Research suggests 29 per cent of us will suffer from depressive symptoms over the winter months, which is why it’s so crucial to head into winter with a clear action plan for your mental health. The bad weather and dark days can sap your energy and optimism, the lack of sunshine makes you vulnerable to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and the shorter days mean it’s easy to neglect the everyday social and leisure activities which usually nourish your sense of pleasure, pride and perspective.
“Many men, especially in the winter months, can wake up feeling panicked and out of control, expecting something terrible to happen,” explains Mammarella-d’Cruz, who helps men at his Mayfair therapy room and founded the MenSpeak men’s groups to encourage men to talk about their problems. “Talking things through will help you to remove whatever is lying heavy in your heart, hijacking your days and leaving you confused.”
Here he shares six easy and actionable steps to help you proactively protect your mental health this winter.
1. Pick up a pen
One of the easiest ways to neutralise stress and anxiety over winter is to write down your worries. The simple act of writing down your problems will help you to express your feelings and regain perspective.
“What I call ‘Morning Pages’ is an efficient technique to get the debris of negative thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto three sides of paper,” explains Mammarella-d’Cruz. “The aim is for a free-flowing stream of consciousness. So without thinking, without crafting, without judgement, without attempting to put anything right, just write it out of you and set your mind free.”
You can then tear up the paper to symbolically ‘let go’ of your problems, or store your worries in a journal to help improve your self-knowledge over time.
“Keeping a journal,” he adds, “enables you to check for any patterns or cycles in your mental health to help you know yourself better.”
2. Attack the day
“A good way to break the ‘analysis paralysis’ which can haunt us on dark winter mornings is to breathe out of your head and into your body, then leap out of bed and into the shower,” suggests Mammarella-d’Cruz.
Those deep breaths will help you to regain your composure and perspective when anxiety kicks in. And the cold shower will pump you full of mental and physical energy for the day ahead.
“Festering in your fear, while obsessively thinking about how to fix the unfixable, has never got anyone anywhere,” he says. “So shock it off your skin with a blast of cold water and claim back your day.”
3. Move more
Regular exercise and activity will trigger the release of feel-good endorphins to help you break free of the lethargy caused by spending long days indoors over winter.
“Whether you’re a yang type of guy – who enjoys running, skipping, thrashing out lengths in the pool or pumping iron – or your nature is more yin – so you love walking the dog, cleaning your home, stretching into your yogic postures or peacefully perfecting your breast stroke – regular activity will make all the difference to a man’s mental health over winter,” Mammarella-d’Cruz says.
4. Speak it out
“It’s not healthy to be a lone ranger, so speaking about your problems with a stranger can ensure you aren’t carrying those problems around, lashing out at others, or beating yourself up with self-loathing,” says Mammarella-d’Cruz. “Since the first lockdown, my team of trained facilitators at MenSpeak and I have held daily online lunch-hour men’s groups, by donation only, so men can speak about whatever is on their minds.”
Indeed, speaking to strangers can often be easier than speaking to close friends. A problem shared is an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others.
5. Do things your own way
How you juggle all your commitments and responsibilities over the stressful winter months will depend on your personality.
“Some people do well with structure, routine and consistency, knowing what to expect without having to deal with change or choices,” says Mammarella-d’Cruz, “whereas others need the space and flexibility to respond to whatever life brings, so they can maintain their sense of freedom.”
So work with your nature, not against it, but do ensure you keep a healthy balance. Winter is stressful enough without the pressure of being overloaded with work.
“The important thing,” says Mammarella-d’Cruz, “is that you are not owned by your to-do list or bullied by your inboxes. So balance the reality of adult responsibility with your personality, manage your energy, and prioritise the tasks which will relieve the most pressure.”
6. Find pockets of peace
Scheduling in mental breaks throughout the dark days of winter will ensure you prioritise your mental health and address problems before they start.
“That might involve traditional meditation – sitting still, breathing consciously and observing your thoughts pass by – but there are many other ways of accessing ‘the zone,’” explains Mammarella-d’Cruz. “Try communing with nature on scenic walks, cleaning your car, painting, doodling, tinkering, tai chi, or any other creative expression that takes you out of the everyday and connects you with your own thoughts.”
Words: Mark Bailey