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7 science-backed strategies to strengthen mental health this winter

While mental health can be complicated, studies suggest these steps can help.

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If winter is especially hard on your mental health, you’re not alone.

At least 6 percent of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that happens when the seasons change.

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But the shorter and colder days are enough to give anyone run-of-the-mill winter blues, especially in a pandemic.

Luckily, there are ways to mitigate those low feelings.

Research published November 11 in the journal Preventative Medicine surveyed 250,000 people during Covid lockdowns in the U.S. in April 2020, and found some trends that helped.

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Participants who exercised and spent more time outdoors during the lockdowns in 2020 had lower rates of anxiety and depression.

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Not all coping strategies work for everyone, and sometimes enlisting the help of a professional can be the best route to tackling mental health concerns.

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But research suggests there are some tried-and-true activities that can strengthen mental health by lessening anxiety and stress levels.

Here are 7 strategies to boost mental health this winter:

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7. Get outside

Cold weather isn’t always conducive to spending time outdoors. But research shows even a moderate amount of nature time can boost your health.

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One study from 2019 found people who simply spent 2 hours outdoors per week reported higher levels of satisfaction with life overall.

6. Tweak your diet

No diet or supplement will restore your mental health completely, but some foods can be more beneficial than others.

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The Mediterranean diet, which is loaded with veggies, lean meats, and whole grains, has been linked to better mental health in a number of studies.

Overall, a diet rich in nutrients and low in inflammatory foods is the key.

5. Stay hydrated

It sounds simple, but drinking enough water can ensure better cognitive function and mood.

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One study from 2018 found a correlation between hydration and decreased risk of depression in over 3,000 adults.

4. Adopt Plants

If you can’t spend time outside, bringing nature indoors is another option. Studies suggest interactions with indoor plants can reduce psychological and physiological stress.

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Research published in 2015 found that people felt much more comfortable and soothed when interacting with indoor plants, to the point where their blood pressure significantly decreased.

3. Practice mindfulness

Bringing awareness to the present moment and shifting your focus from the future is a powerful practice for decreasing anxiety and depression.

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A related strategy called proactive coping, which focuses on reducing the likelihood of future stressors, can also have benefits when combined with daily mindfulness practices.

2. Get more sleep

Proper shut-eye is linked to a myriad of physical and mental benefits.

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And adding approximately 29 more minutes of sleep to your normal amount can help improve daily mindfulness, according to a 2020 study.

1. Write in a journal

Putting your thoughts on paper is a healthy way to cope with stress, as shown by several studies.

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Being able to visualize your stressors in a story format can make them more manageable.

And even when things aren’t completely falling apart, journaling on a regular basis can still help you find clarity in the everyday.