Blog | Mental health in winter
When it’s dark and cold and winter seems never ending, the world can sometimes feel like being stuck in a room with the curtains drawn. Let in the light! With these gloom-busting tips, support young people in Scouting who may be feeling the effects of the winter blues
It’s not only our bodies that need extra nutrition in winter; our minds need extra care too. At this time of year as many as 1 in 3 people in the UK experience heightened feelings of sadness or depression. This is also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s not only adults who are at risk; young people can be affected to.
They may have less energy, their self-esteem may flag or they could be feeling more anxious. This anxiety could be exacerbated for those approaching periods of change – moving on in school or in Scouting, for example.
The good news is: Scouting can help. Research has shown links between Scouting and mental health and more recent findings show that while supporting physical and mental health, Scouting strengthens communities. As one member explains, in their account of how Scouting can help with anxiety: ‘Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference, like those volunteers who make sure everyone feels involved. Often people suffering from mental health issues feel like they’re useless, so showing them they’re useful and valued helps.’
To manage stress and nurture mental wellbeing, staying connected is vital. Support your young people through the winter blues with these tips for lifting the spirits and nurturing mental health.
Connect with nature
- Get outdoors with your young people. Arrange a climb up a mountain, a walk along the canal or a trip to a forest to admire the trees. According to Scout Ambassador Megan Hine being in the wilderness is a natural form of therapy.
- Remind young people to pet their pets. The therapeutic effect of being near animals has been well documented. Studies show that being near animals and pets can make us healthier and happier. Some organisations even specialize in taking pets to nursing homes and mental health clinics to lift people’s spirits.
- Go for a group walk. Encourage your Scouts to get up and stretch their limbs on a good long walk. Or encourage a football game, a dance-off or another group exercise to release natural endorphins and alleviate the blues.
Connect with yourself
- Practice laughter yoga. Laughter yoga involves extended bursts of voluntary laughter based on the belief that this offers the same benefits as spontaneous laughter. It’s full of silliness and fun but the physical and mental benefits are overwhelming positive too. Host a session of laughter yoga with your section with this guidance on how to do laughter yoga.
- Encourage self-care. Although self-care is often associated with comforting activities like taking a candlelit bath, self-care (unfortunately) is as much about doing those dull things we put off but are necessary to our wellbeing. For you this may mean doing your taxes early so the experience is stress-free but for young people it could be tidying their bedroom or making a study schedule (and sticking to it!)
- Get creative in your meetings. For young people dealing with a lot of emotions, self-expression can release the pressure. Encourage your young people to funnel their emotions into a project or work of art. Be it through journaling individually or building a group float for a festival or parade such as Pride.
Connect with your community
- Give something back. Whether embarking on an AMH community project or activity, baking a cake for a friend or posting a thoughtful card to someone going through a rough period, giving to those around you is a great way to connect with people and contribute to community wellbeing. By giving your time you not only develop skills and meet new people but volunteering can improve mental health. Take a look at how 1st Healing Scouts took painting rocks and turned it into a community art project.
- Organise a delicious get-together. Arrange a celebratory winter meal. Make the most of the cold by cooking and eating together with your section. Put on some music, make a toast to Scouting together and top off the meal with a game of gratitude bingo.
- Make time for silliness in Scouting. Get your young people to make stress balls and juggle with them. It’s not only loads of fun but also can contribute towards a Circus Skills Activity Badge. And if the wet weather keeps getting in your way of outdoor of activities, embrace the reality and lean into the winter with these 25 rainproof boredom busters to keep your Group occupied.
Take a look at our further guidance and resources on supporting the mental health of young people in Scouting.