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How to look after your mental health this winter

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Feel like you've been struck with a case of the winter blues? 

You're not alone. The dark and gloomy winter weather can make us stay indoors, exercise less, be unsociable and eat unhealthily.

Here are six tips from the SANE Australia Help Centre to help you look after your mental health this winter. 

Get outside in the sunlight

Exposure to sunlight plays an important role in influencing our moods. Sunlight helps increase our body's levels of vitamin D and also promotes the production of serotonin which regulates mood.

During winter, Australians require about 30 minutes of sunshine to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D. A deficiency in vitamin D can contribute to depression so try to get outdoors every day. This could be as simple as walking with some skin uncovered or eating lunch outside as part of your daily routine.

The Cancer Council's SunSmart app can help you understand how much sun exposure is safe for you and measure UV levels in your local area.

When inside, keep the blinds open and sit near windows whenever you can. Sunlight within the house can help you feel more awake and reduce oversleeping that can also negatively affect mood. 

Move as much as you can

Exercise is a great way to beat winter blues but it can be hard to find motivation when it's cold outside. Try these ideas to help get you moving:

Choose activities you enjoy or try something new. Exercise with a friend. Sign up for an organised run and follow a training program to get you there. Try different fitness apps or podcasts. Reward yourself with a sauna, spa, warm bath, or massage.

Try to do about 30 minutes exercise, five days a week. Exercising doesn't only mean doing sport or going to the gym. There are many activities that can keep you active such as tai chi, rock climbing, swimming, dancing, exercise videos, gardening and cycling.

If you choose to exercise after dark, take precautions to stay safe and prevent injury. Ensure you're aware of your surroundings, wear bright clothing, exercise in a well-lit and familiar area, and avoid wearing headphones.

Embrace the cold weather

​Instead of avoiding the cold, embrace it. Try and view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured.

Rug up in clothing that keeps you warm. Invest in a wind-resistant jacket, scarf, beanie and gloves and head outside. Take advantage of things you can only do for a few months each year such as skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, building a snowman, or visiting natural warm springs where the warmth of the water contrasts with the sharpness of the air.

If you'd rather stay indoors you could sit in front of the fire, read a book, do a puzzle, start that TV series you've been wanting to watch, or savour a warm drink and sit under snug blankets.

Make an effort to be social

Many of us are less social in winter. While socialising can seem like an effort in the winter months, it can help boost your mood.

Make an effort to see friends and accept invitations, even if you only go for a while.

Simply being around people can feel good, like being in a gallery, movie theatre or concert.

Volunteering can also have a positive impact on your mental health. Not only will you be around other people, you're also making a difference.

Eat healthily

The cold weather can have us reaching for comfort foods high in sugar and fat.

While you may get a short-lived mood boost from these foods, they can negatively affect your overall mood, so try and resist the temptation and eat fresh food.

Small amounts of vitamin D can be gained from foods such as fatty fish and portobello mushrooms.

Connect with others

A case of the winter blues can turn into something more serious. If you're concerned about your mood or mental health, talk to someone including friends, family or health professionals.

If you're in crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For information, advice and referral from mental health professionals, contact the SANE Help Centre on 1800 18 7263.

The SANE Online Forums, www.saneforums.org, are a safe, free and anonymous online platform offering connection and support for people affected by mental illness.

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