Friday, 15 November 2013

Winter is on it's way, time to "wrap up."

We all know that growing up, we'd be told to make sure we wrapped up before leaving the house during the Winter. I remember many occasions of being a woolen bundle arriving at school with vests underneath, never-ending scarves, mittens and of course a bobble hat. I was also lucky enough to have a frog umbrella which everyone was incredibly jealous of.

Anyway, you may have noticed there's a nip in the air. I HATE Winter for all sorts of reasons. I hate the illness that comes with it and the dark afternoons that drag me down with them. I have a shorter fuse, and seem to somehow get angry with the cold (not quite sure how that one works). I come home and feel completely unmotivated to do anything other than sit under a blanket and eating a biscuit of some description, along with a cuppa.

We try and look after ourselves physically in Winter. We turn the heating on, eat soul food, dress appropriately and try not to risk driving unnecessarily when it snows. We make sure we're stocked up on de-icer. We take vitamins to ward off colds and flu, and drink hot chocolate to keep us warm. But what do we do to look after our minds at this time?

Winter is a difficult time for many including the elderly, those in care, and those facing financial hardships, for example. Christmas adverts on the TV can make you feel like you're not earning enough to have the "perfect Christmas", and the short days make it seem like you're not seeing any daylight.

For me, I associate Winter primarily with illness, especially stomach bugs and the dreaded Norovirus. For an emetophobic like myself, hearing things like "yeah, there is a lot of it going around right now" and "it's that time of year" makes my panic levels rocket. Some people are quite open and graphic about their experiences of having a stomach bug, something I would personally rather they'd keep to themselves. I don't need to know how much weight you've lost, how you felt like you were at death's door and how everyone in your family is being struck down and none of you can move.

The darkness and cold are also incredibly detrimental to my moods. I'm naturally a cold person, and even in the Summer months I'll be wearing a cardigan 90% of the time. Come Winter when those temperatures hit zero, I wish I could run away and hibernate for some time with a hot water bottle.

Whilst it sounds like this type of depression will never pass, for some of us, it will lift again come Spring time. For some, this may not be applicable, but for those who suffer from SAD, they may get some relief from certain treatments and therapies.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is the term given to those suffering from a bout of depression during the Winter months. Symptoms might include lethargy, lack of concentration, difficulty in concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and despair, weight gain and disrupted sleeping. Symptoms can start any time from September and carry on for any period of time up until around April. This condition can be incredibly debilitating for the 3 - 6% of people living with the condition. There is a milder form of the condition often referred to as "Winter blues" or sub-syndromal SAD (S-SAD), with sources stating anything up to 20% of the UK population may be suffering from this level of SAD.

So how can you keep your mind warm and wrapped up safely?
  • Go back to basics. Natural light will do you the world of good. Take a friend or family member if you think this will give you a bit more motivation. Talk and share your feelings with loved ones - don't face it alone. 
  • Eat well. Get those five a day. The more colour on your plate, the better. Whilst it could be difficult, try and enjoy the time to eat comforting foods like good old pie and mash. I always finds this gives me a warm tummy and a bit of a smile. 
  • Give yourself something to look forward to, and make plans for Spring/Summer next year. Whether it's a holiday or a day trip out, give it some love and attention. 
  • Medication is an option. Of course you will need to discuss this with your GP, and every individual is different. What works for you might not work for someone else.
  • Try talking therapies such as CBT or counselling. Plus nothing beats a cup of tea and a catch up with someone you've not had the chance to see recently. 
  • Light therapy is another option. If you have the money, look into getting a light box specifically for those suffering with SAD. But take into consideration that it requires a level of commitment and time to work.
  • Exercise where you can. Some areas provide Winter walks, so investigate to see whats happening where you are. It doesn't matter if you can't run a marathon, walking the dog counts, or a walk to the shops will give you some time to get some of that vitamin D goodness. 
  • Consider practicing mindfulness meditation. There are apps you can download or see if there's a course in your area - it will get you out of the house too.
I'm not a professional, I can only take what I think is good advice and share it. 

I think for me, one of the most important things I've learnt over time is that it's alright to take a day out. Sometimes, getting out of bed is a struggle and the world can be a bit too scary some days. There's nothing wrong with that. You're not a bad person, you're not selfish, you're not going backwards in your recovery. In fact, in some ways, you're progressing. Recognising when you need to stop for a moment is vital, and something a lot of people (with a mental health illness or not) struggle to see. So when you feel it, make a note and keep your weekend free to take some time out, and enjoy every bloomin' minute of it.

If anyone else has any tips for getting through the Winter months, feel free to share.