Darker Nights, Brighter Days: Top Tips for Beating the Winter Blues
Winter is a challenging time of year in the UK with the weather turning colder, wetter, and the days shorter. Despite it being an annual occurrence, we often find ourselves shocked at the darker mornings and longer nights as they set in, wistfully wishing for summer days to return.
Wellbeing is an integral part of our ongoing education strategy, making it a priority for each of our four international schools to focus on. Winter, however, is a time of year where wellbeing and mental health are especially important, particularly through 2020 and into 2021 with the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing restrictions in place for socialising, co-curricular and additional activities.
“Wellbeing is more important than ever at the moment. When looking to make changes to your wellbeing, make sure they are realistic and that you are able to sustain them over time. Something is better than nothing when it comes to wellbeing, and being able to integrate wellbeing into your life consistently, even if it is a small amount over time, is where the real impacts come.”
- Khalil Rener, ACS International Schools Wellbeing Consultant
Here are top tips on how to beat the winter blues, and face the wintery days ahead with a new sense of optimism.
- There is a Swedish term of phrase “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder” which translates to “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes”. Sweden finds itself shrouded in darkness through winter with just 5 hours 43 minutes of daylight, so there’s plenty to learn from their approach. Come rain, shine, wind or snow; dress up warm and you’re ready to go. Exposure to sunlight where we have it, and fresh air outdoors is essential for our wellbeing and health; improving our digestion, blood pressure and immune systems. A brisk walk, jumping in puddles and tidying up the garden; it all adds up. UK Active shares some ideas about staying more physically active during winter months.
- Enjoying the small things. There is a typical vision of the winter and holiday season where we’re curled up under a blanket, by a fire and drinking hot drinks. But, how often do we do it? Indulge yourself throughout the winter period with some quiet, cosy down-time to enjoy that cozy warm feeling. Read a book, do a crossword puzzle, colouring in or just simply ‘be’, taking some time out of your day or week to focus on you. Mindfulness is an excellent skill for younger children to learn, giving them a tool for tools for self-regulation. Just two exercises you can easily do are to notice 5 things around you, and take 10 deep breaths.
- During summer months we find it easier to drink plenty of water and fluids, because it’s hot; the days are longer and we’re thirsty. We need just as much fluid intake during winter, but we rarely drink as much as we should because we’re colder and feel less thirst. Instead we can find ourselves substituting water for hot drinks such as tea, coffee, hot chocolates; which all contain high levels of caffeine or sugars. So before you instinctively boil the kettle, have a glass of water first, and encourage children to do the same, or choose herbal teas to satisfy your hot drink cravings. Among many benefits, drinking plenty of water regularly significantly boosts our energy levels and brain function - essential for the school environment.
- Technology offers us endless opportunity for activities, interaction, socialising online with friends and family. The downside? You’re constantly reminded of the time, your phone is filled with endless distractions, and you can find yourself looking outside thinking “is it really only 6pm?” Putting phones and technology away and indulging in the simpler activities in life can whittle the hours away, and lead to a new level of interaction and fun. Board games, puzzles, colouring, quiz books. These are activities used regularly in our boarding houses at ACS Cobham to engage students in alternative activities. Top tip… make sure everyone is aware of the rules from the beginning, especially where games like Monopoly are involved!
- Comfort food doesn’t have to be unhealthy food. Whilst we all have our go-to comfort snacks, they’re rarely foods or snacks that are good for us or help to maintain our vitamin requirements. Healthy fruits and vegetables help to keep us going, keep our minds fresh and bodies active, especially important for students during the winter months. Hearty soups, stews and casserole dishes are easy winter warmers which can be packed easily with seasonal vegetables. See what’s in season each month of the year with the National Trust.
- Sleep. Let’s say it again; sleep! In summer we’re tricked to staying awake longer because it’s still light outside, in winter we lose the differentiation between night and day even further as it turns dark from 4pm disrupting our circadian rhythm. Ensure you’re getting plenty of sleep every night - it’s essential to reset our bodies, rejuvenate our hearts and vessels, increase our alertness and improve our memory.
Our approach to mental health at ACS International Schools is transparent, empathic and positive.
Wellbeing has never been more important, something which we recognise across ACS International Schools with our rigorous Pastoral Care programme, Personal Counsellors, support staff, 1000 hours Project initiative for our Boarders at Cobham and systems in place to support our faculty.