As the year winds down to an end, the opportunities for stress increase. Some of those opportunities include; illness, family, finances, pressure to have the perfect holidays, lack of access to sunlight, poor driving conditions, unhealthy diet, cold weather, over scheduling, loneliness, chaos of holiday shopping, reminder of previous holidays, etc. A study conducted in the United Kingdom found that employees are greatly impacted during the winter months; 44% of employees said the winter impacted their well-being, 30% felt it hindered productivity, and 51% reported the season having an adverse effect on their mood (Occupational Health, 2017).
Self-care is essential all year round, but it should be emphasized in the winter months. In Utah, suicide continues to be a concern, in September the Utah Department of Health confirmed 425 deaths by suicide for 2017, if this trend continues we will exceed the deaths by suicide in 2016 (Ramseth, 2017).
Below are some tips for increasing success during the holiday season.
- Keeping an eye on weather – this prevents being surprised by changes to commute/schedule.
- Adjust sleeping patterns to ensure that you are able to get enough sleep – during the winter months, more time is devoted to driving, shoveling, etc.
- Allow for extra commuting time – nothing ruins a day like being late.
- Clothing – wear light layers, to ensure you are warm, but able to be removed if becoming overheated. Keep extra clothing around – in case there is a need.
- Adjust your environment to make sure you are comfortable and improve mood- examples: heater, essential oils, art/symbols.
- Try to access what sunlight is available – go outside, open blinds
- Care for car – so as to make driving as safe as possible.
- Supplements – such as; Vitamin D and Vitamin C (Check with doctor before taking).
- Add variety – new scents, hairstyle change, new clothing.
- Plan for your budget to change during those months.
- The holidays near the end of the year tend to be food central, with the additional consumption of alcohol and refined sugar, the immune system and adrenal glands can be placed under stress. (Getz, 2009).
- The winter months also see a decrease in serotonin levels, foods that can increase the serotonin are; squash, pumpkins, yams, sweet potatoes, etc. Immune boosting foods include; citrus fruits, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach, fish, oysters, poultry, eggs, milk, unprocessed grains, green tea. (Getz, 2009).
- When your favorite produce is not in season, try to use frozen instead of canned, as it tends to be more nutritious (Getz, 2009).
- Ask yourself: Am I really hungry, or am I; cold, thirsty, bored? (Getz, 2009).
- Drinking broth before a big meal will slow down consumption. (Getz, 2009).
- For outdoor exercisers – warm yourself up with aerobic exercises (jogging in place or jumping jacks) before going outside. (Grayson Mathis, 2004).
- Exercising in the cold burns fat faster. (Werber, 2016).
- Exercise equipment at home, makes it easier to exercise when going outdoors – even to the gym- is not fun. (Grayson Mathis, 2004).
- To combat the winter-time drop off, recruit a friend, having social supports will keep you active. (Grayson Mathis, 2004).
- If you are needing to cutback, try to do aerobic exercise three times a week. (Grayson Mathis, 2004).
- You can cut back your times, while stepping up intensity with little repercussions. (Grayson Mathis, 2004).
- Choose the right clothing – layer for warmth and fabric that dries faster than cotton, such as; fleece, running tights, windbreakers. (Werber, 2016).
- Safety – make sure you are able to be seen, your path is clear, and you are able to hear what is going on around you. (Werber, 2016).
- Find something you will enjoy doing, sometimes the method of a reward creates the idea that exercise is a punishment, viewing exercise as a reward will make it less of a chore. Winter is a great time for walking because the view is a reward. (Werber, 2016).
Light therapy: During the months of October-March individuals are less able to synthesize Vitamin D due to; less sunlight, individuals spending less time outside, and wearing more clothing, this has an impact on mental health (Serrano, Canada, Moreno, & Gurrea, 2017).
A study in Spain showed that it would take two hours of exposure to UV radiation in order to synthesize enough vitamin D, however in July exposure would only need to be seven minutes. (Serrano, Canada, Moreno, & Gurrea, 2017).
In a study conducted on Polish athletes, lower levels of vitamin D deficiency were found among athletes who trained in lower latitudes during the winter months, this was found to be more effective than oral supplements and sun exposure in Poland. (Krzywanksi, Mikulski, Krysztofiak, Mlynczak, Gaczynska, and Ziemba, 2016).
In reviews of the research, many issues with the process of conducting the research have inhibited the research from showing if light therapy is effective or ineffective. Further research is needed for to reach a conclusion. (Martensson, Pettersson, Berglund, & Ekselius, 2015) and (Al-Karawi & Jubair, 2016).
- Acknowledge your feelings – do not force yourself to feel joy because of the holidays.
- Reach out – strive to attend social, community, or spiritual events.
- Be realistic – holidays do not have to be perfect, be willing to adjust traditions.
- Set aside differences – accept others as they are, understand that others are under stress as well, choose a different time to discuss differences.
- Stick to a budget – you cannot buy happiness. Ways to reduce spending; donate in the person’s name, make homemade gifts, or plan a gift exchange.
- Plan ahead – plan meals, days for shopping, activities – this will help to prevent last minute scrambling.
- Learn to say no – prioritize – you can’t say yes to everything.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits – it will only add to your stress.
- Take a breather – establish daily practices of self care.
- Seek professional help – it takes a lot more courage to ask for help than to just deal with things on your own.
- Social connection can; reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, and reduce stress hormones. (Umberson & Karas Montez, 2010).
- Social interactions help to; reduce stress, foster a sense of well meaning, and provide a purpose in life. (Umberson & Karas Montez, 2010).
- The interaction of helping others is beneficial for the giver and receiver; by increasing dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in the brain. (Ritvo, 2014).
- Just as daily exercise is important, daily giving can work wonders for the body and mind. (Ritvo, 2014).
- Helping others will give the empathy parts of your brain a much needed workout. (Ritvo, 2014).
- Mirror neurons – the connections of working closely with others helps to trigger a response in all individuals’ brains. (Ritvo, 2014).
- Compliments and smiles are the easiest way to form a connection with others. (Ritvo, 2014).
Written by: Kaylee Taylor, CSW
Al-Karai, D., & Jubair, L. (2016). Bright light therapy for nonseasonal depression: Meta-analysis of clinical trials. Journal of affective disorders, 198, 64-71.
Getz, L. (2009). Winter nutrition- Healthy eating offers good protection during the chilly season. Today’s dietician, 11 (1), 48.
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Krzywanski, J., Mikulski, T., Krysztofiak, H., Mlynczak, M., Gaczynska, E., & Ziemba, A. (2016). Seasonal vitamin D status in Polish elite athletes in relation to sun exposure and oral supplementation. PLoS One, 11(10).
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Serrano, M-A., Canada, J., Moreno, J. C., & Gurrea, G. (2017). Solar ultraviolet doses and vitamin D in northern mid-latitude. Science of the total environment, 574, 744-750.
Ramseth, L. (2017). Hoping to counter deadly trend, Utah officials confirm 425 suicides in 2017. Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.sltrib.com/news/health/2017/09/13/seeking-to-counter-trend-utah-confirmed- suicides-for-2017-utah-on-pace-to-beat-last-years-record/
Ritvo, E. (2014). The neuroscience of giving: Proof that helping others helps you. Psychology today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/vitality/201404/the-neuroscience-giving
Umberson, D., & Karas Montez, J. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51, S54-S66.
Werber, C. (2016). The complete guide to exercising in the winter. Quartz. Retrieved from https://qz.com/866569/the-complete-guide-to-exercising-in-winter/
“Winter worsens the mental health of two in five workers.” Occupational Health 3 Mar. 2017. Business Insights: Global. Web. 22 Oct. 2017.