Facing a winter during the coronavirus pandemic

Page last reviewed: 20 December 2021

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

The pandemic has been a longer-term challenge in our lives than many of us first thought. 

With various restrictions across the country, this is another difficult winter for many of us. Many of us are feeling burnt out and tired. As always, the impact will be greater for some than for others. 

Check out our four nations advice for more information on restrictions in your area.

Where do you start if this is all too much?

If you are finding this time hard, you aren’t alone. Being unable to plan ahead and facing yet more uncertainty with the year ahead is tough.

If you need to get motivated

It’s important to keep motivated and do what you can to boost your morale. For example, planning out your day each morning can help you to create a routine and keep productive. Doing something that energises you can help beat fatigue – whether it’s physical exercise, a new challenge or project, or just something you really enjoy.

If you’ve been affected by coronavirus

If you have been directly affected by the virus – perhaps by having coronavirus, losing a friend or family member, or losing your job or business – you’ll be dealing not just with the pandemic but also with grief, fear, or financial concerns. There are specialist organisations that can help with all of these. For example:

If you need to nurture compassion for yourself and others

Kindness and compassion are key to us getting through this year. The evidence is clear that kindness and gratitude is good for our mental health– even when things are hardest. That’s kindness to others – helping out in our community or not judging other people – and kindness to ourselves – working out what we need to keep going, and then to protect and improve our mental health. You can find out more about in our Kindness Matters guide

Whenever we feel overwhelmed, the first thing to do is to stop, find our feet, and think about the next step - and the one after that. Pretty soon you’ll have walked further than you imagined. 

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, finances, or your mental health

2. Have a routine and set short-term goals - planning for today, tomorrow, next week. If you have big, difficult tasks on your plate try breaking them up into smaller, more manageable jobs. 

3. Build more breaks and exercise into your schedule. Our research shows that walking and time in nature were the two things that most helped the nation cope with the stresses of the pandemic.

4. Look at your sleeping habits. Sleep is essential for our mental wellbeing. If anxiety or worry are keeping you awake, there are things you can do to improve your sleep: from relaxation exercises to not watching TV in bed. If you find the news or social media distressing, try to avoid it for a while and see if your sleep improves.

5. Find any positives from the beginning of the pandemic. This could be things you did or challenges you overcame. Ask yourself what was helpful then and what you can take from that for now. Consider taking up online activities again if you’re unable to go out: for example, a 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. Keep in touch with friends, family, and work colleagues in whatever way works for you: a phone call, video-chat, letter or text message. Our page on loneliness during coronavirus has more ideas.

8. Find time for your needs, It can be easy to look after 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. Having a positive mindset about winter can help you experience it differently. For example, you could make it a time for reflection and doing more things like reading, relaxing, getting warm and cosy and recharging your batteries. When the days are darker and we can’t socialise in the sun, try replacing 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 getting some natural light during the day can be invigorating and really help our mood. 

If you regularly feel depressed in winter and think you could have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), speak to your GP.

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 just 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 things you can avoid to protect your mental health

1. Worrying about things you can’t control. None of us know when the pandemic 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 meditation a helpful way to stay in the moment.

2. Dwelling on gloomy “what if” conversations with friends. Try and avoid rumination – chewing things over in your head. Watch for negative thought patterns and challenge them.

3. Paying too much attention to social media. There can be a lot of speculation online about the virus. Try not to get dragged into debates. 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 won’t be the only stressful 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 rules and restrictions: you can’t do anything about them. It’s easy to let our fear or anxiety come out as anger, gossip, or distress. It’s hard, but try to lead with kindness even if people seem to be behaving irresponsibly. If you absolutely have to say something, do so politely.  

6. Neglecting your health. It can be easy to neglect your health worries if you don’t want to bother your GP or you’re worried about the risks of going into a clinic or hospital. But if there’s anything you’re concerned about, contact your GP – it’s better to get help early rather than let something develop into a bigger issue. Get your regular prescriptions and go to any appointments, tests or scans you’re invited to. Whether it’s physical or mental health, the NHS is still open and available. 

7. Putting up walls. When we’re busy with work or struggling with stress, it’s easy to withdraw from our friends and family. If you feel yourself pulling back, or people bring it to your attention, use it as an opportunity to look again at your wellbeing. Is there something you trust who you could open up to about how you’re feeling?

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. But it can be hard to resist friends who want you to break rules or act in ways you’re not comfortable with. 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, diet and spending. If things are getting out of control, find a helpline or speak to someone you trust. We have a list of services and organisations you can contact.

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.

If you feel you need help, ask - don’t stay quiet and say nothing.

If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can visit the Every Mind Matters website, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation. 

In Scotland, visit Clear your Head for more good ways to support your mental health. 

And if you need to talk to someone urgently and confidentially, you can call Samaritans free on 116 123 at any time.