It’s starting to get colder, the leaves are falling off the trees and the days are ending earlier. As they say in Game of Thrones, ‘Winter is coming’.
Many people find winter harder than spring and summer. They often have more trouble looking after their mental and physical health, and in the aftermath of Covid-19 and increasing economic instability, this season may be more difficult than most.
Working in healthcare can be really demanding on your physical and mental health at the best of times. If you know you struggle more in winter, don't ignore it and hope for the best. Use these tips to make a plan to look after yourself during the colder months, because as important as work is, protecting your own health is vital if you’re a nurse or a carer.
Take a walk
Studies have shown that exercising outside can hugely improve both mental and physical health.
Whether it’s a five-minute walk around your neighbourhood or a mountain hike, any exercise is good because it can help to make you feel less stressed. To make it more fun, you can take friends or pets with you.
Schedule self-care time
No matter how busy your life is, it’s important to schedule time to do something you like, like watching your favourite show, doing a sport you love, or simply taking time to chill out.
It can be hard to step away when you’ve got a lot going on, so one solution is to block out ‘me’ time in your schedule. Doing that can make you happier and more productive during working hours.
Many people enjoy different forms of mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga, journaling or breathing exercises. A wind-down routine before bed, for example, can help you relax.
Eat and sleep well
Healthy sleeping and eating habits are a really important part of a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. Physical and mental health affect each other, so try to make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep per night. Doing so may mean that you’ll be more awake and productive during the day and that you’ll feel better.
Studies have shown that people who get more sleep are less likely to develop health problems in the future. Eating a balanced diet, including enough of each food group, can help your body get the vitamins and minerals it needs to function throughout the day.
According to a collaborative study by the University of Warwick and the University of Queensland, eating fruits and vegetables can improve your mood more than eating processed foods and refined sugars. That doesn’t mean you should completely cut out rich foods (crisps, chocolate or donuts, for example), but perhaps think about what you eat to make sure your body gets what it needs.
Spend time with friends or family
Spending time with people you love can be one of the fastest ways to improve your mood, and therefore your overall health. Whether it’s a game night, going out, or just simply relaxing together, having people around can be very beneficial.
If you’re struggling, talking to people can help to lift the burden because they can offer a listening ear or advice. However, it’s also important to take time to unwind when you need it.
This balance is different for everybody, as some people are more extroverted and some more introverted. You can use your alone time in whatever way you need: you could try journaling, which can help you to understand and manage your emotions and thought patterns.
Protect yourself against illness
Wearing a mask and washing your hands can keep many unwanted illnesses (which are more prevalent during winter) at bay, from Covid-19 to the flu.
Wearing a mask in busy places such as on public transport or in shops can help prevent you getting ill or passing contagious diseases to other people, and regularly washing your hands — especially after being in busy places or before eating — can get rid of unwanted bacteria that could make you unwell.
Keeping your body warm is important, especially over the winter months. When you’re inside, make sure you close windows, curtains and doors to keep the heat in when it’s cold outside.
According to the NHS, eating enough and having at least one hot meal per day can help to keep you warm and healthy. If it’s cold, wrap up in multiple layers, especially when going out, and try to keep moving because doing so helps to preserve heat. Staying active can also improve your health and decrease your risk of depression, heart disease and other illnesses.
Keep your vaccines up to date
Covid-19 and flu vaccines can help to reduce your chances of getting unwell, and if you do catch either disease, being vaccinated can mean you’ll get less ill.
It’s important to get vaccinated or boosted if you’re eligible. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulators approved two different bivalent Covid-19 boosters in August and September 2022, so the next time you get a booster, you’ll gain protection against Omicron as well as the original coronavirus strain.
The flu vaccine is free for people over 50, vulnerable individuals and people who work in care settings. You can find out more and see if you’re eligible for a free NHS flu vaccine here.
Seek professional help
Sometimes, tips like these aren’t enough to solve mental and physical health issues. If you feel like you’re not coping, or you’re worried that you’re ill, don’t hesitate to ask your GP or caregiver for help. You can also explore NHS healthcare options online and find out more about mental health services here.
While we’re heading into winter, you can use these tips to stay healthier and happier all year round. Remember to be kind to yourself and try to prioritise your health over work deadlines or social pressures, no matter how hard that may be. Finally, try to find out what works for you, so that you can see the brighter side of winter.