Facing a winter during the coronavirus pandemic
As we move into another lockdown, we will keep sharing information about how you can support your mental health, and the wellbeing of your family and community.
Page last reviewed: 15 January 2021
In the past ten months, it has become clear that the pandemic is going to be a longer-term challenge in our lives than perhaps we had first thought.
The restrictions we face
What happens now?
Where do you start if this is all too much?
Ideas for protecting and supporting mental health this winter
Ten things you can do to protect your mental health:
1. Reach out for help as early as possible – especially with things like debt or finances, or with your mental health.
2. Have a routine and set short-term goals - planning for today, tomorrow, the next week. If you have big, difficult tasks on your plate try breaking them up into chains of smaller, more manageable jobs.
3. Build in more breaks and exercise into your schedule – our research has told us that walking and time in nature were the two things that most helped the nation cope with the stresses of the pandemic. We’ve published a free guide on how you can keep doing this.
4. Look at your sleeping habits – sleep is essential for our mental health and if you are having trouble because of worry there are things you can do to improve your sleep, from relaxation to not watching TV in bed. If you find watching the news distressing, try to avoid it for a while and see if your sleep improves.
5. Find the positives from the first lockdown - it could be things you did, or challenges you overcame. Ask yourself what was helpful then, and what you can take from that for now. Try to find an online book group, exercise class or even choir.
6. Plan your finances this winter – including making sure you are getting any benefits you are entitled to and getting help with any debt concerns you may have.
7. Stay connected – It can be easy to serve other people at work or at home, or to fill our diaries with commitments and activities that crowd out our own needs. Whether it’s booking leave from work, shutting the bathroom door for a shower or bath away from the kids, or getting out for a run alone – find something that works for you and make it happen.
8. Find time for your needs - it can be easy to serve other people at work or at home, or to fill our diaries with commitments and activities that crowd out our own needs. Whether it’s booking leave from work, shutting the bathroom door for a shower or bath away from the kids, or getting out for a run alone – find something that works for you and make it happen.
9. Make friends with cold, dark days – if you think of winter as one of the regular seasons, perhaps it could be a time for reflection and doing more things like reading, relaxing, getting warm and cosy and recharging our batteries. When the days are darker and we can’t take our mood energy boosts from socialising in the sun, it may make sense to replace this with another energy-boosting activity like exercise or a hobby like cooking. Going out when it’s dark and cold might seem unappealing, but taking a break from our screens, and getting some natural light during the day can really help our mood.
10. Give yourself a reward – it’s important to celebrate small wins – even if that’s just in your head. A win could be clearing a work task or it could just be getting up and dressed. A hot chocolate after a walk outside, a new book or even a moment of peace on the sofa are all small rewards.
Ten risks to our mental health during the pandemic:
1. Worrying about things we can’t control - none of us know when this lockdown will end, so deal with you what you are able to. For today, you are doing your best and that is enough. Some people find mindfulness mediation a helpful way to stay in the moment.
2. Dwelling on gloomy “what if” conversations with friends - try and get out of rumination – chewing things over in your head. Watch for negative thought patterns and challenge them.
3. Paying too much attention to social media - there’s a lot of speculation about the virus – where it came from, if it is real, what the government is thinking. Try not to get dragged into debate. Don’t speculate and post material that criticises or blames people or can’t be verified.
4. Watching too much news - too much coverage can make us all anxious and the pandemic isn’t the only tricky news story in the media this winter. Unless you have to, perhaps take a break from the news altogether to see if this helps relax your mind.
5. Judging other people’s behaviours - don’t worry about how others are responding to the restrictions, you can’t do anything about them. It’s easy to let our fear or anxiety come out as anger towards others, gossip, or even angry outbursts. It’s hard, but try to lead with kindness even if people seem to be behaving irresponsibly. If you feel you need to say something, do so politely.
6. Neglecting your health - we often put a brave face on when times are hard and at the moment people aren’t coming forward as often with health worries that might become significant issues. If you have symptoms of coronavirus, get a test. If you have other health worries – see your GP – lumps, pain, prescription renewals and routine blood tests all still need to happen. Whether it’s physical or mental health the NHS is still open and available.
7. Putting up walls - when we are busy with work or struggling with family things it’s easy to but blinkers on and withdraw from friends and family. If you feel yourself pulling back from work, or people bring it to your attention – use this as an opportunity to look again at your wellbeing.
8. Getting pushed around by others - sometimes when we feel a bit lost or overwhelmed we can allow ourselves to be directed by others. Sometimes that’s a good thing – our friends and family help us through. It can be hard to resist friends who want you to break rules on social distancing for example. It can also lead to feeling trapped in toxic relationships.
9. Going to excess - our research has told us that some people are using alcohol, overeating, over spending and illegal drugs to cope with stress. Try and keep an eye on your drinking, what you are eating and what you are spending. If things are getting of control, find a helpline or speak to someone you trust.
10. Losing your balance - we’re juggling life, work and family at the moment. There’s a real risk that if we lose the balance of the different strands we can end up in trouble. Try and find a balance between work, home and personal needs and stick to it. You may also want to think about screen time – making sure that you ration video calls if working from home, and tear yourself away from your phone. Check out our tips on family life and working life during the pandemic.