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Post written by Project Coordinator, Ella Moore

Illustration by Ella Moore

I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, but the way I perceive time has changed this year. I had the great fortune to keep my job during the pandemic so my personal life changed relatively little in March, except for the fact I was house-bound. My days were all almost identical and as a person who is in recovery for mental health conditions I was on high-alert for the toll that these massive global changes were taking on me. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. After I started to see a connection between my mental wellness and the habits and routine I practiced, I wanted to set myself an experiment. Everyday being consistent provided the stage to really see what habits I practiced would help my mental health. Spring soon bled into summer and my mental health was stronger than before even though everything in my external environment was out of my control. My boyfriend of 2 years was deployed with the army in a combat zone and the world was falling apart. However, the control I felt over my own personal life was grounding.

So much of my healthy routine has centered around integrating exercise, early mornings, and sunshine into my daily routine, however all three of these habits rely on me having the motivation to even get out of bed. I affectionately refer to myself as a houseplant because of my basic needs of having sunlight, water, food, and the right environment to mentally thrive. So, the cold and gloomy days of the winter season my energy feels sapped and my depression keeps me chained to my mattress. I feel anxious for this upcoming season. I know that left unmanaged, my mental health will deteriorate and my hard work and progress will have been for nothing.

Perhaps it’s just because my algorithm has identified me as an amateur plant owner, but I have seen far more social media posts about how to prepare a plant for winter than posts about how to prepare our own bodies and minds. Like plants, humans are made up of organic matter and as such humans are not immune to the effects of the seasonal changes: the days get shorter and darker and the weather is cold and gloomy making time outside harder. So much of the way society is set up does not take into account or allow for the natural ebb and flow of life. It makes sense that during this time our mental health might get worse, lose motivation, or feel more tired and fatigued. So what good does it do to know this other than to be anxious about how it is looming overhead? We can prepare.

My Winter mental wellness routine may not come as naturally to me as my Spring mental wellness routine but it is equally, if not more, important for me to start anticipating the toll this winter will take and paying attention to what will be beneficial to my mental and physical wellness this season. To take some inspiration from the plant guides I have seen over the past few weeks about how to care for a plant during the winter months, I’ll share some of the basic needs that I believe will help you stay mentally well over this winter:

  • Adjust your environment to support your healthy winter habits and routines.
    • This could mean making your personal space cozier and more festive, removing temptations for problem behaviors, or setting up a space for an indoor gym/yoga studio.
  • “Pruning” – focus on life priorities and goals to lessen your mental load.
    • Allocate your limited energy resources into the people and things that are most important to you. Add and subtract extras according to energy levels (don’t try to do it all!)
  • Practice Mindfulness when able to get fresh air and sunlight.
    • Time outside, especially in the sunshine, can be limited during the winter so practicing mindfulness during those moments can help to bring focus back to the present moment.
  • Be gentle with yourself.

.Even though well intentioned, setting myself these goals and habits can still be overwhelming for me, which is why I feel it’s important to mention that it is a process that has to be taken day by day. Somedays the greatest act of self care could be making yourself a sandwich before getting back into your depression nest and that is valid, while others it might be completing all of your tasks and going for a run. We have to respect our energy levels and not beat ourselves up when we’re not able to meet our own or other people’s expectations. When I try and think of healthy habits to integrate into my routine I break them into categories: for when I am mentally strong and well, when I need to push myself, and when I need to rest. All of the habits might not be conventionally productive, but taking time to rest should also be considered productive.

“I cope with seasonal depression by doing things that bring joy during cold and gloomy days such as reading a nice book, making hot cocoa and bundling up to watch a good movie with a friend! Trying to keep in touch with family or friends is also a good way to cope and escape from certain feelings.”

Reece, student at University of New Haven

For more articles about dealing with the changes brought on by COVID-19, check out our Winter Newsletter “Coping With A COVID Holiday Season.”

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