Lots of people love fall, and it’s easy to see why.
Cozy sweaters, the smell of sweet cinnamon and burning firewood, and the crisp autumn air on a chilly morning all prompt us that fall is here and the pace of life is slowing down for some time.
But others may start to feel a little sad when autumn comes around.
As the weather cools down and there are fewer hours of daylight, some of us feel anxious at the thought of being cooped up indoors for weeks on end. It can be difficult to think about dealing with pandemic anxieties while also not being able to see your friends and family in person.
If you feel the winter blues, you’re not alone.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which starts in fall and continues into the winter months, affects about 14 percent of the adult U.S. population.
Some symptoms include low energy, wanting to withdraw from social activities, changes in appetite, and oversleeping throughout the day. Social distancing may contribute to worsened symptoms.
That means that self-care is more important than ever! To protect your mental health in the winter months ahead, focus on activities that’ll boost your mental health.
1. Rethink your news habit.
You don’t necessarily need to quit the news, but you also don’t need to check it 12 times a day. Refreshing your feed every hour on the dot can expose you to upsetting events that are essentially out of your control.
It’s important to know what’s going on in our world, but not everything is as urgent as bright colors and big headlines lead it to be. In fact, the potential emotional consequences tend to outweigh the benefits of being in-the-know.
Consider the last piece of news that you read. Maybe it was about one of your favorite celebrities, or maybe it was about a crime incident in your town.
Now, ask yourself:
- How has your life changed since then?
- Thinking back now, what impact did that news truly have on your life?
The answer to those questions is probably… nothing!
When we allow ourselves to mindlessly consume media, and the impact it has on our lives is practically zero, we’re setting ourselves up for a negative emotional reaction.
And we want less negativity, which leaves room for more positivity.
Set boundaries for television and social media time with an “unplug” schedule. In the first and last hours of your day, spend time on offline activities. You can try:
- Enjoying a good book
- Taking a warm bath or shower
- Playing with your pet
- Spending time with friends and family
2. Be kind to others.
We all know the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
And there’s also something in it for you: Being kind helps us relate to others in a positive way. When you give kindness, you tend to receive kindness back.
Doing nice things for others also boosts oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which warms our hearts and makes us feel more generous, euphoric, and satisfied with ourselves. It also lowers our anxiety, helps us build better relationships, and boosts our physical health.
Here are a few simple ways that you can be kind to others:
- Smile at a stranger
- Give a compliment to a retail employee
- Buy from a small business owner
- Surprise a friend with a gift
- Offer to help an elderly neighbor with chores
- Write a thank you card to someone ‘just because’
- Give a big tip at a restaurant
- Offer to babysit
- Buy flowers for a loved one
- Make a donation to your favorite charity
- Forgive someone for a mistake
3. Give thanks.
Practicing gratitude has incredible effects. When you take the time to notice and reflect on the things that you’re grateful for, you experience the world in a more positive way. You feel more alive, sleep better, have more ability to show compassion and kindness, and even have a stronger immune system.
You can start by setting aside one to five minutes a day to quietly reflect on the good things in your life that you’d otherwise take for granted. If you want a memento to look back on, you can write down your blessings in a gratitude journal. It can also be a great bonding exercise to share your points of gratitude with a friend or family member.
Here’s how to get the most out of your gratitude practice:
- Don’t just go through the motions. Your gratitude exercise is more effective when you make the conscious decision to be a happier, more grateful person.
- Get specific. Going into detail about what you’re grateful for, rather than creating a long, superficial list of items, helps you feel your gratitude on a deeper level.
- Focus on your relationships. You’ll feel a greater sense of meaning by giving thanks for the people and relationships in your life, rather than for the things in your life.
4. Turn your “to-do” list into a “done” list.
We all set daily to-do lists, even if you don’t realize it. By the time you’ve gotten out of bed, brushed your teeth, showered, and gotten dressed, you’ve completed four items on your to-do list.
However, we all have the occasional long day. The longer a to-do list becomes, the harder it can be to motivate yourself.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what you need to do on any given day, it can help to reframe your to-do outline.
Here’s how you can make your daily to-do list more manageable.
How to Create a Daily Routine
to Become Your Best Self
Define Your MITs
No, this has nothing to do with the ultra-prestigious Cambridge university.
Your MITs are your most important tasks.
There should be no more than three MITs on your to-do list.
Aim to finish your MITs before anything else on your list—that way, no matter what distractions come along later in the day, you’ll have completed the most important tasks of the day.
When you set a goal like “finish Spanish Literature paper,” that task seems too big, too vague, and too intimidating. But the more big, vague, and intimidating a task, the more you’re likely to push it aside in lieu of a different activity.
Set yourself up for success by spending a few minutes to break your huge tasks down into manageable bits and pieces.
Start well before the deadline, work in bite-sized chunks, and you’ll be done before you know it.
Front-load the work
While planning every task on your list, include as much relevant information as possible early on.
For instance, if you need to create a plan to write your Spanish Literature paper, download the prompt and rubric well in advance of writing.
Give yourself a time limit
When there’s a clear beginning and end in mind, you’re less likely to make excuses to skip out on a task.
For example, you can schedule a 30-minute block for folding your laundry, which makes it feel like less of an overwhelming task.
Dig deeper to uncover why you procrastinate
We all have those tasks that have stayed, undone, on our to-do list for days, weeks, or maybe even years.
Try to figure out the root cause behind why you’re putting off that task.
Are you avoiding going to the gym because you’re nervous about not having the right form? Replace “start gym routine” with “practice form in front of mirror.” That way, the big task will seem less daunting and eventually get crossed off your list.
5. Find humor in each day.
“Fun is about as good a habit as there is.”
Laughter is the best medicine! Humor brings people together, breaks down boundaries, and creates a strong human connection.
It can make all the difference to find a way to add a healthy dose of amusement into your daily routine.
- Take time every day to do something silly. Make the conscious decision to break out of ‘serious mode’ and, instead, allow joy and light to fill your time.
- Watch some stand-up comedy. There are tons of stand-up comedy specials on Netflix and YouTube to sample and sift through. Comedians are masters of reframing and presenting mundane moments in hilarious ways.
- Scroll through a meme page. Facebook groups, Instagram, and Twitter are meme gold mines. Look around for pages that poke fun at pop culture references.
- Think back to a funny time that happened in the past. Then, call a friend to reminisce.
Laughter is key to a fulfilling life. Nurture it!
6. Use SMART goals to create your life roadmap.
A lot of the time, we put off goals when we’re not sure how to get there. SMART goals help you clarify all the details necessary to push yourself into action!
What are SMART goals?
How to set SMART goals
Follow this template:
In order to [purpose], I plan to [process]. I will do [action items], during which I will do [detailed action items].
In order to learn more about increasing my personal level of productivity, I plan to finish this time management book by the end of the month by reading 40 pages first thing every weekday morning.
In order to get an A on my next midterm, I plan to study at the library after school. A month before my midterm, I’ll study at the library from 3pm to 5pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. During each study session, I plan to complete one practice exam from each chapter on my midterm.
7. Schedule “me” time.
Self-care is an essential coping skill for all of life’s stressors, especially during quarantine. By carving time out of your day to do nice things for yourself, you’ll recharge your batteries.
Making time for “me” time helps you maintain a healthy relationship with yourself so that you can show up as the best version yourself at school, work, and in social situations.
You can start building your self-care routine with simple 15-minute activities, including:
- Morning journaling. Set your intentions for the day. What are 1-3 things I could do today to bring me joy? And, 1-3 things I can do to bring someone else joy? What can I do today to make my goals easier?
- Evening journaling. Spend some time reflecting on your day. What are 3 amazing things that happened today? What am I most proud of today? What can I do better tomorrow?
- Meditation and breathwork. Research supports the mental benefits of mindfulness meditation. If you’re just starting out, download an app like Headspace for guided meditations.
- Breaking a sweat. All it takes is a brisk stroll around the block, 3 to 4 HIIT circuits, or a short yoga session to start feeling more alert and energized.
- Cleaning up. Mess leads to stress. If your room is filled with piles of clutter, you may want to set a 15-minute timer to tidy up.
Before starting or winding down for the day, remind yourself that you owe it to yourself to de-stress.
What better way to enjoy the holidays than to cut the crazy, and find a way to relax and enjoy yourself?