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Protect your Mental Health this Winter

Protect your Mental Health this Winter
Date published: 24 November 2022 Author: Zoe Armbrust Categories:

During the winter months, along with the regular round of colds, flu and mystery viruses, many of us find our mental health takes a real battering. It’s an issue we are getting better at talking about in Britain, particularly since the pandemic, when protecting the nation’s mental health became almost as much a critical issue as the Covid virus itself.

But there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in our understanding of how to best protect ourselves from the effects of deteriorating mental health. There is no single vaccine, no magic tablet to take as the nights draw in and reduced exposure to sunlight depletes the all important production of melatonin and serotonin leading to seasonal affective disorder.

Everyone’s experience is different, and how we treat it will depend on the individual. But there are steps you can take now to help stay healthy and happy this winter.

Signs and symptoms

The impact of mental health issues on those around you can be huge and can affect relationships – this is particularly critical when it comes to your ability to care for a loved one. The single most important thing you can do to remain well is to be more aware of yourself and the people around you.

It can be difficult to spot the signs of deteriorating mental health. Fatigue, or stomach problems can also be symptomatic of colds, flu and other winter bugs. But look out for the following:

Keep a note of any symptoms and how long they last, it will help with the next stage…

What to do next

The advice remains for you to contact your GP in the first instance. Waiting times mean this isn’t always the easiest thing to do, particularly when you’re already suffering. But persist, it’s worth it. As well as assessing your specific needs, your GP will talk you through the various courses of action, including medication, connecting you with mental health services and introducing the other forms of therapy available.

If you are struggling to access help through your doctor, visit this NHS page, or reach out to one of the national helplines such as Mind, the Samaritans or the text line, Shout.

Don’t go through it alone

It’s also important to let people around you know how you’re feeling. It can be a huge relief to know that someone is there, looking out for you. If you live alone, or have found yourself distanced from friends and family, loneliness can accelerate mental health conditions. In this situation it can be helpful to connect with a community of people who have been through similar experiences. You can join peer groups in real life or take social interactions online, using mental health services and support groups offered by organisations including Mind.

Non-medical approaches

Scan the magazine shelves in WHSmith and you could be forgiven for thinking that looking after your mental health is a bed of roses. Magazines with soothing imagery promoting the process of mindfulness look almost like a lifestyle choice and far from what you’re going through. But mindfulness can be hugely effective; it’s about building awareness of yourself and finding methods to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by situations.

Using tools like meditation, simple breathing exercises or practising yoga or Tai chi can all help to manage symptoms and improve physical health. But if you find yourself struggling to connect with a particular method, don’t give up altogether. We are all different and you will eventually find the right form of therapy for your particular needs.

Older people 

You could be forgiven for thinking that mental health is something that mainly affects the young. Much of the media attention has focussed on the crisis in school age children, and the people most keen to talk about their experiences are younger adults. But people of any age can be at risk, and some older people may lack the vocabulary of have a different attitude to mental health, making it hard for them to voice their concerns.

Increased mental health conditions are actually common, particularly in people who have recently retired. Attempting to adjust to life without work can be particularly hard, as can the loss of a partner or the diagnosis of a life limiting illness. So if you think an older friend or relative may be at risk, keep an eye out for the signs mentioned above, and pay attention to their physical symptoms. Sleep problems, loss of appetite, constipation, tiredness and loss of interest in sex are all common symptoms in older people.

Caring and mental health

If you’re caring for another person, it’s very easy to put all of your energies into their needs and not taking care of yourself. The signs and symptoms of deteriorating mental health may appear simply to be the by-product of a busy life full of worry and stress.

If you don’t keep on top of things, you could be heading towards burnout and that can have serious consequences for you and the person you’re caring for. Think of it like an oxygen mask on an aeroplane – in case of emergency, you must always make sure yours is in place before you help others in your care. Read our guide on carer burnout, for some useful tips to help you avoid mental health issues this winter.

If you feel as if things have become so bad that you need some immediate help, a period of respite in a care home or with a live-in carer offered by Promedica24 can take the pressure off. Concentrating on your own needs will allow you to come back refreshed with the tools you need to care more effectively.

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