Image description: An open book and a hot drink with a slice of orange in it
Whilst you may not be one of the 3% of people in the UK who suffer from SAD, or, Seasonal Affective Disorder, the shorter, darker, rainier days of the UK winter can be a real bummer – especially at the moment. The odd seductively sunny day really puts into relief how much weather affects mental health. Look at the sun on the Radcliffe Camera! Isn’t life good? Doesn’t that essay/problem sheet deadline seem less scary? Let’s take pictures of Oxford in the sun and skip down Broad Street!
We obviously can’t rely on the weather to provide us with good mental health. Rather than growling every time it gets dark before 4:30pm, perhaps we should try digging into the nicer side of winter. After all, with the onset of Tier 4 and stricter coronavirus restrictions set across the country, we’re likely to be spending rather a large chunk of time at home.
So, as much as you should tweak and individualise your own cosy experience, here are some ideas for what could help make winter a bit less gloomy. Many of these tips will come as no surprise, but it may be a useful list to consult when you need some inspiration.
If you can, try and make your main living space well-lit with warm lighting. I know this has made me feel better on many a cold dark evening! If you suffer from SAD, consider a light therapy box. These can be quite expensive but you can also find them on Ebay at very reduced prices. I have even found these in charity shops in Oxford! If you have a TV or Monitor you can also stream a video of a fireplace. It sounds ridiculous but it’s actually very relaxing.
- Organise cups of tea with your household
Plan out an actual set time (not “let’s get tea later”) to have a cup of tea and chat with your household. Alternatively, organise a zoom coffee with friends. Planning a few of these in advance can give you something to look forward to and add structure to your day.
If you are able to, head out for a run, jog, or speedy walk. Or stick your favourite tunes on and have a boogie, solo or with a member of your household! I have found running to be particularly good for anxiety – if you’re running when it’s dark be sure to wear fluorescent clothing if going near roads.
- Get outside at least once a day if you’re able to
If you struggle to get up in the morning like I do, schedule meeting a friend or ask a friend to call you at a certain time to make sure there’s some accountability! Even when it’s a bit darker outside, fresh air and vitamin D are essential. If meeting up with a friend isn’t an option, or you want a bit of alone time, consider listening to a podcast on your walk. I’ve personally really enjoyed The Happiness Lab and Ologies with Alie Ward (which discusses a different -ology every episode!)
- Bake a sourdough
I’m joking – but cooking or baking can be very therapeutic. The BBC Good Food websites has brilliant recipes for cosy treats like cardamom buns or banana bread.
- Watch what you watch/read
Whilst we’ve all heard how amazing HBO’s Chernobyl is, consider the impact watching it may have on your mood. Cultivate your media consumption to work with your mental health. A mental health slump may not be the best time to read Cormac McCarthy. This includes consumption of news media – consider what is good for your mental health and what is necessary to know restrictions-wise.
- Get a couple of scented candles
These can instantly transform a room into a cosy sanctuary. If your accommodation allows it, pick up a couple of scented candles. You can get one from most supermarkets.
- Be in nature
If you’re lucky enough to have a green space within walking distance, go for a walk in nature. Or bring nature inside – you can buy a plant from most supermarkets or garden centres. YouTube and Spotify have hours of nature sounds that actually make the body relax. Stick one of these on in the background.
- Listen to whatever makes you chill
Be it low-fi beats, jazz or choral – put some music on in the background. I particularly recommend Laura Marling’s album Songs for Our Daughter, or her new release The Lockdown Sessions. Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in the background instantly make a room cosier.
- Read some books for pleasure with absolutely no regard for quality
Be it the crappy YA dystopian fiction you read as a hormonal teenager, or the Sophie Kinsella book your flatmate has kindly given you – reading doesn’t always have to be top-quality content. For example, I have just finished a book where the protagonist is unexpectedly attacked by a gorilla in the third act. Riveting.
- Hot drinks
The amazing relaxing qualities of a mug of mulled wine or hot chocolate cannot be understated. I’ve also recently discovered that you can jazz up your hot chocolate by warming the milk with a few cardamom pods (squashed with a knife) and then adding chocolate/powder.
- Hot Bath or shower
This is pretty self-explanatory. For supreme levels of self-care, combine it with other items on this list such as scented candles and/or a guilty-pleasure book and music.
- Online workout classes
If you are unable or just don’t want to exercise outside, there are loads of free online exercise classes requiring differing amounts of living space. Whilst exercise may feel torturous at the time, a healthy dose of endorphins goes a long way.
YouTube channels like Yoga With Adriene and Underbelly Yoga provide free online yoga classes. These can be really good for relaxing or having a bit of a mental and physical reset. If you don’t have the floorspace, some of the tutorials are more suited to smaller spaces.
- Be kind to yourself
The best thing you can do at the moment is be kind to yourself. This pandemic has not been easy for anyone – just getting through it is enough. Make sure you set aside enough time to relax, sit back with a book or your favourite Netflix/BBC show, have a cup of something hot and switch off the news for a bit.
- Change up your space
It can be hard to unwind if your space feels cluttered or stagnant. Do some decluttering (try to responsibly dispose of, upcycle or donate your unwanted items) or move furniture around to give it a refresh. You can also buy a cheap diffuser or scented candle from a supermarket or TK Maxx, or reach for the Unidays/Student Beans app to find something discounted. You could also print some of your favourite photos online and put them up, or get some flowers. If you’re still in Oxford, the Covered Market often has buckets of discounted flowers that are reaching their prime.
You’ve probably heard the buzzword in Scandinavian interior design – hygge (pronounced hyoo-ga). The word captures a cosy vibe of wellbeing and contentment through doing simple, enjoyable things. You don’t have to live in a monochromatic, minimalist room imported directly from an IKEA showroom to embrace a cosy mentality. Think about what you, as an individual, need to feel cosy and comforted. This could be meditation and herbal tea, or it could be an hour of playing video games with a glass of mulled wine. As they say, “One person’s trash is another person’s hygge”. Or something like that.
If you are really struggling to deal with your winter blues or think they may be something more serious, email the University Counselling Service or click here for a list of mental health resources.