This time of year brings coughs and colds, the flu and the aches and pains. As a GP, however, I see a surge of people struggling with their mental health. For a significant number of people, winter is the most dreaded time of the year. There are several reasons for this.
One is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a form of depression that typically occurs in autumn and winter. The days are shorter and the reduced daylight leads to physiological and biochemical disturbances in our bodies. Darkness induces the production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone, making us more susceptible to feeling lethargic. Prolonged darkness also lowers serotonin production – our happy hormone – as well as influencing the workings of various other hormones and chemicals that affect our body and mind. Typical symptoms of SAD include low mood, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, tiredness all the time, irritability, feelings of hopelessness and loss of interest in hobbies. It can be a dark time, in every way, for people who may not understand why they feel the way they do.
So be kind to those who perhaps aren’t in the mood for dancing around the Christmas tree. Consider buying a SAD lamp as a pressie and remember the more exposure to daylight, the better it is for our mood. Make it the perfect excuse to lift spirits by wrapping up warm and going out for a walk during daylight. A walk-and-talk with a loved one is more valuable than anything money can buy.
We live in an insanely consumerist era and the festivities can bring anxieties about presents. We purchase things we don’t need, eat food we don’t like or that we know are super bad for us and – something I see a lot of in NHS24 on Boxing and New Year’s day – suffer the painful consequences of drinking too much.
You might have been working hard over the year to lose weight, eat better, exercise more or simply feel the need for a good rest. Instead, stress levels rise in the run-up to the big day as we put pressure on ourselves to entertain relatives. In a short space of time, we give our mind and body more stress than rest – and then wonder why we feel so deflated post-Christmas.
I’m not being Dr Grinch and, absolutely, we should all indulge and enjoy ourselves, but moderation is key even at Christmas. Let’s not forget the meaning of Christmas and the sentiments behind this beautiful day. Make this time of year truly wonderful by spending more time resting and less time stressing. Make a conscious effort to disconnect from the devices and reconnect with yourself, loved ones and your environment. Instead of drawing up a wish list of things you want, how about adding “giving” onto that list. Lots of people, less fortunate, could do with some of your love and kindness so share it. Loneliness is painful especially as the media, radio etc place their preconceived ideas onto those who have nobody to share time with. Check-in on these people. Lastly, blessed is the food that is so naturally rich in winter. The planet knows what we need so indulge in nature’s offerings, make homemade, nourishing meals and enjoy. Your mind and body will thank you. Happy Christmas.