Take steps to manage your mental health this winter to ensure your wellbeing isn’t adversely affected by the shift in the seasons.

10 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health In Winter | Men's Fitness UK

Wim Hof believes exposure to the cold can regulate stress levels | Photo: @iceman_hof

1. Befriend the Cold

Teach yourself to ‘befriend the cold’ by taking regular cold showers or ice baths, advises ‘The Iceman’ Wim Hof in his new book, The Wim Hof Method.

‘Taking an ice bath is an amazing way to show yourself what you are capable of,’ he writes.

For those new to cold water he recommends taking things slowly and focussing on the breath: ‘Take deep breaths through the nose and try to relax. Try letting out a long “Hummmmm” on the exhale.’

2. Jot it Down

When the skies are grey, it gets tough to remember the sunny days. Keeping a gratitude journal is a tried-and-tested means of ‘counting your blessings’: helping you remember things you’re grateful for by regularly writing them down.

Research by psychologist Sonya Lyubomirsky shows that this works best when you just do it once a week, as doing it more can make the experience feel like a chore – ruining the point of the exercise. 

10 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health In Winter | Men's Fitness UK

3. Get Outside

Take every opportunity to get outside, says professional footballer turned life coach John Borland: “Winter can be a time of darkness for us, and that darkness not only surrounds us physically, but unchecked it can seep internally, into our mental and emotional states.

“So get outside as much as possible in daylight hours. Bathe in the light as often as you can. Getting your daily dose of light will help to keep the internal darkness at bay.”

4. Go With the Flow

Learn to be adaptable. Relax and allow yourself to go with the flow when things get difficult.

“In the current climate, where there are so many changes and where we can apparently change direction overnight, it’s important to be agile and adaptable in the way we cope,” says wellbeing expert Andy Freeman.

“You may want to put a hold on ‘what-if’ thinking and spend a bit more time in the now.”

10 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health In Winter | Men's Fitness UK

5. Let There Be Light

Even if we are able to get outside a bit, many of us suffer from a lack of sunlight during the winter months, sometimes leading to an affliction known as ‘seasonal affective disorder’ (SAD) which impacts our bodies and minds.

A raft of studies have demonstrated that ‘bright-light therapy’ is helpful in treating SAD, with options ranging from visors and lamps, to alarm clocks that wake you up with a gradual increase of natural light instead of an annoying buzzer.

6. Be a Regular Riser

Quality sleep is important, and sleep physiologist Stephanie Romiszewski says the key is to have a fixed ‘wake time’.

“A fixed bedtime is less important,” she says, “you should be going to bed when sleepy and not before – listen to your body, don’t dictate to it.

“While a third of your day should be your sleep opportunity, it doesn’t mean eight hours perfect sleep each night. Leave the tracker watch at the bedroom door – you will sleep better!”

10 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health In Winter | Men's Fitness UK

7. Stay Connected

Dr Alastair Jones, an endurance cyclist and leadership consultant, says that staying connected to positive people is vital, particularly in tough times.

“One thing I found when I was recovering from a medical event,” he says, “was that the strength of my connections made a huge impact on my positive outlook.

“The people around me sustained and encouraged me. Someone once said ‘the future belongs to the networkers’ – I think the present does, too!”

8. Develop Self-Compassion

Humans are hardwired to try to preserve social status by ensuring others think they are strong. Learning to consciously practise self-compassion instead of worrying about what others think has been shown to have direct mental health benefits.

Studies show that repeating  the ‘Metta meditation’ (a yoga practice) regularly can help:

“May I dwell in safety, may I be happy and healthy, may I be free from afflictions, may I be at peace.”

9. Don’t Stress About Screens

Unless you find spending time on social media is actively upsetting you, don’t worry too much about the amount of time you’re using electronic screens.

An eight-year study published in 2020 in the journal Computers in Human Behavior showed that, contrary to popular belief, time spent on social media doesn’t necessarily have a negative impact on mental health.

So if you find it helpful to keep up with friends online, don’t feel bad about liking and sharing.

10 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health In Winter | Men's Fitness UK

10. Take Out the Trash

Comfort eating is particularly tempting when the days are short and the nights are dark, but keeping your diet free of starchy carbs and trans fats will help you keep your mind, as well as your waistline, in check.

Research published in the British Medical Journal recently confirmed that ‘high consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes; moderate consumption of poultry, eggs, and dairy products; and only occasional consumption of red meat is associated with a reduced risk of depression.”