Thanksgiving, and the richness of the winter holidays, can bring much needed joy and warmth into our lives, right? Well for many of us, the winter months pose various concerns for people struggling with a mental health condition or issues. From the exacerbation of symptoms, to the isolating effects of heavy snowfall, the winter can be very challenging.
There is a need to explore the importance of maintaining wellness during the cold winter months and other recommendations to stay healthy when the weather poses the possibility of physical barriers to getting to work, accessing goods and services, and further risk of psychological mayhem from limited sunlight, or physical mobility issues from heavy snowfall and incident weather.
There is no question that the holidays are a happy time of year as we march towards November and December. But sometime after New Year’s, the liveliness drops off, and the excitement fades into the bleakness of cold weather and the necessities of the winter.
This means less outdoor activities for some people; either due to problems ambulating in the icy conditions, low tolerance of colder weather, or simply, less interest in winter recreation and leisure outdoors. Regardless, we still need to get exercise, and at some point, venture into the cold. This may mean renewing a gym membership for the winter, and reconfiguring the manner in which you get groceries, and other household goods given less time spent in the community shopping due to hazardous roads or your desire to stay bundled up indoors.
Maintaining good health in the winter, even if it’s not your favourite season, is really very manageable. When access is limited, for whatever reason, plan ahead, and stock up on goods and other necessities for the home if inclement weather strikes unexpectedly. Nobody wants to wait on a long queue at the grocery store the night before a major snow storm because they didn’t plan ahead and maintain the gradual flow of goods into their home like food, hygiene supplies, drinks and other items, like batteries and torch for when the power is out from an ice storm.
So, instead of waiting to the last minute to obtain groceries, keep a schedule of bringing in food into the home routinely. This is not a licence to bring in take out and all shades of unhealthy items into the home either, comfort food does not have to be unhealthily, just satisfying and nourishing.
Maintaining connectivity to medical and mental health treatment can be problematic as well. Certain medical conditions are exacerbated by exposure to cold weather. This same is true for mental health symptoms, and conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which impacts people’s moods, and in turn, their habits, behaviour, and thoughts. Consulting with a mental health professional about changes in your mood or thinking because of prolonged periods of limited sunlight may result in a positive change in your life and break the cycle of either relapsing during the winter or increasing your chances for success and wellness during this difficult season.
Be sure to investigate the correlation between sun exposure and your overall mental health, because something as simple as purchasing a light box from pharmacy may increase your wellness when otherwise you would have struggled immensely just to survive. Aside from SAD, connectivity issues become increasingly problematic in the winter.
Getting to and from the doctor, or picking up medication, either refilling an old medication or filling a new e-script from your doctor is hard when bad weather happens. Don’t wait until the last minute to refill medications should the next great blizzard hit.
Research also suggests people are just less active overall during the winter. There are fewer activities due to being limited to the indoors, and generally, people are less connected to each other during extreme weather conditions. Parties get cancelled, or go unscheduled. People isolate. When you find yourself isolating too much, and not connecting with friends and family, pick up the phone, or make a date to connect.
If the weather is extreme, and you need to reach out to someone, but can’t figure out who to call, be sure to call a warm line, to experience that human connection or to troubleshoot a non emergency situation you need to vent about with someone.
All of these recommendations can promote good work attendance during the winter. Eating healthy, staying physically active, and checking in with your personal mental health and wellness is crucial to making into work consistently during the winter.
Ultimately, the winter is just another season in the greater journey of your life. So, pace yourself, and be mindful of habits which interfere with your overall wellness, because the road ahead needs you in your top mental and physical condition for the long haul.
Max E. Guttman, LCSW is a psychotherapist and owner of Recovery Now, a mental health private practice in New York City.