Friday, 22 January 2021

Wellbeing tips for staying happy during winter

Long, dark days and what sometimes seems like endless dreary weather can impact our mental and physical health. Winter is the season when we are more likely to suffer from colds, flu, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and not to mention piling on the pounds. So why is it that winter leaves so many of us feeling under the weather?

Why winter can affect our mood

During the winter months there is less sunlight and this has for many years been believed to cause an imbalance in the brain, and ultimately affect our mood. SAD can be seriously damaging to our wellbeing as it has similar symptoms to depression, including anxiety, fatigue, sadness, and lack of concentration. The mechanism for this change was not fully understood, but some researchers believe they now know the cause. 

Medical News Today takes a closer look at a study undertaken by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. The researchers measured levels of a protein called SERT in participants and found that those with SAD had more SERT during the winter than the summer.

SERT effectively reduces the activity of serotonin in our brains and as serotonin is known to regulate our mood, researchers believe this reduction in serotonin activity can lead to the depressive symptoms known as SAD.

Ways to stay happy in the winter months

Fortunately, there are many ways we can increase our levels of happiness to keep us smiling and lift our mood in the winter.

Get walking – Bearing in mind the research mentioned above, it is perhaps not surprising that being outside and soaking up the sunlight and vitamin D is one of the best ways to combat SAD and winter blues (a less severe condition). If you find yourself travelling to and from work in the dark, make use of your lunch break, wrap up warm and go for a walk outdoors. 

Sleep well – Try adjusting your sleep pattern by going to bed earlier and rising earlier. It may be tempting to sleep more when it's dark and cold, but too much sleep can leave you feeling sluggish and even more tired. 

Drink water – Water is a wonderful elixir that can remove toxins from the body and improve brain function. Staying hydrated can combat fatigue, reduce headaches, and help balance our moods as well as keep our skin in tip-top condition.

Eat healthy - There’s no denying the cold weather can make us want to reach for sugary and stodgy comfort foods, but this doesn’t mean we have to grab the nearest chocolate bar or survive on takeaways. There are plenty of healthy options that can satisfy your comfort food cravings – try making hearty soups or stews using lots of seasonal vegetables and white meat, which will also boost your immune system.

Embrace the winter – By appreciating the beauty that winter brings and paying close attention to the smaller details, mindfulness can put you in a more positive and happier mood. Go sledging in the snow (with or without the children), notice the frost glistening on the trees, listen to a crackling fire and watch the flames dancing, or sit outside at night around a firepit and watch the stars twinkling in the night sky.

Do a winter workout – If you can’t face dragging yourself out to the gym or the local pool, do a workout in the comfort of your home with yoga, dancing or aerobics. There are plenty of workouts available online but if you prefer, just play your favourite upbeat music and dance!

Avoid colds – By eating plenty of foods that contain vitamin C, such as oranges, broccoli, cherries, chillies, peppers, blackcurrants, and strawberries, you can keep colds and viruses at bay. Although the antioxidants don’t always prevent you from catching a cold, they can reduce the duration and severity.

For more tips on how to cope with SAD, check out our free webinar 'Coping with seasonal affective disorder during lockdown'. 

You can also watch the recordings of our other winter wellbeing webinars here>

Thursday, 7 January 2021

How yoga can relieve anxiety and stress

Many of us at some point in our lives will experience anxiety or stress, and when left untreated, it can lead to more serious issues that can also affect our physical health. Sometimes we might not even realise that we are suffering from these disorders until they take a stronger grip on us. Some of the early warning signs of anxiety and stress include:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Constant worrying
  • Poor concentration
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbance
  • Panic attacks

If you're looking to try something new to help with your symptoms or to complement a talking therapy, yoga may offer some relief according to a recent study by NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine. The study concluded that yoga may be helpful for relieving symptoms of anxiety in some people.

There are several forms of yoga, with some of the more familiar being Vinyasa, Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram and Kundalini. Each of these mind–body practices offers a complementary approach to mental and physical wellbeing, which can help you attain a healthier mind and body.

Yoga comprises various postures, breathing techniques, relaxation and meditation. By undertaking the yoga postures you can improve your body’s core strength and flexibility, and don’t worry that they might be too strenuous as there are different degrees of difficulty so you can choose the most appropriate yoga class for you.

Also known as Pranayama, breathing plays an integral role in yoga and is used to help you control your body and also quieten your mind. Depending on the different levels of yoga, there is a range of breathing techniques which vary in complexity.

More often than not, meditation, or dhyana, accompanies yoga and the breathing techniques to help you relax and focus your mind. Yoga meditation allows you to think more clearly and live in the present moment so that can ground yourself both physically and mentally.

The health benefits of yoga

As well as helping to ease symptoms of stress and anxiety, there are a number of physical health benefits associated with yoga, which include:

  • strengthening of muscles
  • an increase in energy
  • improvement in breathing
  • an increase in flexibility
  • weight loss
  • a healthier heart

All of the above benefits can also reduce the risk of suffering from health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, back pain, arthritis, headaches, depression, anxiety and stress. 

Visit the NHS website for more information about yoga and its health benefits >

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Day 12 – Twelve drummers drumming – Set your new rhythmn

Now we’re on the twelth day of Christmas, you will hopefully have a better idea of what’s important to you, what you enjoy and where you’d like to be in the future. So it’s time to start setting your new rhythm for the year! 

Monday, 4 January 2021

Day 11 – Eleven pipers piping – The power of music

Music has been shown to have a huge impact on our mood. Music doesn’t have to be conventional music, it could be melodious birdsong, the sound of waves on a beach, classical, pop or anything in between. Put your favourite sounds on today, close your eyes and really listen.

Day 10 – Ten lords are leaping – Set smart goals and leap!

How is your life at present? Are you happy, or is there somewhere you’d rather be? Perhaps you have your eye on a promotion, new career direction, university course, new hobby or skill, or want to move home or country. Work out where you want to be and what steps you need to get there. Then start leaping like a lord! 

Read more about goalsetting here >

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Day 9 – Nine ladies dancing – Exercise for wellbeing

The human body has been designed to move. Research has shown that we can improve our mental and physical health by doing regular exercise. Dancing is a great choice because it often involves social communication and coordination as well as movement, but if dancing isn’t for you, try lots of different types of exercise until you find something that you enjoy. You are more likely to exercise often if you enjoy it, so find your dancing shoes, swimwear, wetsuit or whatever and get moving!

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Day 8 – Eight maids are milking – Use the resources available to you

As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. Bounce some ideas off of a trusted friend or speak to a family member about how you feel, and don’t be worried about ‘burdening’ people. Often people want to help. Open up and give them a chance. Read these tips on talking to friends and family about mental health problems.

Find out more about talking to friends and family in this article >

Friday, 1 January 2021

Day 7 – Seven swans are swimming – Don’t compare yourself to others

What do you see when you see a swan swimming? You see a serene bird effortlessly gliding along. What you don’t see is the effort going on below the water. Swans are working hard, but we often only see the graceful appearance above the water. Whenever you see someone who appears to achieve a goal effortlessly, remember swans. It takes a whole lot of hard work to achieve that graceful exterior. Try not to judge yourself too harshly against others because we don't know how much paddling is taking place below the surface when others glide by. 

If you feel you tend to jump to conclusions and punish yourself accordingly, cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) can help you challenge your unhelpful thoughts. Download our free booklet to find out more about CBT.