These cold and dark months can cause many of us to fall into an emotional slump.

We need to take some time and reflect on how we are feeling and what we can do to improve our mental well-being.

Over my lifetime, I have struggled with mental health issues such as depression and seasonal affective disorder. As a result, I spend a lot of time reflecting on the state of my mental health.

In doing so, I have realized how various aspects of our lives can affect our mental wellness. With time, mistakes, and successes, I have developed a series of healthy habits that help me maintain an uplifted mood.

Get Outside

A blast of crisp fresh air entering your lungs can be invigorating, and connecting with nature is even more beneficial. Nature helps give us a sense of peace and assists in reducing feelings of stress or isolation.

An image of a forest covered in snow during the day.
Get invigorated outdoors, no matter the season! Photo by Carrie Freele.

London is full of outdoor spaces that can be enjoyed year-round, and it is beautiful to witness how our landscapes transform in the colder seasons.

Stay Active

I can’t stress enough the importance of exercise. Staying active helps with depression, anxiety, stress, sleep, self-esteem, and cognitive function. I can sometimes fall into an emotional slump where it is hard to get out of bed, but once I push myself to go for a nice long walk, I feel rejuvenated and have the energy to get back to my daily tasks.

Get Involved

Volunteering and community are things that I now hold very close to my heart. They have been amazing sources of personal growth and helped get me through a tough year with a sense of purpose and support. Volunteering creates connection and can also be a great avenue for self-discovery. It also feels great to give back to the community, be a part of something bigger and work towards a common goal of positive change.

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An image of a red wooden heart surrounded by several cut-out words about community.
Volunteering creates connection and so much more. Photo by Carrie Freele.

London is full of non-profits that focus on a variety of social and environmental causes. With such an abundance of opportunities, it is easy to find something that will speak to your passions and strengths or help push you out of your comfort zone.

Alcohol Consumption

Although alcohol can lead to some fun times and help you relax, it is also a depressant. When you drink too much or too often, alcohol can harm your mental state by causing a chemical imbalance. That is why the promotion of dry January or February is rather ingenious. It encourages people to cut alcohol out of their lives during the cold and dark months of the year when people are more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder.

Balanced Eating

I haven’t always had the healthiest of eating habits, but once I began teaching myself how to cook, I started noticing the benefits of maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet. These include an increased energy level, improved mental clarity, and a reduction in mood crashes.

An image of a salad containing chickpeas, quinoa, sweet potato, and a variety of green vegetables.
A colourful and nutritious balance of food! Photo by Carrie Freele.

When I say balanced eating, I’m not just talking about just eating vegetables and proteins. If you want to eat a big plate of pasta or your favourite pastries, go right ahead! Make sure to include foods throughout the week that are high in nutritional value to ensure you are giving your body and mind all that it needs to perform at its best. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water!

Media Consumption

While it is important to keep up to date on current issues, consistently seeing negativity splashed across your newsfeed can have a toll on your mental health. Sometimes the world is burning with so many injustices and spews of hate that keeping up with it all can feel overwhelming. It is okay to step away and focus on something that will bring you joy to maintain a healthy balance.

Light Therapy

Light therapy is a common method for treating seasonal affective disorder and may help improve your mood and sleep patterns without using medications. For the past few months, I’ve been turning my lightbox on for 30 minutes while having my morning coffee.

An image of a light box shining onto a desk that has a laptop and a cup of coffee on it.
Make time for quiet in the morning. Photo by Carrie Freele.

I noticed a slight increase in energy and motivation when compared to past winter seasons. Starting the morning with a source of brightness helped set the tone for the day and enhanced my focus on personal projects before heading out for my daily walk.

The Magic of Music

Music can be one of the most magical mood transformers. You can be completely alone and a song comes on with a sweet melody that pulls you into a feeling of love and contentment. Or a more upbeat song pumps you up with energy until you are twisting and twirling around your home. Music can also help us process negative emotions, a necessary part of life. When we are grieving, music can be what we need to flip that switch and assist in letting the emotions pour out.

Personal Projects and Hobbies

Given that I am a very outdoor-oriented person, I have had to change tactics in the cold seasons and embrace my creative side to keep me feeling upbeat. It’s easy for us to put things on the backburner while we enjoy the sunshine.

An image of a woman painting a wooden dresser drawer.
Get a jump on spring renovations! Photo by Carrie Freele.

Winter is a perfect time to focus on a project you have been meaning to do or a skill you want to develop. Working on personal projects and hobbies is a great way to maintain a feeling of productiveness and helps give you a sense of fulfillment.

Downtime

While it is important to stay productive, it is also equally important to acknowledge the need for downtime. Life can be exhausting, so we just need to sit back and relax every once in a while. Curl up in some blankets and treat yourself to your favourite foods while giving your mind and body a break.

Plan Ahead

Looking towards the future is a great way to add some excitement into your life during the slower months. If you are a gardener, it may be almost time to stock up on supplies and sow some of your vegetable seeds indoors. Caring for seedlings is an added self-care bonus! Or you can make plans to connect with people you haven’t been able to see over the winter. Whatever works for you.

An image of baby leaves curling into each other to form a heart shape.
Plan to connect with the ones you love. Photo by Carrie Freele.

Self-care starts with self-analysis. Humans are complex, each with their own strengths, struggles, and viewpoints. What works for one person may not work for the other. That is why it is important to reflect and ask yourself: How am I doing? What factors in my life are causing me distress? Is there anything I can do to mitigate these? What brings me joy? How can I bring more of this into my life? Life is all about balance, and your mental well-being is no different. Be mindful of how everything in your life is affecting you. It is important to acknowledge both when you need a break and when you need to push yourself.

There are times that no matter how hard someone tries, their mental state will spiral out of control, and they are unable to pull themselves out of it. If you or someone you know is struggling, there are many resources available to help. Please, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you need it.

Make sure to reach out to your loved ones and remember, spring is right around the corner!

Resources

Mental Health

Connex Ontario

CMHA

Volunteering

Pillar Nonprofit Network

London Environmental Network

Nutrition 

Growing Chefs

Canada’s Food Guide

All photography by Carrie Freele.

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