Mental health issues can affect people in all sorts of ways, so it’s important to look after both ourselves and each other. Throughout the winter months, approximately 2 million people in the UK will experience seasonal affective order (SAD).
Many people start to feel a decline in their mood as the days get shorter and darker, and the stress that we feel as a result can cause the body to react in different ways. Common symptoms include depression, difficulty sleeping, lethargy, or a general sense of feeling down. For some, the subsequent emotional and physical stress can trigger the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) to reactivate and cause a cold sore flare up.
So with winter approaching, the team at Compeed have rounded up some of the best things you can do to maintain your mental health during the cold months – and, by extension – decrease your likelihood of getting a cold sore.
Enjoy the outdoors
One of the biggest causes of SAD is not getting enough natural sunlight – and there’s considerably less of it around at this time of year. You can maximise your exposure to natural daylight as much as possible by making sure you head outdoors at midday and on brighter days. You can also ensure you get as much daylight as possible indoors by sitting near windows whenever possible.
As well as a midday walk helping to expose you to daylight, walking and other forms of exercise are proven to be beneficial to mental health by helping to calm your nerves and clear your thoughts. Going for a run would also help in this regard, as would taking part in more social sports with friends and family.
Keep in touch
Socialising with friends and family is hugely beneficial to mental health, so it’s a good idea to keep lines of communication open with the people you care about as much as possible. Try and accept invitations to social gatherings, even if you only stop by for a short while; spending time with others can be a great way of boosting your mood and putting problems in perspective.
Start a hobby
It really doesn’t matter what your hobby is – what matters is that you spend time doing something you enjoy, keeping your mind active, and getting a sense of accomplishment from having been productive. Once you have incorporated doing something you enjoy into your routine, this also gives you something to look forward to.
This may be harder given rising energy prices, unfortunately, but being cold has been shown to contribute to depressed feelings, while staying warm has been proven to be beneficial for mood. You may be reluctant to put the heating on too much (although a temperature of between 18C and 21C is recommended), but hot drinks and food, warm clothes and thick socks can all help you to feel that little bit cosier.
Eat healthy food
Healthy eating will not only keep your energy levels up and your weight in check over the winter months, but is also an important part of keeping your mood positive. Try to make sure that you eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, while not over-indulging in stodgy carbohydrates.
Keep things light
Light therapy can be a helpful treatment for people dealing with SAD. It’s not a cheap option, but when there is very little natural daylight available, you can use a light box that produces light ten times stronger than standard home or office lighting.
Lightboxes usually cost upwards of £100, but many people find them effective – and some even use them in conjunction with a dawn simulator that mimics sunrise, and can be connected to an alarm clock to wake you up at a certain time.
Find a SAD support group
Talking your experiences through with other people who are experiencing the same thing as you can be extremely helpful; understanding that others are feeling the same way can make your symptoms seem more bearable. Mind can be a good starting point for finding a support group.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
There is no shame in turning to your GP for help with mental health issues, just as there is no shame in making use of the talking treatments such as counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy that are available on the NHS via your GP. The most important thing is to make sure you are looking after both your mental and physical health, and to reach out for help if day-to-day life becomes unmanageable.
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5 Self Care Tips for Seasonal Affective Disorder This Autumn 2020