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Six Steps to Maintaining Mental Wellbeing During the Winter Months

November 1, 2016
As the seasons change and we move towards winter many people can struggle with their mood and motivation. This is in part due to changes in light levels and intensity.  Also many find the run up to Christmas stressful and we are often more prone to winter bugs like flu.  This is why it is important to make an extra effort to be kind to yourself and take extra care of your mental and physical wellbeing.
 

1. Sunlight & light therapy
During the winter months the days will shorten in the lead up to the winter solstice.  This year it falls on the 21st December but it may take a couple of months before you begin to notice an increase in day length.  Not only do the days get shorter in length but the intensity of the light also reduces, meaning the sunshine is not as bright. This has a known affect on the brain and can affect energy levels, sleep, appetite, mood and motivation.  This is why it is important to make the most of the sunshine during the daytime.

Try to get out for at least 30 minutes a day in the sunshine and, where possible, have curtains and blinds open so that you can feel the sunlight indoors.  If you are working indoors then try to sit near a window so that you can get some natural sunlight.  If you are affected by the lack of light then you may want to consider purchasing a lightbox.  These boxes mimic the light of the sun and, for many, this can help reduce some of the negative symptoms and changes to mood.  When purchasing a lightbox check that the box is certified for treating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and aim for a light intensity of at least 10, 000 lux.  
 
2. Maintaining healthy routines
During the winter months it is especially important to keep up your normal, healthy routines.  Ensure that you are retiring to bed at a reasonable time and waking in the morning.  Aim to be up, washed and dressed by 9 am so that you can open all the curtains and let in the sunlight.  

3. Eating regular meals
Low mood can affect appetite so you may notice either an increase or a decrease in your appetite.  You may also experience cravings for more carbohydrates in your diet, such as bread, sweets, pasta and rice.  These are all good for energy but try to mix these up with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and some protein rich foods.  Also try not to overindulge in sweet or fatty snacks as these will not give you the sustained energy boost you need to function during the day.  You are more likely to get a burst of energy which quickly runs out and may leave you feeling more sluggish and unmotivated.

Also make sure you are keeping to regular mealtimes and keep your fluid intake up with regular drinks.  Avoid drinking too many caffeinated drinks as they could make you feel anxious and restless.  Caffeine can be found in tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cold and flu remedies and energy drinks.  Also try not to overindulge in alcohol as alcohol acts as a depressant to the brain and nervous system and may make your mood feel worse.

4. Sleep
Try to maintain good sleeping habits such as the ones suggested here.  While the days are shorter it is especially important to ensure that you are waking early in the mornings so that you can be up, washed and dressed by 9 am.  This will help to maximise the amount of sunlight you get and this will help to regulate your sleep.  If you are having difficulty in sleeping try to avoid naps during the day as this may make the issue worse.  

5. Social contacts
Although you may not feel in the mood for socialising, isolating yourself is likely to make your symptoms worse. If you feel safe doing so then you may find it helpful to let friends and family know that this time of year is difficult for you.  This is especially important if you live alone.  If this is the case try to find an activity that encourages you to leave the house daily. This activity doesn't have to be anything big, it could be something simple like walking to the shop to buy milk or a newspaper.  

Social media can also supplement this social contact and sites such as Elefriends, the Big White Wall, the IRC Village and Sane all offer internet forums for people experiencing mental health issues.  Please check the forum guidelines and ground rules before signing up as these will explain the kind of support the forums can offer.  As said, these websites can act as a supplement to social contacts but try not to use these to replace face to face contacts.  Sites such as Friends in Need and Meetup also help people to form face to face social contacts. 

6. Getting help
If you are struggling with your mood and energy levels for more than a couple of weeks then it may be helpful to speak with your doctor.  It maybe that there is a physical cause for these changes, such as a thyroid issue or low vitamin D levels, and these can be checked through a simple blood test.  Your doctor can also help you to monitor your symptoms and may suggest support groups, counselling, changes to your diet and exercise level or offer you some medication to help with your mood.  

You can also access support through a number of helplines such as the ones found on this contact sheet.
 

World Mental Health Day 2016: Emotional and Psychological First Aid

October 10, 2016
Each year the  events for World Mental Health Day are focused around a different theme.  This year the theme is of Psychological First Aid (PFA) and hopes to raise awareness of the value of emotional and psychological supportive interventions during a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or serious incident.  The aim of this approach was to reduce the impact of these events and therefore reduce the chances of people developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

The thinking behind...

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Healthy Morning Routines for Good Mental Health

June 2, 2016
Many people who experience issues with their mental health find morning times difficult.  This could be due to medication side effects, low mood or anxiety or a general lack of energy and motivation. Below are some ideas to help you to improve your morning times and establish healthier habits.



The foundations to getting a morning of to a good start are laid down in your night routine.  Getting to bed and asleep by a reasonable hour (ideally before midnight) will help to give you the energy yo...

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Seven Self Care Essentials For When You're Feeling Depressed

May 26, 2016
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, as many as 1 in 5 of us will experience depression during our lifetime.  Depression, in the medical sense, is not just feeling a bit low or sad from time to time.  This is very normal and we all experience some fluctuations in our moods over time. Depression is a condition where the person will experience persistent low mood over a period of time, for some it may be months or even years.

They may notice changes to their appetite, and consequenti...

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Five Quick Strategies That Can Help You Manage Exam Anxiety

May 19, 2016
As we approach the summer months many students will be preparing for exams.  Exams can be a source of great anxiety so learning to manage your anxiety in an exam situation will help you to perform your best. Below are some tips you can practice to help you manage exam nerves.


1. Breathing exercises
When you feel your anxiety levels rising take a few moments out to refocus on your breathing.  Place your hand on your tummy as this can help you feel more connected with your breath.  Inhale through...

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Tips for Writing a Formal Letter

May 10, 2016
There are a number of occasions where you may need to make formal contact with someone by writing.  You may be applying for a job, making a complaint, replying to a formal letter or requesting additional information or clarity on an issue. Below is a guide on how you can structure your letter.



Additionally aim to keep the language in your letter clear and objective.  Avoid making personal remarks or judgements.  If you do need to share how an experience left you feeling own those views using f...

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Making Sense of Facebook: A Beginners Guide

April 5, 2016

Facebook is the most popular of all the social media websites and applications available.  According to it’s own figures, over one billion people worldwide are active members of the site.  If you have just joined Facebook and you don’t yet know your way around the site or understand all the main features and language used on the site then this blog post hopes to make this a little clearer.  




The image above is a typical view you will see when you first log into your Facebook account.  This...


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Returning to Work After a Period of Mental Ill Health

March 29, 2016

According to the Office of Statistics common mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and stress related illness have become some of the top causes of long term sickness.  
 The term 'stress related illness' is often used to describe issues such as burnout, exhaustion, depression and anxiety.  Taking time out from work can provide some respite but this can then lead to anxieties around returning to work. Below are some suggestions on managing the return to work after a spell of me...

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A Beginners Guide to Social Media

February 23, 2016
Social media has become an extremely popular way to keep in touch with friends, family and other contacts. It also provides a potential space for making new contacts and friends from around the world. There are lots of options which are targeted at different markets and work in slightly different ways. Rather than try to cover every option out there I have stuck to the three most popular.

Facebook


Facebook is one of the oldest of the social media platforms and it is the most popular worldwide b...

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Decluttering Tips: Items That You Can Recycle

January 25, 2016


Embarking on a task like decluttering can be an emotional experience.  We can form attachments to objects, sometimes long after they are useful to us, so letting them go can feel hard.  Often knowing that the items are going to a new home or will be put to a new use can make this process easier to manage. Below are some ideas and suggestions of ways of disposing of some hoarded or unwanted items.


Books
Books can be easy items to rehome, especially if they are in a good condition.  In this insta...

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About Me


Katherine Clark I am experienced mental health worker with 15 years experience working with young people and adults with enduring mental health needs. I have set up this blog to share some of the tips and skills I have learnt along the way. If you have any suggestions or particular questions you would like me to answer feel free to email me at enquiries@essentiallifeskills.org







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