How to look after your mental health this winter, according to you

We asked Positive News readers to share their winter mental health tips. This is what they had a lot to say about everything from mushroom foraging to ice-baths

We asked Positive News readers to share their tips and tricks for better mental health during winter to mark World Mental Health Day today. We received a flood of responses and are grateful for the support from our community. It was inspiring reading all the messages. 

Some common themes were inevitable. Many people cited music, food, and talking therapies as their sources of comfort. It was interesting to see how many of you attributed vitamin supplements and SAD (seasonal effectiveness disorder) lamps with a mood boost.  

It was encouraging that so many of you chose to be outdoors despite the temptation to stay at home with a cup o’ tea. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothes,” was a phrase that came up repeatedly — although evidently not something the cold water swimmers among you subscribe to. Kudos for those who plunge into icy waters without a wetsuit.

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Below are some of our responses. We couldn’t publish them all. We had to cut some to make room for more. We are grateful to everyone who reached out.

Here are some tips to improve your mental health this winter 

1. Get in touch with nature 

“It has been shown that for people with bad mental health, a daily walk in nature improved their symptoms. To motivate yourself, you need to discover the beauty and essence in all seasons. I go mushroom hunting at this time of year. The mushroom harvest is booming right now, and many types of mushrooms will sprout from the ground and tree trunks through the winter. Foraging is a great hobby for me. A goal or mission motivates you. I love the complex dynamic of searching for objects and navigating environments such as hilly moors and rugged forest floors, which stimulate my brain and eyes that usually spend most of the day in front of a computer screen.” – Jakob, Bristol, England 

“I wrap myself up in my favourite blanket, go outside into the garden with my first coffee of the day, listen to the wood pigeons cooing and the birds begin their morning song, as the sun gently wakes us all up.” – Jules, Bristol, England

“I swim in the sea in Pembrokeshire. I also walk along the coast and in the woods. After a breakup with my long-term partner and the death of my new partner, I now live alone. Without nature through those times and Covid I don’t think I’d be here. Nature dispels the loneliness and gives me hope.” – Nicola, Llandeilo, Wales

You can go foraging for fungi in the spring, which is a good reason you should get out of the house when the weather turns. Image: Annie Spratt

2. Break a sweat 

Exercise is important. It can be difficult to get outside in the dark evenings. However, something as simple as a YouTube workout in your living area or a dance around your kitchen can help. Second, think about a time when you felt relaxed. Imagine what you could hear, smell, taste, or feel at that moment. Spend a few minutes closing the eyes and thinking about this place. Third, challenge your negative thoughts. When we think negatively about ourselves and others, ask yourself if you have any evidence for this and if you’re helping yourself by focusing on this, and instead focus on an activity that you enjoy. The winter can be difficult, but focusing on what makes us feel good, even when we don’t want to, can have such a positive impact.” – Catrina Telford, England

3. Be open to the cold 

For three minutes a night I have an ice bath.” – Richie, Llanelli, Wales

My saviour is open water swimming — the colder the better. It has kept me sane. Just getting in the water and letting it wrap round you is the best feeling.” – Elizabeth, Scotland

World Mental Health Day

Perhaps you find solace in cold water, contrary to what you might think. Image: Seregei

4. Practice gratitude 

“Keeping a gratitude journal really helps me. I notice the wonderful things that have happened each day and it shifts my attention away from the things that are stressful or draining me. It is also helpful to have a news blackout. I find that the news is permanently full of awful things and if that’s what I read about, I feel helpless and despairing. If I focus on sources of positive news (for example, Positive News), I can face the day with more energy and a sense of possibility.” – Sophie, France 

“I focus on what I do have. A safe and secure home with a kettle on hand. A sweet husband and a dog for comfort. My heart holds happy memories from many years. It is possible to walk if you are healthy enough. Books to fill me mind and soul. A full refrigerator, cosy bed, birds to feed, muffins to bake, neighbours who need a muffin.” – Nancy, Virginia, US

5. Make an activity jar 

“I recently created a jar of activities that I can do in winter. I took four different coloured papers and wrote different activities on them. Then, I folded them up and put them into the jar. The colours were chosen to signify four categories: activities that are free, daytime, nighttime, or post-work, and activities that cost money. When I need a lift, I use the jar. Listening to music and being outdoors are two things that make me feel happier. My hobbies include listening to music, taking photos, and even playing my record player. These activities can be tailored to your location and core interests. It’s simple and can take you out of mundane routines even just for a day or evening.” – Bethany, Sheffield, England 

Many people find gratitude diaries helpful in keeping their perspective. Image by Lilartsy

6. Talk and be open 

“Talk to someone about your anxiety and how you’re feeling, We must raise awareness rather than suffer in silence.” – Carrie Stafford, Bedford, England 

7. Look for good news 

“I suffer with winter blues on top of depression and anxiety. The blues begin to set in when the days are shorter. To counteract this, I eat healthy food and drink lots of water. I also cut down on the news I look at and regularly check out Positive News for a boost.” – Sera, Suffolk, England 

8. Give your body and mind a rest. 

A small tin full of mackerel and sardines works best for me. The lift it gives me is almost instant.” – Helen, Cornwall, England 

“Cooking hearty meals and inviting friends or family around for lunch for cosy chats works for me.” – Nigel, Dorset, England

“I have set up a biweekly roast club with my closest friends where we go to each other’s houses for roast dinners.” – Alex, Brighton, England 

Many people find it helps to share the bread with others. Image: Stefan Vladimirov

9. Let go of what you can’t control  

“I try not to worry about things I have no control over, and seek help when I need it. If I’m feeling down and am by myself, I try to keep busy doing something positive and creative. If that doesn’t work I put an old ‘comfort blanket’ movie on. I have many of them that I can watch over and over again. They help me feel calmer, and they make me feel better. If I’m able to (I’m disabled), I go outside and feel the elements on my face, look at the sky and listen to nature. Music is also helpful. Every morning, I try to go swimming. It helps to set me up each day.” – Davy, Hebburn, England 

10. Follow the Danes

“We embrace the Danish concept of ‘hygge.’ It roughly translates as ‘cosiness’ and means putting on big wooly socks, lighting lots of candles and putting fairy lights in every available space. It means sharing warmth and joy with friends, and enjoying comforting food. It’s so important to create a warm and inviting atmosphere in the home, a place to come back to after a cold and blustery day, where you can feel relaxed and at peace.” – Naomi, Northern Ireland

11. Find a hobby 

“I just started knitting and I’m halfway through my first beanie. Crafting can make great Christmas gifts with a personal touch, so it’s good for saving those pennies too. Knitting has helped me gain a new sense of achievement, and you don’t need to spend much. There are loads of free patterns online.” – Louise, Uxbridge, near London

It is also a good time for hobbies to be pursued in the winter months. Image: Margarida Afonso

12. Plan a trip 

“Planning a trip that I look forward to helps me get through winter.” – Jo, Christchurch, New Zealand 

13. Help others 

“Look for opportunities to do something for someone else.” – Kathy, US

14. Start a DIY project

“I try to find a house project to be done over winter. You need something that will keep you busy inside. It could be a bit of DIY, some clothes mending, some extreme house cleaning, or even organising your loft.” – James, Leeds, England

15. Get a SAD Lamp 

“This year I bought an SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamp and so far so good. It’s a good lamp that I use for about half an hour each morning. It’s lightened my mood and I have more energy.” – Margaret, Scotland

Main image: Thom Holmes

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