As dads we get pulled in a lot of directions and are asked to be a lot of different things for different people. Making sure our headspace is in a good place to do all that is essential. Given that we will be tackling the mental health consequences of another winter with COVID on top of Seasonal Affective Disorder, I thought it would be useful to dive into some of the suggestions from resources shared in the DaddiLife newsletter last month, plus some additional mental health tips for winter.
These tips won’t necessarily work for everyone, so it may take some experimenting on your part to figure out what combination helps you and that is completely ok. So what are some mental health tips for winter?
Talk therapy, often referred to as just therapy or counseling, is perhaps the most common and obvious of all the tips. With this, you set aside some time with to speak with a trained mental health professional in a safe space about things that are on your mind or may be impacting you.
While friends and family are often a good source for this as well, sometimes it’s helpful to get an objective outsiders help – especially if a family member or friend are the source of your distress. As I tend to think and process out loud, I’m a huge fan of talk therapy. Sometimes it involves just going in once a month or so for what I call “routine maintenance”, but other times it needs to be more often. It just depends on what’s going on in life – whatever works for you. Talk therapy is also really great due to the fact that your therapist/counselor gets to know you and can suggest personalized suggestions for additional tips.
I know that for a lot of people, the idea of talk therapy is something to be skeptical of… That was me when my wife first suggested I give it a go, but as with me, many people find it useful once they get going. So give it a shot, or maybe a couple of shots if you don’t first find a therapist that works for you. I’m on my third one. My first one was great, but we moved for work, so I had to change. My second one didn’t really work for me, but my current one is wonderful. Figure out who you need and take time to find them.
The weather in the UK can be a bit gloomy most of the time, but it’s especially true in the winter. This gloom can impact our mood. The solution is obviously a few weeks on the beach in Tenerife in the middle of winter! But if that’s unfortunately not in the budget some folks find light boxes or lamps with special lightbulbs to be helpful simulating some sunlight and shaking off that wintery gloom. I don’t think I fully appreciated how much sunlight impacts my mood until I moved from a part of America that is sunny most of the year to part that has winters closer to what England gets. I really miss the sun and not having to wear anything heavier than a light jacket in the middle of winter. Maybe that’s true with you? If so, look into resources for light therapy.
I don’t know about you all but two things are true for me.
First, I love really unhealthy food. Sweets, baked goods, crisps, and chips. I love it all.
Second, if I eat too much of all that deliciousness, I don’t feel great physically and that physical feeling can impact my mood. I know that’s the same with a lot of folks. So, you may find it useful to make sure you get some fruit and veg (that isn’t a fried chip or crisp or in some sort of baked treat) or some non-fried fish in your system regularly.
That may be easier said than done. I would absolutely prefer my lunch be pizza or a kebab, and it absolutely can be some of the time, but I also know that I’ll probably feel a lot better physically and mentally if I get a spinach salad in a few days during the week. Every little bit can help, just give it time. If you have a salad for lunch and 30 minutes later don’t suddenly feel like the happiest person in the world, that’s natural. It’s salad, not your team winning the Premier League (as a supporter of West Ham United, I don’t know that feeling but I hear it’s great). Make a habit of eating well and hopefully you’ll see results in the near future.
Another area folks find helps with their mental health is exercise. For some people I know that means spending an hour or two every day at a fitness center lifting weights. For others it’s yoga, cycling, or having a five a side kick about.
For me, it’s cardio…walking, running, hiking…I love it all. I know it’s not the most efficient way to burn calories and get in shape but for me there are mental aspects as well. When I do it I am out of my house, and usually on my own. I can 100% control what I am listening to (even if that’s just the sounds around me). If I need to let my mind wander or think about something I can put on music. If I want to active listen to something, like a book or a podcast, I can. It’s as much an opportunity for a mental break as much as physical.
Find what works for you considering what your climate and schedule will allow. Heading into winter, I’ll likely need to make some changes to my exercise routine as it may be too cold, dark, or wet to safely get outside for a run or walk when I finally have time to do something after the kids are all in bed at night. That may mean a DVD or YouTube video of a at home fitness routine. If you find that exercise helps with your mental health, do what you can to get something in as often as you can. Every bit helps.
Arts and Creative Efforts
Maybe you find painting, writing, singing, or building things gives your mental health a nice boost. If so, great! Find time to do those things and get to giving yourself that boost. I find that my mental health gets a lift when I am being creative. Even writing this post has uplifted me, so I am thankful for the opportunity to write it and to you for reading it, maybe that’s the same for you. If you think you don’t have an audience for whatever you’re creating, you’re probably wrong. Your loved ones, or strangers on the internet would likely love to see or hear what you’ve been working on. Maybe it’s a new hobby for you do alone or with your kids: It can’t be worse than some of things put out on the radio or on the telly! Also included here are consuming things that bring you joy, whether it be favorite books, shows, movies, sports…whatever. Enjoy it all and let it give you a much-needed emotional bump. My wife and I are about to start our annual rewatch of Gavin and Stacy, why? Because it’s a favorite of ours and it boosts our mood.
Our kids, other family, and friends
One last tip is a really important one…spend time with your loved ones, including friends and especially our kids. My kids are younger, but the joy I get when I spend time with them is immense. Plan some fun activities with them. Make some treats (doesn’t have to be from scratch), make some fun arts and crafts, draw pictures together, play with their toys together, sit out the couch and snuggle them while watching their favorite shows…whatever works for you and them to be together and enjoy their company.
Whatever you’re doing I’m sure your kids will just be lost in time with their dad and you’ll get a nice boost. Beyond your kids, hopefully friends and family are another source for a mood lift. It’s definitely hard with the pandemic, but with modern technology there are ways to be distanced and yet spending time together. My mates and I live far apart from each other, so we try to get together virtually through playing video games (the majority of which I am mostly terrible at). We talk, we have a few drinks, we share a few laughs (sometimes at the expense of each other…from a place of love of course). Figure out what can be done and what works for you.
I’m going into this winter not only with concerns about Seasonal Affective Disorder and COVID related challenges to my mental health, but also with the potential for post-partum depression following the recent arrival of our new twins. So, I’m trying to come up with a plan and setting some goals. I’m continuing work with my therapist in talk therapy and changing my workout routine, which relies heavily on running and walking outdoors, to things I can do indoors. I’m working on communicating with my partner where I’m at mentally and what my needs might be. That last one is probably the most challenging for me and may be for you as well and that’s ok. Just get the ball rolling.
Also keep in mind that there likely isn’t going to be one magical solution. It will probably take a combination of efforts to get the boost you need. That’s fine. It also may take some time or experimenting to figure out what works best for you. If that’s the case, great! Enjoy trying new things and figuring out the mystery that is your mental health. Give yourself time, space, and the grace to figure it out.
The above list isn’t exhaustive, so what are some of your personal ways of tackling SAD and conducting maintenance on your mental health? Make sure to share them using the #winningwinter hashtag so that other dads can learn from you. We’re all in this together and are both teachers and students in life.
Take care and be excellent to each other.