Winter is a tough season. It’s cold, wet, dark and miserable, and has the additional pressure of being full of intense, often stressful festive celebrations. On top of all of this, you can experience routine change, diet change, and a change in alcohol consumption, all of which can have a significant impact on your mental and physical health.

We’ve created a list of a few ideas to help you beat those January blues, and hopefully help keep you well this winter!

Let the sunshine in

The change in light levels can affect your circadian rhythm- this is your ‘body clock’, a process that is also known as your ‘sleep/wake’ cycle. These can be different for every person, whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, but the lower levels of light can leave you feeling sluggish and drowsy, and can also impact your emotions.

Though sunshine is hard to come by in the winter, we recommend you spend as much time as you can outside, absorbing the light whenever possible. Even an extra 15 minutes every day can make all the difference! Take a walk on your lunch break, sit near a window at home or at the office and make your home as light and airy as possible.

If you really struggle with the change in light levels, or if you have experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder, you may want to speak to your mental health team or think about investing in a SAD lamp or light box, that shines light much brighter than normal home or workplace lights. Speak to your GP if you are taking any medication or using additional treatments that affect your sensitivity to light.

You might also like to look at dawn simulators instead of alarm clocks, which can be used as bedside lamps but also wake you up to a soft simulated sunrise rather than a harsh beeping!

Don’t let comfort foods work against you

It’s completely normal that when it’s cold and miserable, you reach for things that are comforting- what my mum calls ‘stick to your ribs food’. Pies, potatoes, and hearty red meat filled stews, hot chocolates, cheesy, creamy, savoury dishes, mince pies, and the endless chocolate and biscuit selection boxes are all options that are okay to indulge in once in a while, but the comfort food option is tempting to reach for every day in winter, which can work against you.

You don’t have to make a huge change to make a difference either! January can be a time for uncompromising decisions- New Year’s Resolutions can sometimes make you feel like every decision you make has to be an absolute, but this isn’t the case, and can sometimes work against you. Below are some ideas of food replacements that can make it easier for you to stay well without feeling like you have to give up everything you enjoy.

  • Replace and reduce red meat with leaner meats- replacing your beef mince with turkey in a Bolognese, and giving yourself smaller portions of meat and using vegetables as fillers can have a huge impact. Large amounts of red meat have been shown to be damaging for your gut, and as your gut is such a big part of the wellbeing of the rest of your body, it’s important to take care of it!
  • Replace white potatoes with sweet potatoes or root vegetable mixes- potatoes are delicious, and there’s no need to give them up completely! Sweet potatoes are higher in vitamin C than white potatoes, and so replacing mash or roasties with a sweet potato or potato and root vegetable mix allows you the chance to have a tasty meal while also getting a vitamin boost!
  • Replace your sugary cereal or croissant breakfast with oats- oats are versatile, easy and are a slow release breakfast option. You can blend them into a flour and use it to make healthy low-sugar pancakes, soak them overnight with a milk of your choice and fruits, nuts, or plain for an easy grab and go breakfast, or make traditional porridge for a warming start to your day. You can even use them in smoothies to make hearty breakfast that’ll help keep you full until lunch!
  • Add vitamins in to every meal- add spinach to a curry or lentils to a soup for a boost of iron, add tomatoes to a pasta dish or citrus fruits to a dressing for a boost of vitamin C; the possibilities are endless, so get creative!

The most important tip of all when thinking about food is stay positive- it’s not always possible to have a healthy option for every meal, and a balanced diet is about just that; balance! Don’t feel guilty for enjoying yourself, but don’t overindulge, and don’t force yourself to cut calories or eat food you don’t enjoy for every meal because you feel like you have to!

Protect yourself

This point leads on well from the point above- take supplements during the winter to help give yourself a fighting chance against bugs, use hand sanitiser and wash your hands regularly, find out if you qualify for the flu jab and take vitamins!

Vitamins and supplements can be a complicated thing, and we always recommend that you speak to your GP before starting anything new. We also recommend that you try and find the highest quality possible- for example, some vitamins can have additives and ingredients that slow your body’s ability to break them down, making the vitamins hard for your body to access, meaning that they may not be utilised by the body in the best way! Speaking to someone who is qualified can help you pick the best option for you and your body.

Cut down on refined sugar

Cutting down on refined sugar can be difficult, as sugar has been found to create a dependency in some people. Sugar can have an impact on your energy levels; creating high energy bursts that leave you tired and sluggish afterwards. Some people also find that these rapidly changing energy levels have an impact on their emotional wellbeing too, and cutting out sugar can also have a positive impact on your immunity, with some studies finding that a can of fizzy drink can reduce the ability of your white blood cells to kill germs by up to 40%! In the colder weather, it’s important to give your immune system all the help you can, and reducing your sugar intake can be a good way to help.

Get out and about

 Exercise of any type is good for you all year round, but in the winter it’s tempting to make every day a duvet day.

It’s extra important in the winter, when you’re not getting as much light, to be outside as much as possible. An easy way to get exercise and sunlight is going for a long walk- wrap up warm and take someone with you to chat to, or download your favourite podcast, and get outside!

If you’re able to, you might like to think about using the New Year as a chance to get fit. One of the best motivators for this is a goal to look forward to, and Bipolar UK has tickets in a variety of running events, if you’d like to get fit while raising awareness and funds to help reach out to more people affected by bipolar disorder than ever.

De-stress

Stress can be a major trigger for bipolar disorder, but also affects your immune system. Stress reduction can benefit you in a multitude of ways, but is particularly beneficial for your mental and physical health.

Find activities that work well for stress reduction; some people find exercise works, some find cooking helps, both of which tie in to the other points in our Winter Wellness guide! However, you might find that these things don’t fit your idea of de-stressing- find your thing. Maybe watch a boxset, read your favourite book, have a relaxing bath or plan a fun weekend with people you love.

Sleep!

Lack of sleep can impact all of the other negative effects of winter, particularly low energy and low mood.

A good night’s sleep can give you an immunity boost and help give you the energy to get through those dark days. Sleep also plays a big part in self-management, and can be something that helps you manage your moods and stress levels, all of which can make you feel more unwell.

Sleep hygiene can be difficult to get a handle on, but The Sleep Council offers really great sleeping tips for anyone from shift workers to new parents, and everything in between: https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/

In the wise words of Shakespeare, ‘Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast’.

These are just a few of our Winter Wellness tips, but we’re always open to hearing from all of you. Post on our eCommunity to keep the conversation going, and share your tips and more information!

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