In the run-up to Christmas, demands at work and home can be sky-high, leaving people feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Shorter days during winter can mean there’s little time to get organised and many struggle with mental health-related issues such as anxiety and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Head of coaching at Westfield Health, Mark Pinches, talks to BQ about the impacts the festive season can have on our mental health:
What impact can the festive season have on people’s mental health (e.g. stress, anxiety and loneliness)?
During the winter months, people can often feel down and less able to cope. Not only does our physical health take a hit due to low immune systems, but depression and mental health-related issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) also tend to be more common.
Whilst trying to plan the ‘perfect Christmas’, it’s easy to let stress get the better of you. Being too busy can have an impact on your mental health as there is less time to look after yourself when you might need it the most.
Christmas is about spending time with families, but for the less fortunate, it can be a very difficult time. People also tend to feel lonely during winter, with shorter days leaving little time for social activities after work compared to the spring and summer months.
How can SAD impact on people’s lives during the winter months?
Lack of exposure to sunlight during winter lowers serotonin levels in the brain, a hormone that affects mood, sleep and appetite. As a result of this, people often feel more tired and lethargic causing them to feel less motivated and productive when completing day to day tasks.
People with SAD often have poor concentration levels, which results in them losing interest in things they normally enjoy doing and can, therefore, become less sociable. Although symptoms of SAD usually improve in the spring, in some cases this can lead to long-term problems as these symptoms can remain all year round.
What’s the best way to manage SAD?
The severity of SAD differs from person to person so treatments can vary. In some cases, therapy or counselling will be required however some people may see a substantial improvement by making some small life changes during the winter months.
When we are feeling down, finding time to exercise can be a challenge, however, it is a great way of relieving stress and tension. By keeping up with physical activity, you will naturally boost your mood as your brain releases endorphins which are ‘feel good hormones’.
In addition to this, spending as much time outside as possible will maximise exposure to sunlight and naturally improve your mood. This can be hard when days are short during winter, so going for a walk at lunch or walking to work when possible is an easy way of fitting this in.
Having a busy calendar over the festive period may mean there’s not much time left for ‘you’ time. If you suffer from SAD, taking a break over the winter months is a way to recharge and replenish energy levels.
In the run-up to Christm,as you may find yourself socialising more and sleeping less. Having a combination of quantity and quality sleep is an effective way to recharge your batteries when suffering from SAD. Most of us will need somewhere between 6-9 hours of sleep to feel good during the day.
Do you have any recommendations on keeping Christmas stress and anxiety to a minimum?
During the busy Christmas period, it’s easy to take on too much both at work and in your personal life, so it’s important to not be afraid to say no. Taking on too much will make you feel stressed and run down so it is better to have a smaller workload and complete tasks efficiently than to over-stretch yourself.
When organising Christmas plans, don’t get caught up on trying to make everything perfect and forget to enjoy yourself. Laughing helps to keep the mind clear and balanced so it’s important to have some fun!
If things go wrong, try your best to see the positives, you'll be surprised how much better you'll feel if you laugh it off.
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