How to Beat Winter Blues and Improve Mental Well-being

winter blues
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What are The Winter Blues?

With the cooler weather and shorter daylight hours comes (for some) the winter blues – a seasonal low mood sometimes referred to as SAD.  According to NHS, the winter blues is caused by a lack of daylight that makes our body produce higher melatonin – a hormone our brain produces in response to darkness and to control our sleep cycle – and causes lethargy and symptoms of depression. Outdoor activities could help beat the winter blues because of their double benefits – exposure to sunlight and keeping one active. We can lift our mood and improve our mental well-being by doing exercises as it can raise the level of serotonin- the mood-regulating hormone- in our brain.

However, if you find your difficult emotions – sadness, anger, worry or fear – are not really seasonal and last longer that affect your quality of life, this can be a sign of overstress. You need to find some ways to release your feelings and reduce your everyday stress, which may from work or study, related to friends or family, or caused by physical illness, relationship problems, financial issues or acute events such as bereavements. Even ‘positive’ events, such as marriage and promotion, can be a source of stress. 

According to The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, stress is ranked the fourth and second respectively for short-term and long-term absence in the workplace.  This is essential to look after your mental health and do something to improve your mental well-being.

Challenging Thinking Distortions

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Although we can’t change our genetic make-up (the thing that can make somebody more vulnerable to a particular mental health issue) we, in most cases, can develop a different thinking style and learn some coding methods and problem-solving skills that can enable us to be more resilient.

It is not things in themselves which trouble us, but the opinions we hold about these things.”

By Epictetus, a Greek philosopher

According to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, thinking distortions are “unhelpful thinking patterns which can cause distressing feelings”.  Different people will tend to have different distortions that they may not be aware of.  This is because these distortions my sound rational and accurate to us on the surface, and this wider pattern of unhelpful thinking could only be discovered when we examine it more closely and consciously.  Here are 10 common thinking distortions.  Check if you fall into any of them.

Common Thinking Distortions

The above example is also an overgeneralization — one draws a conclusion about one event and incorrectly apply it across the board.

One may tend to focus on a single negative detail and ignore the positive.  It can cause anxiety and depression.

Instead of acknowledging a good outcome is the result of own effort, one who tends to discount the positive will think it is a sheer luck.  A sense of “learned helplessness” may be resulted.

You interpret something negatively even though there is no evidence that supports your conclusion.  For example, you think someone holds negative feelings about you without asking them directly.

You tend to exaggerate the importance of some events such as your mistake or someone else’s mistake.

You may tend to take something personally when they are not connected to you at all.  The opposite is blaming, where you view the fault is lying entirely with someone else.

It is often used by one who takes on a negative view of life.  This thought can diminish one’s self-esteem and raise anxiety level.

This is a false belief that the way you feel about a situation is what exactly the reality is.  It’s a pattern of thinking of those with anxiety or depression.

When people label, they define themselves (e.g., “I am a loser”) and others (e.g., “You are totally incompetent”) based on a single event or behaviour.

Learning to recognise and challenge thinking distortions can help reduce the difficult emotions that they cause or maintain such as anxiety, depression and anger. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that help people address their problems by changing the way they think and eventually how they behave. One will be taught how to notice and identify their thinking distortions and then to encounter them with more reasonable and balanced thoughts. Over time, the negative thoughts will become less automatic and replaced by more helpful thinking. There are self-help CBT techniques offered by NHS online.

Embracing GREAT DREAM – 10 keys to happier living

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While recognising and challenging thinking distortion can help us reduce difficult emotions, taking practical actions is proven to be able to improve our mental well-being. Positive psychology expert Vanessa King has developed the evidence-based 10 Keys for Happier Living, the acronym for which is GREAT DREAM. They are positive steps that can help prevent depression and anxiety.

Connect with people around as they can offer you a valuable pool of support.

Regular exercise is good to your physical as well as mental health.

Be in the moment, which is a great tool to combat stress.

Learning new things is stimulating and can help boost your mood.

Set your own target — not what someone else asks you to do — and work towards it.  Also celebrate progress along the way.

We can’t choose what happens to us, but we can decide the ways how we respond to what happens.

Set aside time to have fun.  Positive emotions can help you cope with stress.

No one is perfect.  Be kind to yourself when things go wrong.

Prioritise the activities, people and beliefs that bring you the strongest sense of purpose.

Mental health issues are common and can affect anyone.  They can take many forms and affect everyone differently.  It is crucial to take care of your own mental health by gaining awareness of any distress and addressing the issues appropriately.

You can gain more ideas about how to live healthier and happier with a more sustainable life from our Quick guide to permaculture for sustainable development.