A unique combination of mental health stresses is being created with lockdowns, economic anxiety, enforced social distancing, poor weather and isolation. 

Each individual will be experiencing a unique set of challenges brought about by the situation we find ourselves in and whilst they are different for everyone, remember that you are not alone in your challenges. We are all affected in some way. Taking proactive steps to care for yourself and others during the winter months will help you feel connected and well.

Here are some tips if you’re feeling the pressure:

Routine

It’s vital if you want to stay motivated that you set a routine. If you’re working make sure you get up at a regular time and start by 9am. Routines give structure to the day and setting small achievable goals can help you to stay motivated during this time. 

To do list

Start by writing a small manageable list of things you want to achieve. Work towards ticking off those goals even if they are small. Remember to celebrate your achievements and take time to focus on what you are proud of which will help boost your confidence. 

Stay socially connected

Keep in touch with your colleagues. Give them a call, maybe first thing – it will help you both realise you’re not alone. Reach out regularly to family and friends to make sure they are ok during this time. Make the most of online platforms if you can’t meet face to face. 

Eat well

Make sure you eat properly and stay hydrated throughout the day.  Eat foods that protect your mood. What you eat affects how you think and feel. Individuals who switch from eating mostly junk foods to avoiding sugar, eating lots of vegetables, and cooking healthy meals at home often report feeling much more energetic and have an overall improvement in mood and general wellbeing. 

Limit your alcohol consumption

Alcohol has a substantial impact on your mood. During the spring, the European WHO issued a recommendation for people to limit alcohol during Covid, for mental health reasons. If you’re vulnerable to mental health ups and downs, as many of us are in the winter months use alcohol very carefully and remember that it is a depressant and has a significant impact on your sleep patterns. 

Mindset

Health Psychologist, Kari Leibowitz researched the impact of the winter months on the citizens of Tromsø, a Norwegian city which at some points in the year has only 2-3 hours of sunlight a day. Leibowitz's research showed that citizens did not experience the type of winter time depression you might expect. Her work concluded that a protective factor was the mindset of the community within Tromsø and how they perceived the winter months. Leibowitz’s findings build on decades of previous research showing that the mental framing of stressful events can powerfully influence the ways we are affected by them. People who see stressful events as challenges, with an opportunity to learn and adapt, tend to cope much better than those who focus more on the threatening aspects – like the possibility of failure, embarrassment or illness. Whilst our appraisal of whether an event feels like a threat, or an opportunity, will depend on our circumstances and our resources to handle the problems we encounter it is sometimes possible to change our appraisal of a situation consciously. With this in mind, aim to find the things about winter that you might enjoy and value and focus on them.

Get as much fresh air and daylight as you can

At lunchtime take a walk or sit outside, put your phone down, look around and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Finish work at a reasonable time

Don’t be tempted to work late into the evening, try and finish at a regular time.

Put the phone down

After “work” is over, try to forget about it. Enjoy time with a partner or family. Allow yourself to decompress from the pressures of the day and recharge yourself for the next day ahead.

Sleep

Get enough good quality sleep, every night. Sleep has a huge impact on our mood, and our ability to cope with stress and adversity.  Think of the last time you had a poor or short night’s sleep, how hard it was to get through your workday. Know how many hours of sleep you need a night to feel at your best and do whatever it takes to get that sleep.

Exercise, exercise, exercise

I can’t emphasise this one enough. Regular cardiovascular exercise has a powerfully protective, boosting effect on your mood. It has been shown in studies to be as effective as antidepressants in treating moderate levels of depression. If you’re vulnerable to low moods, anxiety, stress or burnout, exercise should be your best friend. Try to get moving every single day. Find ways to exercise indoors or bundle up and get outside if you can. 

Plan for the other side

This will end, we simply don’t know when yet, and when it does you need to be in the best shape possible to seize any opportunities. Get planning!
 
Remember as winter approaches that although it may be a difficult time, eventually the seasons will change, and it will make way for springtime and a time of regrowth. Finally, as good things often come in three’s …

1. This situation may last a long time, but it will have an end, it will change in its form and shape and eventually opportunities will arise

2.  Don't be held back by your idea of how things should be and aim to adopt an attitude of curiosity about the coming months

3.   It may all feel very personal, but take a moment to remember that everyone is struggling in one way or another

Written by: Kirsty Lilley

Kirsty has delivered mindfulness and self-compassion courses to a wide variety of workplaces during her career and is also a trained psychotherapist and coach. She has worked at a strategic level within organisations developing wellbeing policies and been responsible for developing training courses on improving mental health and wellbeing, as well as courses designed to help line managers support people with mental health difficulties effectively and continually works towards the reduction of stigma within workplace settings. Kirsty is committed to an integrated and compassionate approach when helping others to fulfil their potential.

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