How to survive winter in the UK

Antipodean Melissa Andison tells us her top tips for surviving the UK winters...

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the memory of warmer weather has well and truly faded. We find ourselves layering our clothes and never leaving home without an umbrella to shield the drab, wet days. Winter is synonymous with feeling cold, unmotivated and even lifeless at times. During the chilly months, we are more susceptible to sickness, like common colds and influenza. Individually, getting ‘sick’ makes us feel miserable and collectively, can cause serious public health problems. Influenza takes a significant toll on workforce productivity and also places a considerable strain on our hospital services each year (World Health Organisation, 2014). As healthcare workers we are more likely to be exposed to the influenza virus and the estimated costs of this sickness absence can reach £1.3 billion to NHS trusts and foundation trusts and £330 million to primary care trusts (National Health Service, 2014). Maintaining the NHS workforce during the winter months is critical to reduce the impact on patient care.

Throughout winter our exposure to light is also limited, as many of us leave and get home from work in the dark. The lack of sunlight has been proven to affect mood, appetite, energy levels and even libido (National Health Service, 2013). The ‘winter blues’ is recognised by Doctors and Psychiatrists as a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Each winter, two million people in the United Kingdom suffer from this condition (SAD, 2008). Other symptoms are depression, anxiety, sleep problems and poor concentration (SADA, 2010). There is no doubt that the cold and wet months are taxing on the body, mind and spirit.

As an Antipodean, my first winter experience in the United Kingdom hit me hard. Like many, I constantly battled sickness and it left me feeling bleak. When the weather grew cold, I felt sluggish. The lack of warmth and light made me feel cooped up. I was a winter grump to say the least! As the temperature plunged my second time around, I was determined to avoid being sad, cold and sick. I wanted to take better care of my health. Come late autumn, I decided to develop a winter survival plan.  Now six winters on I still use it and wish to share my tips.

My first successful step was to make a pact to be more positive. I focused on the wonders of winter to help change my attitude towards the cold. I asked myself, what is unique about winter in the UK? For me it was the first sight of snow fall, a ski trip, wood fires, strolling around the Christmas markets with a mug of mulled wine, winter comfort foods such as hearty soups, stews and roasts with all the trimmings. These are all wonderful things that can only be experienced in the cooler months. Reflecting on this shaped a more positive attitude towards winter.

Some more ideas to ensure a healthy mind and body throughout the winter season are:

v  Visit a naturopath and discuss how to boost your immune system with essential vitamin and mineral supplements.

v  Ask a GP about the benefits of the influenza vaccination and then make a personal and informed decision.

v  Avoid spreading colds by carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer gel or wipes. This is paramount for people who use public transport or share telephones and keyboards at work.

v  Plan a holiday to a warmer location to break up the winter period. Travelling outside the main holiday periods can be a bonus, as off peak travel means lower prices and quieter airports and destinations.

v  Plan indoor fitness activities such as squash or aerobics, dance or pilates classes. A lot of studios offer the first class free.

v  Visit a museum, gallery, exhibition or play you haven’t had a chance to see.

v  Try winter activities like skiing, tobogganing and ice-skating.

v  Have a back up plan for the days you just can’t bear to go outside. For example, have a good book on reserve, a movie marathon or try a new recipe in the kitchen.

v  Take on a winter project – knit a scarf, make some lavender infused wheat bags, organise past holiday photos into an album or picture frames.

v  Invest in a pair of waterproof boots to ensure your toes stay dry on transit to and from work.

v  Read up on winter fruits and vegetables and their health benefits. At the supermarket, or better still, a local farmer’s market, talk to people about what is fresh and coming into season.

v  Make your own teas and wrap your hands around a piping hot mug. Try fresh mint or lemon, honey and ginger. They taste good and smell divine.

As winter is upon us, there is no reason to sulk! This year, take a stand with me and don’t surrender to poor health and the ‘winter blues.’ Remember to reflect and embrace what is unique about winter. Take the time to prepare for the cooler months. To reduce the effects of the cold weather conditions on your health and well being make sure your winter survival kit is packed with a positive attitude, good health, fun activities, hearty food and drinks. Have a very happy and healthy winter!

Please visit the NHS Choices website for further winter health tips:

http://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/Winterhealth/Pages/Winterhealthhome.aspx

 

by Melissa Andison, Interim Team Lead Community Rehabilitation/ Occupational Therapist / Mobile Working Champion  

 

References

National Health Service. (2013). Seasonal Affective Disorder. NHS Choices Website.www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder

National Health Service (2014), Communications Tool Kit: A flu fighter guide, http://www.nhsemployers.org/~/media/Employers/Documents/Campaigns/Flu%20fighter/Digital%20resources/Flu%20fighter%20communications%20toolkit%202014-15.pdf

Seasonal Affective Disorder Association. (2010). SADA Website. www.sada.org.uk

Seasonal Affective Disorder. (2008). SAD United Kingdom Volunteer Organisation Website. www.sad.org.uk

World Health Organisation. (2014). Influenza (Seasonal) Fact sheet No. 211. www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets

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