December is not just one of the longest months of the year, but it’s also the month with the longest and often coldest nights. While many Americans are looking forward to a well-deserved winter break, many others are worried about how the holiday season might affect their mental health, from holiday stress to winter-related anxieties and negative thoughts. In preparation for the season, here are some December mental health tips to make the holidays a little easier.
Six December Mental Health Tips You Can Use
There’s a reason as many as ten million Americans struggle with seasonal affective disorder, while millions more experience what we call “the winter blues” – it’s a tough few weeks, especially further north, where depression and anxiety statistics tend to become higher as temperatures drop.
While winter does not officially start until December 21, there is plenty you can do to improve your mental health before and during the holiday week and get a fresh head start for the oncoming new year. Here are our top tips.
1. Stay Active This Month
As counterintuitive as it might be, especially given how uninviting the outdoors tend to become as it gets colder and wetter, it’s important to do your part to fight the inner urge to sloth it out this month.
While most of us would rather get cozy with a cup of cocoa or a nice tea by the fireplace, anywhere from a few minutes to an hour of physical activity two to three times a week can do a lot to help bolster a healthier mental mindset, improve your physical health dramatically, and help you regulate your mood as the days get shorter and the seasons shift.
If you’ve been active all year, it is especially important not to drop the habit over the holiday break. You don’t need to go quite as hard but take the time to tend to your physical health with a little bit of exercise in between bake-offs, potlucks, and other social gatherings.
Don’t wait until the new year to get moving. Get moving today!
2. Be Sure to Get Enough Daylight
As fleeting as your daylight might be this month, it’s important to tank up on as much sun as you can get.
Too much sunlight can be harmful, but we do need a certain amount to maintain good emotional and physical health. Even just trying to spend a little more time sitting by a window can be helpful if you don’t get much time throughout the day to be outside.
Ideally, couple your sunlight with a little bit more nature exposure. If you live near a park, forest, or short hiking trail, taking a little extra time over the weekend to go on a short walk can do a tremendous amount of good for your mental health, even if it’s during a colder day. Just be sure to layer up and bring something warm to drink.
3. Keep Your Sleeping Schedule Consistent
Sleep hygiene is important, and it is becoming more and more of an issue as people struggle to control their screen time and spend too much time around blue light too late into the day.
While we can all sympathize with late-night work sessions and professionally necessary all-nighters as the ends, it’s important to try and do your best to maintain a healthy sleeping rhythm or to try and reset your sleep as quickly as possible if you’ve had to sacrifice quality sleep for better performance.
While it might not seem like a huge sacrifice, it’s important to keep in mind that even just an hour of lost sleep can quickly rack up into significant losses in cognitive faculties over time, including memory problems, poorer concentration, and problem-solving skills, significantly increased reflexes, and worse decision making.
This is especially important if you have a long commute – driving on little sleep is dangerous, especially as the days get colder and the roads more treacherous.
4. Get Enough Fruits and Vegetables
Winter months usually mean more stews, more soups, more hearty foods, plenty of fat, and a lot of delicious treats, especially over the holiday season. But don’t neglect your everyday micronutrients.
Vitamins and minerals remain essential to the human diet, and while you typically won’t experience deficiency symptoms anytime soon, there has been research linking mental health and diet quality – meaning it can be harder to manage your stress levels and mood if you overeat, undereat, or eat too much junk, and too little nutritious food.
There are plenty of quick, easy, and cost-effective ways to get your micronutrient fix, from a few fresh or frozen greens in your lunch or dinner options, to some frozen berries in your breakfast cereal or oatmeal, or the occasional smoothie or vegetable drink.
5. Volunteer for Others
Remembering to take care of yourself can go a long way toward warding off some of the mental and physical health symptoms that tend to plague people over the winter months, from joint pain to mood swings. But there’s one other way you can heavily contribute to your mood and mental health this month: volunteer work.
Do something for someone else – whether it’s a friend, a loved one, a coworker, or a stranger. Try to take some time out of your day every now and again and donate that time to someone else. Do them a favor for nothing in return. Bring old clothes or fresh food to shelters. Donate old toys. Help out at the local volunteer fire brigade. Doing something for free – especially when you’re doing it for others – can have a huge positive impact on your mental well-being.
6. Manage Your Screen Time Effectively
Spending too much time glued to your phone, TV, or laptop can significantly interfere with your concentration, rest, and mental well-being, especially late into the evening hours.
Take the time every now and again to just shut your phone off, go on Do Not Disturb, or take a weekend’s break from checking your emails. Stay off TikTok for a day or two, avoid logging into your social media, or relax with a book or hiking trip instead of a day spent in front of the TV or phone.
Most importantly, for the sake of your sleep hygiene – and to help you get a more consistent quality of rest – try to set a strict cutoff period for screens in your bedroom, so you can get at least an hour of waking rest before sleeping.
Be Proactive, Start Building Good Mental Health Today
Don’t wait for the new year to get proactive with your mental and physical well-being. Start practicing one or more of the above December mental health tips today.
Talk to your family about approaching your well-being together and setting realistic goals. Talk to a mental health professional if you’re feeling worse day by day – while fixing your sleep and eating better can help a lot, it’s not always that easy, and there are plenty of personal factors and circumstances that can make even smaller lifestyle changes feel like impossible hurdles.
If you’re struggling to get anywhere, don’t worry. You’re not alone.