This winter might be a bit of a strange one, but worry not! We take a look at some self-care tips for December that can help you get through it.
December is always an interesting month in the UK. As well as a whole host of festivals and celebrations, it’s a time for reflecting on the year we’ve had, as well as and the one ahead. With shorter days, colder weather, and a lot going on, it can sometimes also be a difficult time. This year could be an unusual one, which is why we’ve put together some self-care tips for December.
As well as taking a look at what self-care is and why it’s important, we also look at why it’s even more essential during winter and the pandemic. We’ve also got 12 simple self-care tips that you can use to help make sure it’s a merry a month as possible.
What is self-care?
On the surface, the concept of self-care might seem fairly straightforward – caring for yourself. However, there have been quite a few definitions that try and tie down exactly what this means. The World Health Organisation (WHO), for example, defines self-care as ‘the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.’
To give further detail to this, we can look at a 2005 definition from the UK Department of Health. They explain self-care as the actions people take ‘to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after acute illness or discharge from hospital.’
Clearly then, self-care is a universal concept that’s about making sure you’re taking care of your physical and mental health.
Why is self care important?
Taking care of yourself and your loved ones may seem like a basic part of everyday life. However, we often don’t give enough thought to the implications of doing so. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that self-care plays an important role in our lives. Here are just some of the reasons that practising self-care can help:
- Managing stress. A 2018 study found that medical students who were more engaged in self-care reported less perceived stress and a better physical and psychological quality of life.
- Improving your physical and mental health. Many of the steps taken with self-care can help to boost your physical and mental wellbeing. It may also help prevent existing issues from getting worse.
- Making you more aware. Taking care of your physical and mental health can help you feel more in tune with yourself. You may notice the things you struggle with and what helps make it better. This self-compassion can help you achieve goals and deal with setbacks.
- Helping build healthy relationships. When you’re happier and healthier in yourself, you often feel more able and willing to build relationships with other people.
Winter and pandemic self-care
Before we get into our self-care tips for December, it’s worth mentioning why it’s so important at this time of year. Many people find winter, in particular, a tough time. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes known as winter depression, is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. We cover SAD in more detail in a separate post, but it’s worth mentioning here.
With shorter days, less sunlight and colder weather, some people can feel sleepy, have a lower mood, and feel depressed. At such times, self-care becomes even more essential.
This year, in particular, things may seem even more difficult. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many parts of the country under tough restrictions, limiting our social connections and creating feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Going into December, we still don’t exactly know what the festive period will look like, which is challenging for many people.
It’s important to remember that, although we’re living through unusual and difficult times, it won’t last forever. And, if you’re feeling stressed, worried, or in a difficult emotional state, that’s entirely understandable given the circumstances. Recognising these feelings and taking positive steps can help.
If you’re finding things difficult during the pandemic, the UK government website can help you find support with a variety of factors.
Self-care tips for December
So, now we know a little more about what self-care is and why it’s so important, particularly at the moment. Let’s turn our attention to some self-care examples. Below, we’ve outlined some simple and practical ways you can look after your physical and mental health. These self-care tips for December can help to make sure you stay in tip-top condition for the last month of 2020.
1. Eat well
In the colder months of the year, it’s tempting to rely solely on comfort foods to get us through. Throw in the potential for things like Christmas dinners, leftovers, and chocolate, and it’s easy to write-off December entirely. However, a healthy and balanced diet is an essential part of self-care all year round.
Understanding the importance of nutrition and eating well can help you stay healthy during winter. It’s good for your immune system, heart health, and even your mental wellbeing. You can use the NHS Eatwell guide and focus on eating lots of fibre, fresh fruit and veg, and minimising saturated fat and sugar. Of course, you can still enjoy the occasional festive treat, but keep it in moderation.
2. Get outside
The autumn and winter in the UK can seem a bit gloomy at times. Yet getting as much natural light as possible can help. If you’re able to get out and about in your garden or for a walk during the day, it can help. When things are a bit colder, it can be tempting to stay indoors more than usual. Yet the fresh air and sunlight can help reduce stress, make you feel more relaxed, and improve your physical health.
Even if you can’t venture outdoors, getting a bit of fresh air and daylight in your home can help. Try opening the window a bit and sitting in a well-lit room during daylight hours. Just make sure to keep warm, whichever option you choose.
There are many benefits that come with exercise. It reduces the risk of things like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, as well as reducing your risk of early death. Exercise is also excellent for your mental health, helping to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. When it comes to self-care tips for December and beyond, they don’t come much better than this.
Of course, the current circumstances and the wintry weather might make things a bit more challenging, but it’s far from impossible. The WHO recommends you get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or a combination of both. So how can you get enough?
Taking daily walks or other outside exercise is a good place to start, providing such activities meet with any COVID-based restrictions in your area. There are also plenty of online exercise classes and courses that you can follow from the comfort of your own home. However you get active, it can help with your physical and emotional wellbeing.
4. Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness is the state of being fully aware of yourself and your surroundings, without judging either. Although that seems like a fairly simple concept, with the world as busy and constantly connected as it is, it can be difficult to take a step back. When you practise mindfulness, you focus on the present moment and how you’re feeling in it.
Mindfulness can help to decrease stress, improve your wellbeing, boost your creativity and memory, and help with your mental health. It’s clear why it makes it onto our list of self-care tips for December, but how do you practice it?
You can start with some simple breathing techniques. Try sitting somewhere quiet and comfortable where you won’t be interrupted. From here, close your eyes and take some slow, deep breaths. As you breathe, focus on the sounds and sensations of air entering and exiting your lungs. Acknowledge any thoughts and put them to one side, focusing instead on your breathing for just a few minutes. This simple technique can help to calm your mind and focus your attention.
5. Express gratitude
Gratitude is another seemingly straightforward concept. Most of us are grateful for something or another in our lives. However, this apparently simple emotion can be a powerful self-care tool. There is a growing body of evidence to show that expressing gratitude can help with your physical and mental health.
Being grateful, whether directly to another person or written down, can reduce negative emotions and aggression, enhance empathy, help you sleep better, and improve your self-esteem. It helps you focus on your accomplishments and the positive aspects in your life.
6. Limit your screen time
It’s easy to get caught up in the continuous news cycle at the moment. Developing stories, whether about the coronavirus pandemic or otherwise, can keep you glued to your TV or devices. Although it’s good to keep informed about the latest developments, you should try and limit your screen time in this respect. It can leave you feeling drained and anxious, continuously refreshing the page.
Try and have specific times at which you check the news or your social media accounts. You could also try turning off your breaking-news alerts. Similarly, you should only check reliable and unbiased sites for your news, and fact-check anything that you come across.
Reducing your screen time in general also brings several benefits. It can help to reduce eye strain, prevent headaches, improve your sleep, and boost your focus.
7. Stay connected
Loneliness has become a real problem during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have been limited when it comes to spending face-to-face time with family and friends, as well as socialising through work and leisure. To fight off these feelings, it’s important that you stay connected with those who you care about. Thankfully, there are many ways you can do so, even if you can’t see them in-person.
Whether it’s calling, video conferencing, messaging, or even writing a letter, you can make sure you reach out to your loved ones. Most people will appreciate the contact, and if you can make it a regular thing, you could be supporting others while making sure your own needs are met.
8. Don’t neglect your sleep schedule
During the winter months, the temptation to hibernate can be strong. With lower temperatures and dark mornings, it’s hardly surprising. However, keeping on top of your sleep routine is one of our top self-care tips for December (and the rest of the year). Getting enough sleep brings all kinds of physical and mental health benefits, while not getting enough can negatively impact you.
Try and work on a sleep schedule that keeps you in a regular pattern. Don’t eat or drink caffeine just before bed, and minimise your alcohol intake. Try and work on ways to de-stress before you go to bed, and keep your bedroom free of distractions. You can also try reading a book rather than scrolling on your screen before you try and sleep.
9. Get writing
Journaling might not seem like an obvious addition to our self-care tips for December. However, the practice can bring some surprising benefits. For starters, it can help you organise your thoughts. With the world as complicated as it is right now, it’s sometimes difficult to get in touch with how you feel. We’ve already mentioned mindfulness and gratitude, and writing a journal is a perfect opportunity to do both.
Journaling can also help to relieve stress, boost your memory, and get your creative juices flowing. Whether you use it as an excuse to write your to-do list or record your thoughts and feelings, a few minutes spent writing before bed can go a long way.
10. Pay attention to alcohol
December is usually a month of parties, celebrations, and, for many people, more than the odd tipple or two. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption is generally at its highest around Christmas and New Year. What’s more, although 46% of people in the UK said the pandemic hasn’t affected their drinking habits, 17% of people were drinking more than usual.
Although a drink here and there can be a nice way to relax, the effects of alcohol can be quite noticeable. As well as disrupting your sleep, it’s also a depressant, which can enhance negative emotions. It can also weaken your immune system.
When you’re practising self-care, try and be aware of your alcohol intake. Don’t overindulge, and keep an eye out for any negative effects.
11. Be kind to yourself
Next on our list of self-care tips for December is to be kind to yourself. Although that seems obvious (this is self-care, after all!), many of us treat ourselves more harshly than we would others. Whether it’s negative thoughts, being critical for mistakes, or putting unrealistic pressures on yourself, they’re all unhealthy habits to have.
Try and focus more on your good qualities. Take a moment to appreciate a small victory and congratulate yourself on your achievements. You can also think about how a friend or loved one would react to you when things aren’t going well. Show yourself that same compassion and support.
12. Have some ‘you’ time
If things seem a little overwhelming during these odd times, you’re not alone. We’re living in unprecedented times, and it’s sometimes hard to know how to react. In such circumstances, it’s perfectly fine to take some time to yourself. Whether it’s engrossing yourself in a book, watching your favourite movie, or playing video games, you’re allowed to escape for a while.
So, there we have it, 12 simple tips for self-care in December. You’ll notice that many of these can be applied all year, which means you can continue taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing beyond the next few months. However, given the current circumstances, it’s more essential than ever to stay healthy.