How to Look After Your Mental Health this Winter as a Carer

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The UK’s position in the Northern Hemisphere is a double-edged sword. During the summer months we get the mood benefits of long summer days and temperate weather – but during the winter we suffer the pitfalls of much shorter daylight hours and unpleasantly low temperatures.

This can intensify the usual challenges of being a carer. With living costs rising as the temperature falls (something that’s especially apparent in the midst of the cost of living crisis), travel disrupted, and opportunities to get outside fewer and farther between, winter can be a difficult time to get through. That’s why it’s important to take care of your mood and wellbeing during the colder months. Read on for our tips for looking after your mental health this winter if you’re a carer.

Tip 0 — First and Foremost, Make Time to Look After Yourself

It can be so hard to put yourself first as a carer, but it’s important that you make your needs a priority. You may feel that taking even 5 minutes for yourself is impossible, but remind yourself of this: 

In order to give the person you care for the best you can, your physical and mental health need to be at the best that is possible for you.

More importantly, you are a person too, and as an individual, you should also have your own needs met.

For the following tips to work, you’ll need to recognise this one first. So – how can you make time for yourself, and what can you do in that time? Keep scrolling to find out.

Tip 1 — Build a Daily Routine that You Can Follow

When you go to sleep and wake up in the dark, it’s easy to feel sluggish and you might find yourself losing momentum throughout the day. Consider whether building a routine is an option for you. If it is, it can help to prevent this loss of momentum by giving you a plan to follow and removing the need to make lots of decisions throughout the day. If you often find that the day is halfway done before you get the chance to attend to your own needs, a routine could help you embed small opportunities to look after yourself throughout the morning. It can also automate healthy habits like getting up and going to bed on time, eating nutritiously, and taking regular rests.

The point of routine is simply to reduce your mental load by streamlining your day. Habit will make things like getting yourself breakfast or helping your loved one get dressed feel less stressful, because you won’t have to think about it as much – the decisions about how and when you do things have already been made ahead of time.

Tip 2 — Seek Out Sunlight

Lack of sunlight can cause your mood to dip because it can disrupt the body’s production of serotonin and melatonin, chemicals that affect mood and sleep. Making the most of the sunlight available during the winter months can make all the difference to your mood, but it’s not always easy to get outside during the small window of light each winter day affords.

If you can, try to build sunlight into your daily routine (see above). Stand in the garden or on your front doorstep with your morning cup of tea. Find a reason to take a walk at lunch time — to get a coffee, to pop to the post office, to phone a friend for a chat. If you spend most of your time in the house, open up the curtains and blinds first thing in the morning, and spend time by the window throughout the day. And in bad weather, the window is also the perfect place to watch the rain from — all while soaking up any natural light that might filter through the clouds.

Tip 3 — Do Something You Enjoy Every Day

It’s important to maintain joy in your life. It’s part of what makes life worth living. If you’re a carer, it’s hard to bring joy to someone else if you don’t have any of your own! 

Take at least 5-10 minutes every day (more if you can!) to do something that you love; reading, drawing, exercise, watching TV. It doesn’t matter what, as long as you’re enjoying yourself. The happiness that you’ll feel from giving yourself this time will give you a boost in coping with the rest of the day.

Tip 4 — Talk to the People Who Love You

Sharing with others when we’re under stress can make us feel drastically better able to deal with our situation. Even if they can’t provide concrete solutions, knowing someone cares about you and is listening can help with feelings of isolation or inability to cope, and you can do the same for them.

Often, people can do even more than that. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help, whether it’s family members, friends, or even neighbours that you’re on friendly terms with. It might surprise you how willing people are to step up and take on some of the things you’re juggling. Try asking for help with specific tasks: for example, ask someone if they could pick up the items on your shopping list, or ask if they could take an hour to sit with the person you’re caring for while you pop out. Once people have an idea of how they can help, they’re often very happy to.

If you don’t feel you can speak to the people you know, or if you consistently feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, talk to your GP. They’re there to help you and will be able to point you towards resources that you can use to ease your situation and make a plan for your wellbeing.

BONUS TIP — Book Onto One of Our Mood and Motivation Training Sessions

83% of people who attend our Mood and Motivation sessions say that they have an increased understanding of strategies for improving their mood and motivation as carers for people living with dementia. These sessions are aimed at family carers and friends, and walk through helpful hints and tips on how to raise mood, build confidence, and consider meaningful activities, all while encouraging you and the person you’re supporting to feel happy, safe, and secure.

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