground yourself with yoga. There are many ways to stay fit, whatever your ability. It’s a great way to ensure you’re getting good quality sleep too…

PLENTY OF SLEEP

Sticking to a schedule can be extremely helpful if you’re finding your sleep pattern skewed. Sleep is essential to keeping you in a good frame of mind. It also helps your body repair itself, meaning your immune system needs plenty of rest to keep you free of winter bugs. Getting an average 8 hours of undisturbed sleep a night [which can be easier said than done] has been proven beneficial for just about every aspect of your wellbeing. From improving memory to maintaining a healthy weight, it\’s a great help all round. Avoid the trap of endless scrolling right before bed by limiting how much time you spend on your phone in the evenings; blue light from screens can trick your brain into staying active long past bedtime.

REGULAR CHECK-INS

It can be tempting to keep to yourself when you’re feeling down, and lockdown can make this all too easy. But reaching out for a chat can do wonders for your mood. Partnering up with one of your nearest and dearest for a daily catch up is a great way to stay on top of things, even if it’s just for 5 minutes at the end of the day. You may even be helping them deal with their own winter blues too; it’s estimated that as many as 1 in 3 people deal with seasonal depression in the UK every year. Factor in another month of quarantine and everybody’s feeling some strain on their mental health.

If striking up a conversation feels like too much, get in touch with yourself. This is a great time to get cracking on a diary, or giving journaling a try. Write down how you’re feeling and be honest with yourself. Even if it feels a bit ridiculous, nobody else is going to see it; putting your thoughts down on paper will free up some space in your head for better things.

HAVE A PLAN

If you know you get hit by bad vibes this time ever year, you probably know what helps you most. Make a list of all the things that make you feel good and consult it whenever you find yourself drawing a blank. Could be a bubble bath after a long day, or maybe this is a great time to finally clear out the spare room. It’s important to recognize that these small joys all add up. Life doesn’t stop during lockdown, but it can be easy to feel unmotivated. Putting a few steps in place to give your brain a reset is a great way to manage this and stave off the boredom.

LOOK AHEAD

Just because the pandemic’s cancelled your 2020 plans, doesn’t mean you can’t make new ones. Even if you have to get creative. The first lockdown showed us that having something fun on the horizon is essential, no matter how simple. So this time around make sure to fill your calendar with as many facetime chats and long-distance date nights as you can. Went through a quiz phase back in summer? Don\’t hesitate to get the gang back together this time around! We all need things to look forward to and structure is greatly beneficial to feeling in control. It doesn’t matter how trivial the event, the little things count for a lot. Maintaining as much order as you can is a great [and useful] way to keep yourself focused and productive.

If feeling low is getting too hard to deal with and affecting your everyday life, speak to your doctor. For immediate support, MIND have a list of helplines: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/helplines-listening-services/

By making sure self-care routines don’t slip, you can give yourself the best chance of a positive end to the year. It can be easy to let small things get neglected, but keeping on top of your mental health is one of the best ways to keep on top of everything else.

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