Mental Health

Mental health: 5 easy ways to protect your wellbeing as the days grow shorter

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Lauren Geall
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Worried about what the arrival of autumn could mean for your wellbeing? These simple tips will help you to stay on top of things as the weather grows colder. 

Whether you’ve switched the heating on for the first time since spring, dug out your cosiest roll neck jumpers or thought about purchasing a new pair of boots, the colder weather and darker evenings of the last week have made the arrival of autumn hard to ignore.

But while some people love this time of year and revel in the opportunity to cosy up in front of some autumn TV, others, like me, find that the darker evenings and miserable weather has a detrimental effect on their mental health and wellbeing.

While I’m not against cosying up on the sofa or enjoying a pair of fluffy slippers, I tend to find this time of year quite stifling. Not only do I struggle to stay motivated when the outside is so dark and dingy, but the darker evenings mean I have less time to exercise and get outside – both things which I find incredibly important when it comes to taking care of my wellbeing. 

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However, while in the past I’ve resigned myself to feeling a bit rubbish during the winter, this year, I’ve resolved to do things differently. While some of the challenges that this time of year presents are unavoidable – I’m looking at you, 5pm sunsets – I want to try and make things a little easier – and that’s where this article comes in.

To find out more about the steps you and I can all take to protect our wellbeing this autumn and winter, I spoke to Grace McMahon, a life coach at BeingWell. Here’s what she had to say.  

  • 1. Balance your diet

    A courgette and sausage stew
    Fuelling your body well is a great place to start.

    If you often find yourself feeling sluggish and flat during the colder months, the first step McMahon recommends is taking the time to make rich, nourishing foods.

    “The winter months can make us crave fast food, treats and sweets as our bodies need more energy to keep warm while still doing everything we did in the warmer months: work, parenting, exercising,” she explains. “While a few sweeter delights aren’t going to harm us, make sure to balance this with nourishing food, too.”

    To give yourself an extra boost, McMahon recommends adding healthy stews and soups to your diet – not only are they rich in vitamins and nutrients that will help your brain to function well and protect your ability to cope with daily life, but they’re also a great way to warm yourself up and take care of yourself when it’s cold and miserable outside. 

  • 2. Maintain your vitamin D

    A woman with vitamin D supplements in her hand
    Taking vitamin D supplements is an easy way to ensure you're getting enough.

    While most people should be able to make all the vitamin D they need from the sunlight between March and September, during the colder months you’ll need to take steps to ensure your vitamin D levels don’t slip.

    This is important for a number of reasons. Not only does vitamin D play a vital role in keeping our bones, teeth and muscles healthy, but studies have shown that vitamin D also helps to regulate mood.

    Indeed, as McMahon explains: “Try taking vitamin D supplements alongside a balanced diet in the winter months to make up for the lost sunshine. It won’t ‘fix’ anything, but it might give you a little more of a boost and a smile through chattering teeth.” 

  • 3. Get cosy and comfy

    A woman in socks sat with her feet up on the radiator
    Adding a few cosy pieces to your wardrobe and home will make things feel more welcoming.

    It may seem simple, but embracing the colder weather and taking steps to make yourself feel cosy and comfortable can make a big difference to your wellbeing.

    “Feeling good in ourselves really helps to protect our mental health,” McMahon explains. “We’re more likely to feel better in ourselves if we’re comfortable, warm enough, cosy and settled.”

    To help you get started, McMahon recommends adding a handful of ‘comfort’ items to your home and wardrobe. “You don’t have to spend a fortune, but adding some simple staples like putting thick blankets on the sofa can actually really help us to find comfort in winter – and in ourselves,” she says. 

  • 4. Don’t let the cold hold you back

    A woman walking her dog in winter
    Getting outside for a walk will help to wake you up and blow out the cobwebs.

    You may feel less-than motivated to get outside when it’s windy and raining, but doing so can do you the world of good. 

    After all, there’s a reason why the Nordic concept of ‘friluftsliv’ or open air living is so popular in Scandinavian countries during the winter months – embracing the outdoors and staying active is important no matter what time of the year it is.

    “Fresh air, albeit crispier and icier at this time of year, is still great for clearing the mind and getting oxygen into the lungs and brain,” McMahon says. “Try brisk walks through the park paired with a hot drink to stop your fingers falling off.” 

  • 5. Listen to what you need

    A woman having a duvet day watching something on her laptop
    Giving your body what it needs will make the winter months that little bit easier.

    While taking care of yourself is important all-year round, taking the time to listen to your body and mind – and giving them what they need – is even more crucial when you’re feeling rough.

    “The gloominess of winter can be hard to manage for many of us, but you can make it your own – whether that’s by starting the Christmas movie marathon early or making an effort to maintain your all-year routine,” McMahon says.

    “Try to embrace it rather than feel intimidated, and if a duvet day is required just to help keep you warm and sane, that’s OK too.” 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.