Guarding Your Mental Health in East Sussex this Autumn and Winter

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We all know that the seasons and the weather can have a huge effect on how we feel and our general, overall mood. 

Many people find themselves bracing for autumn and winter, as the nights draw in, the days get shorter and the weather gets worse.

Many people find themselves suffering from a range of mental health issues or concerns during the winter months, such as a lack of motivation, feeling increasingly tired or even depressed at times. 

Therefore, it is incredibly important to look after your mental health and wellbeing during autumn and winter.

The Director of Public Health wrote an Annual Report on Growing Community Resilience in East Sussex, focussing on the need to develop and improve your personal resilience during autumn and winter. 

In their report they cite that an individual’s level of resilience will have a huge impact on how they cope during the winter months.

They define resilience as the ability and result of being able to interact with the environment you are met with, and the ability to maintain or create a better sense of wellbeing for yourself within these environments. 

There are a number of risk factors that are associated with an individual’s level of resilience, such as their socioeconomic status, whether or not they have been exposed to trauma or mental health issues as well as their level of poverty.

During the autumn and winter months, individuals are more likely to experience seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as SAD.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It is normal to feel a little sadder, less social or more introverted during the winter months. As the nights draw in and the weather takes a turn, it is sometimes normal to feel a little down or sad. 

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However, some of us will experience these symptoms in a more severe form, which might be classified as seasonal affective disorder, otherwise commonly referred to as SAD.

According to NHS Inform, seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that typically tends to form during autumn and winter. There are a number of symptoms of SAD, including wanting or needing to sleep more or being less active than normal.

SAD tends to occur when individuals simply do not get enough sunlight, which has an effect on your brain. 

Most notably, without enough sunlight the hypothalamus is unable to work properly. This has a huge effect on your levels of melatonin, serotonin and your body’s natural circadian rhythm.

If you think that you or someone that you know is suffering from seasonal affective disorder, then there are a number of treatments you could consider including light therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or other types of therapy.

What signs should we look out for?

Sometimes, you can go months or even sometimes years without checking in on yourself or noticing certain signs and symptoms that something might be wrong. 

Usually, individuals are great at noticing changes when it comes to other people, but we’re not always great at noticing when we’ve changed or are struggling.

If you are worried that the change in season is getting you down, or suspect that you are suffering from SAD, then there are a number of signs that you should look out for. 

Whilst not everyone will suffer the same symptoms, it is important to be aware of the following signs and symptoms so that you can seek support should you need it:

  • Feeling persistently low and sad
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Over sleeping
  • Increased weight loss or increased weight gain in a short amount of time
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling increasingly worthless
  • Worrying about things that you usually wouldn’t
  • A lack of hygiene
  • Struggling to maintain your overall well being
  • Suicidal thoughts or intentions of self-harm

If you or someone you know is suffering from any of the above symptoms during the autumn and winter months, then it is important that they seek help from professionals, friends or family members.

How to care for your mental health this autumn and winter?

As discussed above, there are many reasons why someone might feel down during the autumn and winter months. 

Without the right help and support, individuals might find themselves suffering from seasonal affective disorder, which could lead to other mental health issues including depression, anxiety or even suicidal thoughts.

This is why it is incredibly important to care for your mental health during the autumn and winter months. 

There are a number of things that you can do to improve your mental health during these months and whilst not all techniques might work for you, below is a list of techniques you might want to try and experiment with.

1. Find time for yourself

The autumn and winter months come straight after summer, which is often an incredibly busy and social time for people. 

Whether you have been on holiday with friends or family, been to endless BBQ’s or attended a festival or two; summer is always an incredibly intense and busy time of the year.

For many people, by the time autumn and winter comes around they are both mentally and physically exhausted. This is why you should make time for yourself during the autumn and winter months, so that you can recharge your social batteries.

Likewise, going from an incredibly busy and sociable period and season to a quiet and potentially lonely period can be equally as unhealthy. 

This is why it is incredibly important to wind down slowly after summer as you enter the autumn and winter months. 

Try to take time for yourself by having some long walks or pick up that evening hobby that you’ve struggled to keep up with during the busy summer months.

Where you can, try to keep up your exercise by going to the gym or by going for a few evening runs. Likewise, make sure to recover by treating yourself to some evenings with a good film or book.

2. Keep active

As mentioned above, keeping active during the autumn and winter months can be incredibly useful. It is incredibly easy to use the autumn and winter months as an excuse for a few more lay ins and a few less gym sessions. 

Exercising can be an incredibly useful way of releasing the right endorphins so that you feel happier and healthier during the autumn and winter months.

However, we appreciate that exercise might not be at the top of your priority list during the autumn and winter. The dark nights and poor weather can make it incredibly difficult to find the motivation to get out and do some exercise.

To overcome this, there are a number of things that you can do to help you find the motivation to get out and do some exercise. 

If you own an apple watch or Fitbit, then now is the time to use it. These exercise watches can be a great tool to help you to find the motivation and structure to exercise on a regular basis. 

They will help you keep track of how many calories you have burnt and we all know that closing those exercise rings can feel great!

Likewise, running in the winter months can be incredibly difficult and intimidating considering the dark nights. 

This is why it is always great to find a running buddy to run with! This could be a friend, a family member or even a partner. You could always also consider joining a running club so that you feel safer in numbers.

If exercising in the gym or in the dark just isn’t for you during the autumn and winter months, then you can always try to exercise inside. 

You can easily pop a home workout on the TV, search for a YouTube yoga or Pilates session on your laptop or TV and off you go!

3. Get enough sleep

Whilst some people struggle to get out of bed during the autumn or winter months, those who are struggling with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety might be struggling to get enough sleep.

Getting enough sleep is crucial to your mental health and mental wellbeing, so it is not something you should overlook.

There is a wide range of research which proves the strong link between sleep and depression. In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation as well as a number of studies the relationship between sleep and depression is bidirectional. 

This means that suffering from depression can lead to a lack of sleep and likewise, a lack of sleep can lead to depression.

You should create a relaxing night time routine and create a strict schedule on when you go to sleep and when you wake up. 

Try to keep these timings the same every day, so that your circadian rhythm stays in check. 

You need to create a bedtime routine that will encourage a great night’s sleep, including taking a bath before bed, avoiding caffeine a few hours before bed and listening to a meditation or podcast just before bed.

4. Get outdoors as much as you can 

Whilst the weather might not be ideal, especially across the UK, it is incredibly important to get outdoors as much as you can. It is often tempting to stay inside during the autumn and winter months when the weather is bad.

Connecting with nature can have a huge positive mental impact. In fact, studies have shown that surrounding yourself in nature, especially during the autumn and winter months can keep your mental health on track and will also help you to avoid suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

A study carried out by the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly 45% of all individuals they surveyed said that spending time in nature, including local parks helped them to cope during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

They also found that those who spend more time outside and within nature are classified as ‘happier’ people and that spending time in nature makes you more creative, calm and joyful.

So, if you are struggling with your mental health this autumn or winter try to make sure that you get outside as much as possible. 

You could try to walk to or around your local park, take your lunch out and have a picnic outside, or you could go open water swimming.

5. Stay connected to your friends and family

As discussed above, people often struggle to socialise during the autumn and winter months. However, numerous studies have shown that socialising is linked to a healthy mindset and mental health.

In fact, a study carried out by the National Institutes of Health shows that socialising is a key factor of any healthy mental state and that the emotional support provided by your friends and family will also help you to avoid any other unhealthy behaviours which might be a risk factor for numerous mental health issues.

So, you should make an effort to stay connected and socialise as much as possible during these months, as it is often your friends and family who can spot signs of depression and will be able to help you to get the help you need to recover.

Even if you simply text, call or facetime your family or friends more often, try to make an effort to stay as connected as possible with those you love.

Get help and support

If you are suffering from poor mental health during the autumn or winter months, then it is important to remember that you are not alone. There are a number of charities that are able to support you if you feel like everything is getting too much to handle.

For example, for help and support for those living in East Sussex specifically, you can call The Sussex Mental Support Helpline 24/7 for over the phone support from trained professionals.

This phone line is available for anyone who feels like they need someone to listen and offer support and advice when it comes to their mental health.

They operate throughout the year, so if you start to feel low or depressed during the autumn or winter months then reach out to The Sussex Mental Support Helpline.

Likewise, you can text Text Relay and New Generation Text if you want mental health support but are unable to speak to someone on the phone. 

If you are suffering from a mental health crisis and think that you are a danger to yourself or to someone else, then you can call the emergency services by calling 999.

Get help for addiction issues

If you are struggling from mental health issues, then you might also be turning to drugs or alcohol as a way of trying to cope with your mental health issues. Many people who suffer from addiction issues in East Susex also develop mental health issues, which can worsen during the autumn and winter months.

You might be suffering from an addiction to just one substance or a range of substances. You might be suffering from a severe, moderate, or mild addiction. 

Whatever type of addiction you are suffering from, know that you do not have to suffer alone. There are a range of helplines available to you, as well as inpatient and outpatient rehab.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, as autumn and winter approach in East Sussex, it’s important for you and your family to prioritise mental health and well-being. 

Changing seasons and darker days may have a profound impact on mood and resilience. And, thus, recognising signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is crucial, as it often goes unnoticed. 

Symptoms like persistent low mood, changes in sleep patterns, and feelings of worthlessness should not be ignored.

Remember, help is available if you need it. Reach out to local helplines, friends, or professionals if you’re struggling. You don’t have to face the challenges of autumn and winter alone, and seeking assistance is a sign of strength and self-care.

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