The Check-Up: Mental health tips to help us get through the winter – The Keene Sentinel

As a New Hampshire native, I have a soft spot for winter. I love the cold temperatures and how beautiful a fresh coat of snow can make the city look.
Even still, I struggle this time of year, too.
I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. In most cases, symptoms start in the late fall or early winter and subside during the warmer months, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
SAD symptoms include feelings of depression, losing interest in hobbies, changes in appetite or weight, trouble sleeping, having low energy, difficulty concentrating and social withdrawal. In more serious cases, people can also have frequent thoughts of suicide or death.
With the fun of the holidays behind us, my symptoms reach their peak between January and March. This year’s no exception (and, in some ways, is even worse). I haven’t been sleeping well, I continuously back out of plans and, if I have high energy levels, it feels like a miracle.
So, whether you have SAD or are just struggling mentally, how do you push through until spring?
Susan Stearns, executive director of New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said the first step is to seek professional help, if you feel you need that level of care.
That can be through your community mental health center — in the Monadnock Region, that’s Monadnock Family Services in Keene and Peterborough — or, if you have insurance, Stearns said your primary-care provider usually can help you find a therapist.
There are also ways that have been proven to help your mental health at home.
One example is gratitude practices, Stearns said. This involves writing down three things per day that you are grateful for and thinking about those right before you go to bed.
Going outside for fresh air (even if the sun isn’t out), exercising and getting enough sleep will also help you mentally. If you are having trouble sleeping, she recommended turning your phone off and limiting screen time right before bed.
Stearns said you should also try to do things throughout your day that make you feel better, whether they’re big or small.
“For me, one of those things I’ve started since COVID is I leave my Christmas lights up a little longer than I used to because I realized they lighten my mood … ,” she said. “Sometimes we may be saving something like that special candle that someone gave us. Well, go ahead and light it, if it makes you feel better.”
George Piers, director of counseling services at Monadnock Family Services, echoed Stearns, adding that it’s also important to make a concerted effort to spend time with loved ones and schedule regular outings to boost your mental health.
These efforts “can be difficult while experiencing symptoms,” he noted, but are “essential to help manage them.”
If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, Stearns stressed reaching out for crisis help.
For immediate mental health assistance, Monadnock Family Services offers 24/7 care to Monadnock Region residents at 603-357-4400. New Hampshire also offers a similar service at 833-710-6477 or through its hotline at 9-8-8.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or know anyone who is, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
To sign up for The Check-Up, the new weekly email newsletter from The Sentinel’s Monadnock Region Health Reporting Lab, and get the latest from health reporter Olivia Belanger delivered for free to your inbox every Monday, visit
Olivia Belanger is the health reporter for The Sentinel, covering issues from the opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic to mental health services in the region. A N.H. native, she joined The Sentinel team in August 2019.
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