Your guide to self care this winter!
As it gets colder and darker, some of us can start to feel low or even depressed. Being aware that we feel different to usual - if you notice you’re more irritable, less motivated, feeling empty or hopeless, spending less time with friends - there are some steps you can take to make things a little easier on yourself. Make sure to practice self-care; this doesn’t necessarily mean lighting candles and taking a bath. It might mean making a routine for yourself, cooking healthier meals, or giving yourself more time to relax and socialise with friends. Here are some tips for taking care of yourself, particularly when you’re feeling low.
Sleep well. You might be sleeping too much or not getting enough sleep. Both can impact your energy levels and mood. As the end of term approaches, you might feel you don’t have time to sleep properly - even if this is the case, you can try to sleep consistently. Try to get in the habit of ‘winding down’ and waking up at around the same time each day. A sleep tracking app might help - Sleep Cycle or Sleep Better are some popular apps that don’t require buying a sleep tracker separately.
Eat! What you eat and how often you eat it can have a big impact on how you feel, both physically and mentally. You should aim to eat regularly, even if you have 5-7 small meals or snacks rather than the standard 3 meals a day. You should also try to get as close to having your 5 fruit and veg a day as you can. It helps to be realistic - if you know you have a long day of work, don’t plan to cook an elaborate meal at the end of it, unless you know that’s something you can comfortably do. Try to accommodate your real schedule, and make sure you eat. Aim for healthy food, but make sure your number one goal is to be nourished full stop!
Keep active. Being ‘active’ will look different for everyone. Physically, you should try to find a type of exercise you enjoy - running, dancing, swimming, tennis, pole fitness, basketball, cheerleading...there’s plenty of opportunities, inside university and in the local community. Even if it’s just walking rather than using public transport where possible. You should also try to keep mentally active - you might find that your studies fulfill this requirement, but if not, you could make time for reading or playing brain training games, or just having an in-depth conversation with a friend. Making sure you stay active in your body and mind is a good way of preventing over thinking and ruminating on negative thoughts.
Maintain good hygiene. This is a key part of feeling happy and healthy in yourself - if you stop taking care of your hygiene, you are far less likely to feel you have control over your life and routine. Make sure to shower at least every few days, if not every day, and brush your teeth twice a day.
Be aware of your drug and alcohol intake. You don’t have to completely cut out the things you enjoy, but remember how drugs and alcohol can affect your body - alcohol is a depressant, and hangovers or comedowns can have a huge impact on your mood.
Have fun! Don’t completely drop the things you enjoy from your life just because you’re busy. This is easier said than done, but removing fun from your life for the sake of work can lead to overworking and burnout. Try to plan at least a week ahead, and make sure you do one thing you enjoy - whether that’s watching an episode of a TV show you love, play video games, cooking, visiting a new place, spending time with friends - every day. Being prepared and thinking ahead are the best ways to make sure that you keep a good balance in your life.
If you’re feeling low for long periods of time, or even having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you may need to take more drastic steps to support your mental health and take care of yourself.
Many people who suffer with (or believe they may suffer with) a mental health condition often struggle seeking support, this however is perfectly normal and you are not alone if you feel this way. However, it is important to seek help if you feel like you are struggling to cope. People may seek support for a variety of reasons, some of which could include;
- Being unable to deal with overwhelming thoughts and feelings.
- Those thoughts and feelings having an impact on day-to-day life or your ability to function ‘normally’.
- Wanting to learn what support is available.
The best way to start seeking help with your mental health is normally by talking to your local GP or health care professional. Your GP can make a diagnosis, offer you support and/or refer you to a specialist Adult Mental Health Service (AHMS). NHS Choices provides an online search tool to find a local GP service or another potential option is accessing private health care.
It can be difficult speaking to your GP or doctor, especially about mental health. But please remember there is no wrong or right way to tell someone how you are feeling. Some things to consider are being honest and open, focusing on how you feel (as a pose to the diagnosis you might meet), explaining how you have been feeling over recent months and anything that has changed. Do not feel your problem is too small or unimportant, your doctor is there to support you, everyone is entitled too and deserves help.
In some situations, you may need more urgent help, especially if you feel seriously at risk. This is called a crisis situation. A crisis situation may involve thinking you might act on suicidal thoughts, or you have self-harmed seriously. Alternatively, it may involve feeling extremely distressed and experiencing suicidal thoughts as a result. These however are only two examples of a crisis situation.
To seek immediate support, you can go to any A&E department, or call 999 if you need urgent medical attention. Samaritans offer unbiased, confidential and instant support through their hotline (08457 90 90 90). If you are already receiving support from a mental health team or service, you can contact them directly for help as well.
You can also find information about more specific crisis lines, such as Nightline and LGBT+ specific services, on Mind.