Things are still really tough right now.
In the northern hemisphere, the days are short, daylight comes in limited supply, and outside, the weather could not be less inviting.
As the UK continues with its third national lockdown, which was imposed at the start of January, things are feeling particularly challenging. A new survey by market research company Ipsos MORI found that 60 percent of Britons are finding it harder to stay positive during the third lockdown, an eight-point increase from November’s lockdown. In the U.S., restrictions vary from state to state depending on infection rates and hospital capacity, with some regions instituting stay-at-home orders or curfews.
Mashable spoke to psychologists and mental health experts about things you can do if your mental wellbeing is being affected by the winter lockdown.
Understand why you’re so tired
For many, living through a global pandemic means unlocking a level of tiredness you’ve never before experienced. This could be down to something people are calling “pandemic fatigue,” says Dr Sumera Shahaney, head of clinical operations at Thriva, a UK health testing company. “This is usually felt as an inner weariness or worthlessness – many of the things you might associate with mild depression,” says Shahaney. “A lot of evidence points towards this being associated with a feeling of hopelessness in the midst of this pandemic. Many people have now accepted that life has changed but we have lost resilience — we have no control over the future and are unable to see an end point.” Add to that any specific personal challenges you might be facing, such as job insecurity, money worries, and health concerns, and this could take an emotional and physical toll on your body, resulting in feeling fatigued. Even time is being distorted by continued quarantine, lockdown, and stay-at-home periods, which is an exhausting concept in itself.
Given the time of year, there may be other factors going on, says Shahaney. Because the days are short and opportunities for spending time in daylight are reduced, our vitamin D levels might be low, and causing you to feel tiredness. That’s not all, though. “The change in seasons can also disrupt our sleep cycles by suppressing melatonin and if we aren’t commuting or going outside as much our overall movement levels will be lower,” adds Shahaney.
Make small, achievable adjustments
If you have an idea of what might be contributing to your tiredness, consider making some minor, achievable changes. Shahaney suggests doing a “sleep hygiene check” — reduce screen time before bed, try to stick to a bedtime routine, try to keep the room you sleep in cool (but not cold). If you’re struggling to sleep, have a read of my story on what to do when you can’t sleep, and here’s a great guide to optimising your sleep in a pandemic (very relevant!).
Next step is think about whether your diet includes enough vitamin D and B12 sources. Research has vitamin D deficiency with low mood levels and the NHS has that it’s important to take vitamin D as the pandemic has meant many people have spent more time indoors than usual this past year — reducing the opportunity to boost vitamin D levels through natural light. “If your vitamin D levels are low, this might be making you tired. To boost energy and reduce stress more generally you might also want to look at your B12 levels and introduce some aerobic exercise into your day,” says Shahaney.
Not everyone is able to leave the house and millions of people with health conditions have been instructed to shield — meaning they must stay home and self-isolate — for the foreseeable future. But if you are able to go outside, even if it’s just for 15 or 30 minutes while practicing social distancing, you’ll feel the benefit of getting some natural light and a bit of exercise, says Shahaney.
Take it one day at a time
If you’re experiencing pandemic fatigue or feeling overwhelmed, it can be difficult to think beyond your immediate needs. Andy Halligan, NHS mental health nurse and part of NHS England’s We Are The NHS careers campaign, recommends focussing on the day you’re living through. “Try to take each day as it comes and try not look too far into the future,” says Halligan. “The future can bring us fear and anxiety and the past can bring us pain, so try to live in this moment, it’s all we really have.”
“Just getting through each day can be a big achievement in itself through these times,” says Halligan. “Whatever you’re going through, and no matter how dark/tough things get, better days will come, because nothing last forever. ‘Every cloud has got to run out of rain sometime’ and everything you wish you could be doing right now will have its time, so try not to put so much pressure on yourself.”
Seek help if you’re struggling
If you are really struggling, it’s worth reaching out and talking to a mental health professional — and you wouldn’t be alone here, as virtual therapy sessions, crisis lines, and therapy apps have spiked during the pandemic. “Our minds can be our own worst enemy at times and talking is a great way to take some of that weight off of our shoulders,” says Halligan. “Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family, there are NHS Talking Therapies available which are a free, effective and confidential way to deal with any mental health issue you may be going through.”
You can ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or if you’d prefer you can self-refer online via nhs.uk/talk. If you need urgent help, here is an NHS list of mental health helplines. Scroll to the end of this article for a list of U.S. and international resources.
Do things that make you feel good
Balancing multiple priorities in a day, whether it be work, childcare, remote-learning, or all of the above, can make carving out time for yourself impossible. Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of recommends committing to doing one thing every day that’s just for you. “Make self-care a priority by taking time to do things that nourish you, like running a nice, long bath, practicing yoga, or reading a chapter of your favourite book.”
Whether it’s making something tasty and nourishing for dinner, having a long, hot shower, listening to a podcast, or cranking up your favourite music, meditating using an app, or none of the above, do something that will make you feel good in the depths of winter.
If you’re interesting in learning more about self-care, have read of Mashable’s guide to self-grandparenting and self-parenting, and how to bring screenless Sundays into your routine. And practicing mindfulness is more important than ever during this time.
Take time to appreciate small moments of beauty and joy in your day, advises Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a neurophysiologist and sleep expert. “If you do this you will notice that you feel better and sleep more deeply and thrive mentally, regardless of what’s going on out there that we simply don’t have control over.”
Celebrate the small victories
Productivity looks different in a pandemic. But it’s important to recognise your successes — however big or small they are. Psychotherapist and life coach Andre Radmall advises celebrating the little wins. “Set one goal per day. It could be going for a walk or making a meal. Don’t overload yourself by trying to achieve as much as before lockdown,” says Radmall. “Achieving small goals will help self-esteem and confidence.”
But, as well as the small wins, it’s also important to reflect on the past year and take note of what you’ve achieved in that time. “It’s been a really difficult time, and many of us have been tested in ways we never expected,” says NHS psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton, who’s supporting Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters campaign. “Take 10 minutes and list some of your accomplishments or successes from the past 12 months — no matter how big or small. Whatever they are, take time to reflect on and be proud of your accomplishments this year.”
Pick up the phone
Socialising in person with our friends and family is on hold for the time being, but it’s really important to connect with people we love right now, especially in the middle of winter. As Dr Natasha Bijlani, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in London, points out, “Social connection is crucial for our mental and physical health, and our relationships with others are vital to our survival and well-being.”
Try to schedule some time to FaceTime a friend or family member, or send a pal a voice note over WhatsApp. This is particularly important if you live alone. “Sharing light-hearted banter or even discussing serious topics helps reduce the effect of loneliness, and we are fortunate to live in an age where there are so many different ways in which we can communicate without face-to-face contact,” says Bijlani.
Above all, know that you’re not alone in this. Keep your chin up.
For mental health support in the UK, text “shout” to 85258, call Samaritans any time, day or night on 116 123, or consult this NHS list of helplines and support groups.
If you’re based in the U.S. and you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.