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20 December 2020

Winter can be a difficult time

A guide to looking after your mental wellbeing
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Let's talk about mental health

The autumn and winter months can be a bleaker time for anyone, but especially those with mental health issues. Whether it’s the winter blues, anxiety or depression, there’s no denying that the cold and darker days can be a daunting combination. And one that makes most of us stay indoors more, exercise less and feel more unsociable. But there are some positive things that we can all do to help ourselves and each other.

Stay active

It’s easy to let the shorter days prevent us from getting outdoors, but there might be some simple things you can do. Try walking on your lunch break rather than sitting at your desk and answering that next email while you eat. We know it harder to be motivated to go out when it's cold and grey, but there are healthy benefits. Light is measured in lux units - of course a bright winters day will have a higher value than a grey gloomy day, but even a grey day can reach 5000 lux units for example where a standard office, even a brightly lit one, is usually around 80 and 250 lux. Even 15 minutes on a cloudy winter day can be enough to boost our wellbeing.

If you’re not getting a lunch break, make an extra effort to get away from your workplace (don’t be afraid to speak up and say you need to get some fresh air). Stepping away from work will allow your mind some downtime and will help you focus better when you return.

The NHS has some helpful advice on ways you might be able to beat the tiredness that comes with the winter months.

Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes known as “winter depression”, is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern and is usually more apparent during autumn and winter. Common symptoms of SAD include a persistent low mood, a loss of interest in everyday activities, and feeling lethargic, stressed or anxious. 

Read more about seasonal affective disorder.

Think differently about winter

Studies show people living in the Arctic Circle relish the long polar winters, and it's down to a particular positive mindset about the period. It's not a cure for mental ill health but having a positive mindset or attitude can help all of us target the dread or negative feelings about wintertime.

Dark nights offer a chance for candlelit evenings, cosy nights in snuggled under a blanket, or cooking comfort foods using winter spices and fragrance our homes. Warm and mulled drinks are great too - you can find recipes online to add mulled spices to orange or apple juice to give an extra zing to your drink.

Creative winter spices

Being excited for the prospect of snow, and the effect it has on muting background noise and bringing stillness - or the chance to step out into the crisp fresh snowfall.

Lots of people already do these things without thinking about it but reminding ourselves that this time of year is an opportunity for us to do these things helps us reframe our thinking about winter.

Where you can, start planning for the winter and think about your rituals and your daily schedule. Can you adjust your daily schedule to fit around daylight hours to help you keep motivated. Can you plan your meals around what's in season? These things might not always be possible, but planning ahead will help us to feel prepared for the winter.

Keeping warm

There's a Norwegian saying that there's no bad weather, only bad clothing. This is an interesting saying, as it prompts us to reframe winter in our mindsets. Wrapping up warm and thinking about the types of clothing we wear is not just about saving money on energy bills, but it also helps us feel cosier and more positive about the lower temperatures of wintertime.

Electric blankets, wheat bags and wooly socks are all useful items to have to help you keep warm and find the winter period more enjoyable.

There's also no getting away from the fact that movement generates heat - whether you're an exercise fanatic, or prefer to sit exercise out, simple movements and stretches can be enough and help prevent that cold feeling setting in. A simple way to do this with your colleagues could be a regular 15-minute slot in your day when you all just move, chat and gentle stretches together - it also helps you feel connected to others and motivated too.

If you're struggling with bills and rising energy costs, it's important to reach out for support. We've got an article from the Bank Workers Charity on the support that's available. We've also got a more general guide on financial wellbeing.

Express your creative side

Hobbies are good for keeping both our minds and bodies active. Doing something creative can be therapeutic, and a good stress relief. It can also help us switch off at the end of a day in a way that watching TV and scrolling through our social media feeds can’t.

You could write a story, have a go at drawing, snap that perfect photo or knit a scarf to keep you warm. You could event set yourself a challenge like Inktober. Adult colouring books are also a cheap and easy way to destress - the focus required in concentrating on the task helps reset some of the stress circuits in our mind.

Keep connected with others

When it’s cold and wet, the last thing you might fancy is a trip out to see a friend or a relative, but it can leave us isolated. It’s really important to stay connected with the people that matter to you most. So if you really don’t fancy leaving the house, why not set-up a video call instead of sending messages, or a voice note instead of a text? Research has shown that modern ways of communicating, while quick and convenient, can have a negative impact on our mental health. Something as simple as sending a voice note instead of a text can make us feel more connected to others, and this can feel comforting if you're feeling isolated and alone.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, there are always people on hand to talk. Large employers will have Employee Assistance Programmes that can talk to you confidentially. For all our members in the bank (and those who’ve worked for one in the past) you have access to the confidential services of the Bank Workers Charity. Every year they support thousands of people from the banking community by providing advice and expert support services.

Phone and social media notifications

Put down your phone

There’s increasing research on the effects of constant usage of mobile devices. The blue light emitted may cause disruption to our sleep, as will nonstop notifications that drop in at all hours of the day (do we really need to know about that offer at 2am in the morning?)

If you can turn your phone off during the night, then this is a good way to disconnect from the world. Perhaps agree to set aside some phone-free time before bed and read a book instead (if you’re going to read a book on your phone or tablet, turn off notifications so you can focus on reading and change the settings to a black or grey background to avoid blue light).

The Bank Workers Charity recently published a practical guide to a digital detox which is well worth checking out.

Remind someone they are amazing

Remember the last time someone thanked you, or gave you something you weren’t expecting, just because they could? Wasn’t that an awesome feeling, making you warm and fuzzy inside? How did it make them feel, watching your eyes light up — smiling is infectious.

Friends dancing

You don’t have to make grand gestures to make someone smile. Small things can have a big impact. It could be something as simple as bringing home a box of chocolates for your loved one at the end of a stressful week, or reminding them that they’re special, or simply doing the washing up after dinner without being asked. Small thank you’s go a long way, and they can have a positive impact on you as well as the person you thank. This is just as important at work as it is in your home life too!

If you see someone is having a rough day or week, don’t just ask them if they’re okay (which one of us ever truly says how we feel when we’re asked that question? we all respond with ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m getting by’). Instead, ask them if they’d like to talk, and give them the opportunity and space to do so. It’s fine if they don’t want to, don’t be pushy. Just let them know that you’re there if needed and move on to talk about more pleasant things.

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