OPINION | Protect your mental health during the winter season with these tips
Special to the Sky-Hi News
Darker days, deeper snow, boredom creeping into despair…winter is coming. And, sadly, the suicide rate here in Grand County is higher than state and national averages, at about 1 per 5,000 people.
It makes sense. We’re frustrated, isolated, alcohol is everywhere, guns are handy, and hope can feel limited. Not to mention the stigma of asking, “How are you doing, really?”
Here are 10 ways to protect your mental health this winter in the valley:
- Make a winter bucket list: Write down everything you want to do this winter. Include the little things like “make cinnamon rolls” and “call Aunt Sue in November,” and the big things, too – I’m adding “land a 360” on mine. Aim for around 12-15 items on your list.
- Challenge unhelpful thoughts: Thoughts create our feelings and behaviors. If we think “This gloomy weather is never going to end,” we can challenge that by saying, “That’s an interesting thought. I know it’s not right, the sun always comes back, but it does feel never-ending right now.” When you notice your thoughts, you can add to them to change your feelings and behaviors.
- Get sunlight in the morning: Go outside when you wake up. I know, it’s cold in the morning, but the vitamin D on your face is worth it. You can also buy a UV lamp or “sunlight” bulbs to combat seasonal depression from inside your home.
- Host a dinner party: It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Potlucks are fun! Ask your mom or a friend for a recipe, and borrow any cooking supplies you don’t have. Pick a date and invite two people you enjoy spending time with. Bonus points for a theme!
- Consume carefully: Social media, upsetting news, alcohol, and drugs are quick-fixes for loneliness. Increase your water intake, cook healthy soups, and talk with your doctor about magnesium and ashwagandha, vitamins that help fight off anxiety and depression.
- Do something new: Play volleyball at Middle Park High School, watch a hockey game at the sports complex, paint with friends in Fraser, compete in trivia, or head to the resort for one of their weekly events. Learn a new language, hunt in a new area, improve your drawing skills, or read about a person you know nothing about. Plan a future trip or travel vicariously by google-mapping somewhere that interests you.
- Express yourself: This doesn’t have to be journaling, creating art, or writing poetry, unless you enjoy those. Pause and notice your emotions, then allow them to move through you. We ignore, deny, and bottle-up emotions that we’re taught are “wrong” or “not for a boy,” for example. This leads to angry outbursts, bad sleep, irritation, and depression.
- Create a winter routine: Do something you like, most every day. Commit to listening to music that you love, playing with your dog, drinking tea before bed, or reading that true crime thriller. Include regular exercise, going to the doctor, and getting enough quality sleep, too.
- Check on your friends: Stigma around mental health kills. Talking about our mental health makes it easier for others. I promise, most people can relate to feeling down in the winter. Instead of asking “How are you doing?” you could say:
“What have you been listening to lately?”
“What can we do for fun today?”
“Anything bothering you lately?”
“What’s your brother/mom/aunt up to?”
- Get help: Mental health professionals are ready to help you. Online mental health support makes it easy to connect with a therapist. In-person appointments are available in the county. The Grand Foundation keeps a directory of local mental health providers, available at: https://buildinghopegrand.com/Find-a-Provider. You can also use a website like Psychology Today, Therapy Den, Mental Health Match, or Open Path Collective to find a therapist who can help.
You are not alone. If you’re thinking about hurting yourself or having suicidal thoughts, please call or text 988 for immediate 24/7 support. If someone you love has died by suicide, working with a trained therapist can help.
Carly Pollack is a licensed therapist specializing in PTSD, grief, and depression. She lives in Winter Park with her partner and dog, and offers online and in-person therapy for adults in Grand County. Please visit CarlyPollackTherapy.com to learn more or to schedule therapy.
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