Mental Health Tips for Fall and Winter

Northwestern Medicine
Psychiatry and Psychology November 01, 2021

Fall and winter can be challenging for many from a mental health perspective, and for the second year in a row, the holiday season will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some tips on ways to maintain good mental health in the months ahead from Allison Johnsen, LCPC, BCC, behavioral health specialist at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital.

Focus on the meaning of the holidays
Ask yourself what the holidays mean to you personally. What do you cherish: the feast, the family camaraderie, viewing the lights and decorations? Identify what is most important and meaningful for you, and be flexible with the rest. Then identify specific ways to make the holidays special for you this year.

Beware ‘post-pandemic flux syndrome’
Coined in a Washington Post article by Riley Cuddy on August 11, 2021, this is not a clinical term, but it is something you may have noticed affecting you during the long months of the pandemic. Many people are feeling rather numb, or trending up and down with anxiety and depression, as hopes of a return to “normal” wax and wane. You may also find yourself wanting to make a big change, like moving to a different state; changing jobs; buying an RV, a new car or a new house; or working remotely from another location (perhaps in your new RV). But make sure you vet such decisions carefully and understand where they are coming from. You do not want to make a long-term decision like blowing your budget, depleting your savings, or walking away from your significant other in response to the pandemic.

Stay active
Put exercise, movement, outdoor and social activities into your schedule as must-do’s, just like meetings or appointments. It may be safe to return to the gym, especially if you are vaccinated. Walking is always an option with weather-appropriate clothing. You can also try Pilates, yoga and other video-streaming exercise options at home.

Cultivate a positive mindset
Take a look at your thought process and adjust if needed. Observe your own thinking and ask yourself: Is it negative, worried or angry? If so, that’s how you will feel. So keep your thoughts as positive as possible and curb that inner negativity with these ideas:

  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Reading or listen to uplifting music, podcasts or audio books.
  • Remind yourself that winter is temporary and spring light will come again. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, every day after December 21 gets longer.
  • Each week, schedule activities you enjoy and look forward to:
    o Visits with friends and family
    o Special dinners
    o Reading a great book
    o Watching a TV series that does not depress you
    o Taking up a project or hobby and keeping at it (productivity is great for mental health)
  • Reach out to someone you trust if you find your thoughts are trending towards the negative or irrational. Ask for help to return to a positive mindset.

Protect your health this winter
Implement these practices to boost your immune system and your mental health:

  • Make sleep a priority. Get seven to eight hours on most nights. This will improve your mood and your productivity.
  • Keep hand-washing, mask-wearing and physical distancing if you are indoors with people who may not be vaccinated or outdoors in crowded situations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov has excellent guidelines to protect yourself and those you love.
  • Take vitamins.
  • Avoid bingeing on food and alcohol.
  • Keep exercising.
  • Use lotion, as skin dries out in low humidity and heated environments.
  • Monitor your thought patterns and work on increasing positive thinking.

If you find you cannot do at least some of these healthy things on your own, then seek a mental health counselor or talk to your primary care physician.

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