Surviving Winter

Winter SkyI don’t know about you but I find winter a season to be endured rather than enjoyed and over the years I have amassed some survival strategies for getting me through to the other side.  Take a look below to find out more…

Keeping in Fine Winter Fettle 

The four things that reliably keep us physically healthy are eating well, drinking well, moving well and resting well.  This is no different in winter to any other time of year, however all of these areas seem to suffer somewhat in the darker, damper days.

Eat well – when energy starts to run low and the darkness draws in most people have a tendency to let the healthy eating side of things slide, I mean, who wants to eat a salad in winter? Planning your food a few days ahead of time and ensuring that you cook healthy, comforting food packed full of protein and veggies will be a good way to keep yourself on the up and up throughout winter.  Planning and shopping ahead helps you to avoid having less nutritious food on hand and reduces temptation to eat foods which won’t support your body.   Suffering from a fit of can’t be arsedness?  I like to plan really simple one pot type dishes at this time of year, think soups, stews, casseroles etc because they hit the comfort button and they are easy.  I often find on an evening that the motivation to cook left the building way before I started to get hungry so I find my slow cooker an absolute godsend.  Twenty mins of chopping things up on a morning, whack it on and hey presto when I walk through the door in the evening dinner is ready!

You may also want to contemplate boosting your normal food intake with some supplements to support you at this time of year.

  • Echinacea and elderberry (sambucus nigra) are great for keeping winter sniffles at bay and shortening the symptoms if you succumb.
  • A good all round vitamin and mineral supplement is a good idea at any time of year but especially in winter.
  • Milk thistle will help support healthy liver function, especially as the Christmas parties kick in.

Drink Well – Hydration is just as important in winter as it is through the warmer seasons and personally, I often find it hard to keep up to.  I like to set myself a four pint challenge every day.  I start the day with a pint of water that I have taken up to bed with me the night before and then space my other three pints throughout the day to finish around a couple of hours before I head to bed (that leaves enough time for some more if I feel compelled). I break the day down into segments so I know that if I haven’t drunk my next pint by the time it gets to 11am that I need to get on the case.  This means I tick the box for minimum water intake every day, it’s a habit that pays dividends!

When you space your drinking out like this your body quickly becomes accustomed to the amount and frequency at which you drink and starts to utilise the water better and so that need to constantly run to the loo that you get when you first try and increase water intake reduces.

If you can’t face cold, plain water, warm it up and infuse it with some flavour by adding a slice of citrus fruit.

Move well – In spring and summer people tend to spend much more time being active outdoors.  In winter we hole up in our central heated dens and become more sedentary.  It’s not only outdoor activities which decrease in winter but gym attendance also falls.  This leads to stagnation and a lack of exposure to sunlight both of which compromise our immune systems and impact our mood.

Try and get outside every day, even if it’s just a ten-minute stroll on a lunchtime, the fresh air, natural light and a good dose of cold will stimulate you and keep your body working well.  Better still, why not start a lunchtime walk or running club with your colleagues?  Committing to an activity with others makes you more likely to actually do it rather than find excuses to not do it, and it ticks the box of some social time too.

When it comes lack of motivation to go to the gym why not try shaking up your usual routine?  Motivation for exercise is often greater at the start of the day so hitting the gym before work or at lunchtime can ensure you actually get there rather than waiting until the end of the day when you’re tired and the last thing you want to do is double expose yourself to the wet and the cold in order to get your exercise fill.

In addition, you may also want to get your vitamin D levels checked, it’s really not unusual during winter in the UK to become deficient due to our lack of sunlight exposure and a supplement can make a huge difference to our mood and energy levels.  Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include low energy, low mood and muscle / bone aches and weakness.

Rest well – The other thing that tends to go out of the window, especially in the run up to Christmas, is rest.  It’s all parties and shopping, visiting family and socialising.  This goes against the grain of our natural mammalian biorhythms.

I used to be in the habit of overcommitting myself out of a desire to not let people down but I have learned over the years that if I don’t make time to rest and nurture myself that I just end up burning out.

When you are being invited to all the festive events and get-togethers really think about what you are committing yourself to:

  • How many events have you committed yourself to this week?
  • If you go will you still be able to get adequate sleep?  If not, where will you offset this?
  • Have you scheduled yourself some time to just rest? This might involve watching some TV, reading a book, meditating or whatever else is restive, restorative and floats your boat.
  • Do you like the people you will be with and find them easy to get along with?  It takes way more energy and resources to be with people we find challenging so you need to factor this in when planning your diary, extra rest time will be required after challenging events.
  • Remember you don’t have to say yes to everything.  Learning how to say no to people and realising that it doesn’t result in the world ending was a bit of a revelation to me so I know it can be to some of you guys too.

Keeping a Crisp and Clear Winter Head

All of the above will obviously have an impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing as well as your physical health but particularly at this time of year it’s worthwhile remembering moods can run low. It can be a real challenge for many people during the festive season for lots of reasons; spending time with people we find difficult or challenging can take a real toll on your emotional wellbeing, social isolation becomes more prominent when all about you are having fun with friends and loved ones, the lack of exposure to natural sunlight alters our hormonal balances and for some this can lead to symptoms of seasonal effective disorder, the list goes on. Having strategies in place to deal with all these things is key to sailing through this period as smoothly as possible.

Where are you in all the chaos? – Have you really thought about your needs when making your festive plans?  What do you need in order to stay healthy and happy?  How will you ensure that these needs get met?

Drink and be merry – This time of year our social engagements tend to centre around the consumption of alcohol.  Whilst this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, after all it can be quite pleasant to enjoy a social drink, alcohol is a depressant and drinking too much can lead to low mood, irritability and even aggression.  So, when heading out with family and friends consider how much alcohol is right for you?  How much allows you to relax and enjoy yourself, and how much is too much? Have a plan and stick to it!

Somebody to lean on – Christmas is generally a very sociable time of year and this can create problems.

For some, the endless social gatherings and having to be on your best behaviour at all times can lead to feelings of restriction and pent up emotions.  For you having an outlet, a space where you can spend some quiet downtime with someone with whom you can just be yourself and release, is going to be essential to keep your mental and emotional wellbeing on an even keel.  This could be in person or on the phone/online.

Equally you may feel you don’t have anyone in your life with whom to socialise and isolation can be really highlighted at this time of year.  Again, reaching out by phone/online can help, and if you really feel there is no-one, there are many community schemes available which help bring people together especially at this time of year in order to alleviate loneliness.  Check out schemes such as Community Christmas and Points of Light that organise large scale events to bring people together at such times.  A quick internet search for community Christmas meals in your area should reveal a number of results.

You could also combine fulfilling your social needs with doing good, a double whammy as far as boosting positive feelings is concerned.  Helping others is shown to improve mental health, reduce stress and raise self-esteem.  Christmas is a fantastic time of year to volunteer for a charity or community project.

Exit strategy – For those of you on the spectrum where you know you are required to go to certain events but will find them challenging do you ever think of having an exit strategy planned and ready to implement when the going gets tough?  I’m not talking about flouncing out and making a dramatic exit however I like to go into these situations with either a set plan about what time I will leave that minimises my exposure to the situation, or have a non-dramatic exit strategy planned that will be easy to implement at any point.

Cave time – Ensuring you have space to retreat and relax is also essential.  As mentioned previously rest is as important as everything else when it comes to maintaining good physical, mental and emotional health.  Take a bath, read a book, watch a film, in short… Relax! For those who find it hard to relax practices such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga can be great ways to soothe your nervous system and allow your body and brain to go offline for a little while.  Getting a holistic therapy treatment is also a really fantastic way of de-stressing and relaxing.

Ok, so this is not an exhaustive list of how to survive winter, that would be a much longer blog and I already feel like I’ve rambled on.  I do hope you find some of this useful though.

Hoping you all enjoy a healthy and happy winter season.

Rachel