Cold weather, less sunlight, holiday stress. These can all take a toll on our mental health during the winter months. Some people with Down syndrome may be unable to communicate how these factors affect them. Instead, you may observe a change in behavior such as lack of interest in activities, changes in sleep, or changes in appetite.
There are steps all of us - with and without Down syndrome - can take to promote our mental health. The list below shares 6 ideas.
1. Be active.
Being active promotes both our physical and mental health. It can give us energy, reduce stress, and boost our mood. We do not need to go to the gym or exercise vigorously to benefit from physical activity. Movement of any kind can help. Walking, dancing, cleaning, and shoveling snow are just a handful of ways to be active. Check out our post on the wheel of exercises for another fun activity.
2. Go outside.
While cold temperatures may make us want to stay inside, bundling up and going outside has many benefits. When we are outside, our brains release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us regulate our mood. Being outside in sunlight can also increase our vitamin D level, which may prevent symptoms of depression.
3. Eat a healthy diet.
Eating a healthy diet is important for preventing a variety of health conditions and promoting overall health. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains, among others, contain vitamins and nutrients that are essential for maintaining good physical and mental health. Processed, fried, and sugary foods are less nutritious and can cause us to “crash” after an initial mood boost. The Nutrition and Weight section of our library has many resources on healthy eating.
4. Get good sleep.
Most of us do not feel our best when we do not sleep well. Poor sleep prevents our bodies from functioning appropriately. In addition to fatigue, poor sleep can cause irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and more. Tips for improving sleep are provided in our article called Addressing Challenges with Falling or Staying Asleep.
Spending time with family and friends can boost our mood and prevent feelings of loneliness. It also gets us out of the house and encourages us to move more.
6. Practice stress management techniques.
Stress is not a bad thing. Moderate, short-lived stress motivates us and helps us respond to threats or unsafe conditions. Problems can arise when stress is particularly intense and/or lasts a long time. In these situations, it is important to find ways to manage our stress. Activities that can help us calm down and cope with stress include deep breathing, counting to 10, drawing/coloring, exercising, and listening to music. Additional ideas are shared here: Resources on Healthy Ways to Manage Stress.
If these steps do not help, it may be a sign of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression, or other mental health condition. We encourage you to speak with your primary care provider or a mental health professional.
6 Ways to Naturally Boost Serotonin
The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Health Benefits of Being Outdoors
Can Healthy Food Boost Your Mood?
Sleep Deprivation: Understanding the Hidden Consequences
Seasonal Affective Disorder