Now the clocks have gone back, it’s that familiar time of year again with shorter days, and colder and longer nights. I always feel a bit apprehensive about the transition from Autumn to Winter, as it feels like there is less room for activities outside of work hours. It’s easy to retreat, spend more time indoors, be less physically active, and socialise less which can lead to dips in mood, and lower energy and motivation levels.
With this in mind, I think it’s a really important time of year for starting, establishing and maintaining healthy habits that support our mental health and well-being, to prevent those inevitable WINTER BLUES taking hold in January and beyond.
What are habits?
In short, habits are the small decisions, actions and behaviours we do on a regular and often basis without really thinking too much about them or knowing we’re doing them. Things like: the way we hold our toothbrush when brushing our teeth, checking our phone when we wake up, parking the car in the same place, turning the tv on at a certain time, making a sound after we have sipped a hot drink. Many of the habits we do are automatic.
In a way, the way we live and the person we are is essentially due the sum of our habits – the things we repeatedly think about or do, whether they are linked to study, work, diet, social interactions, exercise or sleep. They all start with habits.
The advantage of having daily habits in place is they free up time and headspace for other things and decision-making. Habits also help to form part of our routine and can be formed or eliminated to fit in with personal goals.
The downside is, it’s easy to get into unhealthy habits and patterns which don’t always serve us: sitting down for long periods every day, staying indoors during the day, procrastination, going on our phone before bedtime, scrolling social media in downtime, drinking alcohol to rest at the end of the day, working until late etc. The accumulative effects of these can have adverse effects on our mental health, physical health, sleep, motivation, outlook and general well-being in the long term.
Start with small habits
It’s easier to start with a small physical action and behaviour that doesn’t require a lot of self-discipline, motivation and willpower to do.
You may not experience any dopamine benefits of getting into healthier habits but if done consistently over a period of time, they will become habitual and feed into your motivation and willpower to build healthier habits and strive for personal goals. The main thing is you do it regularly or daily until it becomes habitual.
So if you’re keen on forming healthier habits in your day, below is a list of small, physical habits that you can start today to support your physical and mental health.
Many of them have dual benefits and can also be combined so you’re getting the benefits of two, three or four habits in one go; such as walking outside in green spaces without checking your phone for 20-30 minutes a day or taking a digital detox during down-time before sleep.
10 HEALTHY DAILY HABITS
- Start your Day with Intention – Whether it be making your bed, stretching, exercising, walking, reading, yoga, meditation, affirmations, reading for pleasure, or making a hot drink, give yourself time to set the tone before going into busy/doing mode. Avoid checking your iPhone, emails etc.
- Drink Water – Buy or get yourself a 1-2 litre water bottle and fill it up every morning. Keep it on you and drink a little and often throughout the day. Put slices of lemon, cucumber and orange in it to give it some flavour.
- Get Outdoors – It’s easy to become reclusive this time of year and miss out on exposure to daylight, so get your 15 minutes’ worth of Vitamin D and take notice of the world outdoors. It will also help your body determine the time of day it is and regulate your circadian rhythm.
- Make Time for Movement & Physical Activity – this doesn’t have to be anything vigorous or too structured but be active for 20-30 minutes – stretch, walk, stand, jog, swim, skip, dance, cycle.
- Eat Healthy Snacks – Snack on foods such as fruit, nut mix, and oat bars to keep your energy levels up and avoid snacking on sugary and unhealthy snacks between meals. Or take multivitamins and Omega 3.
- Take a Digital Detox – Give your eyes and brain a break from screens, checking your phone, doom scrolling, social media, the news, alerts and notifications, emails, and blue light omission, especially at the start and end of the day.
- Prioritise Time for Pleasure – Whether it be watching a film, cooking, painting, playing an instrument, reading for pleasure, exercising, playing games, attending a group class, listening to music, or being with friends, do one thing that brings you joy.
- Keep Your Home Environment Tidy – Declutter, tidy your room, wash the dishes, and put things away, especially at the end of the day – it will make you feel better.
- Wind-down before Sleep – Make sure you give yourself permission to disconnect from extraneous stuff, work, worry and planning etc an hour or two before going to bed. Prioritise downtime.
- Set your Wake up & Sleep Times – Try and establish patterns of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Aim to be consistent most of the week but allow a little bit of flexibility as it will help to regulate your sleeping patterns.
- Start with one action first and make that a habit. Then start another.
- Link new habits you would like to start/get into to existing habits in your day.
- Break down your desirable habit into smaller actions or steps if they feel too big or are unrealistic.
- If you struggle with habit formation and/or motivation to get started, just COMMIT to doing one small step at a time and doing it regularly. That’s enough!
- Small gains done repeatedly every day makes big wins over time.
If you’re interested in finding out and reading more about changing your habits I would recommend these two books.