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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 15 June 2021

'Spending time in daylight is huge, especially if you work full time': How to mind your mental health this winter

Elaine Austin, CEO of Pieta House, shares some advice for anyone struggling.

Elaine Austin CEO of Pieta House

SHORTER, DARKER DAYS and colder nights can pose a real challenge to our mental health. 

Elaine Austin, CEO of Pieta House shares some practical things you can do this autumn and winter to be more mindful of your mental health – and to support friends, family members or colleagues in need too.

This October 14th -27th , Pieta House is calling on clubs, companies and individuals to join its FeelGood with Pieta campaign by organising small fundraising events to stay connected, be active and feel good to help protect people’s mental health.

The onset of winter is difficult for many people, and at Pieta House we’re acutely aware of how much it can impact on mental health. The lack of daylight is a big thing, for example someone who works full-time may find they’re not getting any natural light in their day at all.

When you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be easy to withdraw or to pull back, or just to forget to mind yourself. What we often say is this: while you might feel you have no control over your feelings sometimes, you do have control over your thinking.

If you’re someone who knows that they usually find the winter months tough, then now’s the moment to start thinking about how best to mind yourself this year. Take some time to do a bit of a check-in and see how you’re feeling, and to consider what you can do that may help you feel better. 

Sometimes just having a little compassion towards yourself can really transform how you’re feeling. Every one of us engages in negative thinking at different times – we might say we’re not good enough, we’re not successful enough, we’re not trying hard enough.

That kind of internal talk can have a huge impact on your mental health, but learning how to challenge those thoughts can translate into you feeling better overall.

Mindful routines

This is also a great time of year to start thinking about how you’ll keep active and stay connected as the darker mornings and evenings approach. How can you work those things into your day?

Walking is fabulous because most people out there can make it happen at some point during their day, and it gives you some time to think about how you’re feeling, and to consider things that you might be feeling stressed about.

Maybe you’ll get out first thing in the morning, or on your lunch break or if you commute you’ll get off the bus a few stops early and walk the rest of the way home. Build in that gentle exercise, and if you find that’s not enough for you, then try to fit in a run or a cycle. Make the effort to find what works for you.

Of course, different things will help for different people. There’s a lot to be said for simply remembering to take a few minutes to breathe and ground yourself at some point during the day. For some people this might mean switching off their mobile for a few minutes, or just having a few mindful minutes on their commute

Stay connected

People are naturally social, I find. They like conversation and they like to feel supported and to be part of a community. But if you’re feeling low it can be harder to seek out that support and connection.

If you don’t have a natural support network, it’s worth exploring what’s happening in your community. Be open to going to whatever events may be on offer that interest you, be it a book club or a talk about a community issue. Just try stuff, that’s my take – if you don’t enjoy it, that’s okay. Don’t put yourself under any pressure but just try to be open to meeting people, to making genuine connections and simply feeling good.

It may sound obvious but if you start to feel good in one area of yourself, you’ll find you may start to feel good about a load of things, and that can spread to your overall feelings about yourself.

If you’re feeling in need at any time, then it’s incredibly important to share those feelings. The stigma around mental health is something that is discussed time and time again, and the key to lifting that is to get more and more people talking. If you’re feeling burdened, seeking support can be as simple as finding someone you trust and saying, ‘Look, can we have a chat? I want to talk to you about how I’m feeling.’

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At Pieta House we have a 24/7 helpline, you can phone at any time and speak to the team there, or call up a centre and book yourself in for an assessment. We are here, we will treat you with dignity and respect, you’ll find compassion and no judgement.

Helping others this winter

If you suspect that a loved one or a colleague may be suffering with their mental health during the winter, all of the above applies too. Check in with them, give them an opportunity to talk and to get thinking about what services may be out there if they need help.

On a practical level, be active with them, suggest that you go for a walk or a swim together – the act of reaching out in that way can be unbelievably impactful. At work, don’t underestimate the power of group activities, maybe it’s a digital detox for an hour at lunch, or a walking club.

The more that people start to engage with those sorts of positive activities, the more it will affect the organisational culture, reducing stigma and generally making your work environment a nicer place to be in.

Create the time and space this winter to mind your own mental health, and look after that of those around you too – just take it one step at a time.

If you need to talk, contact for free:

  • Pieta House 1800 247247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (available 24/7)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org (available 24/7)
  • Aware 1800 804848 (depression, anxiety)
  • Childline 1800 666666 (for under 18s, available 24/7)

About the author:

Elaine Austin  / CEO of Pieta House

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