Staying Well in Winter

Staying Well in Winter

It is that time of year again, when the nights draw in, the days get colder and although there is excitement on the whole for the big celebrations that come at the end of next month, some are dreading the thoughts of yet again being asked to go to the polling box in yet another vote, this time a winter general election.

Winter General Election

As we start this month’s article, we thought we had to mention the elephant in the room and that is, of course, the first winter general election since 1923. The 1923 general election was held in a similar way to the modern day one when then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, believed that he needed a mandate to get his protectionist agenda through the House of Commons, having come to power when his predecessor became too ill to remain in post and stepped down in the May of 1923. Today’s general election is very similar, as our current Prime Minister feels he needs a mandate from the people to get his agenda through. There was a lot of talk in the lead up to the announcement of the date of the 12th December in that the weather would be against the canvassers, particularly in Scotland, as the snow and ice begins to present themselves, as well as asking the electorate to go to the ballot boxes in the rain, and in some cases the dark after work in the early evening. Of course some electorate are used to voting in the dark as the poll stations are open until 10pm.

Winter Weather

There will be no more reference to the winter general election in this month’s article, but it could not be ignored as we are going to discuss winter.

This is the time of year that the temperatures plummet up and down the country, we know that the scenes of wintery snow make a Christmas card look pretty but, in reality, it can be an horrendous view for many. Some people look at the wintery scenery with dread and horror, some with the thought of how am I going to get the groceries that I need, the thought could be I can’t walk out in this, others will look at it and wonder how vital supplies will get to them, whether it be Meals on Wheels providers, vital health care or simply some company which can make people so much better. The snow is not the only problem at this time of year, we only have to look at the news story coming from the north of the country, with the horrendous pictures of houses being completed flooded with water from the river due to the rain. This causes so many more issues for the people affected, for example will their house be in a liveable state. The floods have the possibility of ruining Christmas for many people.

Issues with the cold

There are other issues with the cold weather and that is that it can make many existing illnesses and ailments worse. There are vulnerable groups of people, these include:

  • People who are 65 years old or over,
  • Babies and young children under the age of 5,
  • People on a low income (can’t afford to put heating on),
  • People with a long-term health condition,
  • Disabled people,
  • Pregnant women,
  • People who have a mental health issue.

The NHS would advise that anyone who feels unwell, particularly those that are in the vulnerable and at-risk groups, should seek the advice of a pharmacist as soon as they start to feel unwell, even if it is only a cold or cough. The advantages of a pharmacist are that they can offer treatment advice and, if necessary, can advise on seeing a doctor should they feel that is the necessary treatment. It is true to say that the sooner someone seeks advice and treatment, the sooner you will start to feel better.

Sooner treatment is sought, the sooner you will feel better

The NHS offers additional advice services, which include the use of the ‘111’ number, which is a telephone service that should be used to gain advice or medical treatment quickly if you cannot wait for an appointment to see a GP. However if it is an emergency, then the correct number to use is 999/112. The reassuring thing is that the ‘111’ number is operational at all times of the day and night and therefore is available to support people when they feel ill and unwell.

While we are talking about the NHS, we should add that certain at risk groups are offered a free flu jab. It is advised, if you are offered the free flu jab, that you take it as it will help to keep you well. The jabs are offered for free to the following groups of people:

  • People over 65 years old,
  • People who have a long-term illness,
  • Pregnant women.

Some people will consider that the flu jab is not needed as it is only treating flu, and flu isn’t that bad, this thought process is wrong. Flu can contribute to and lead to illnesses such as pneumonia, and bronchitis as well as death in certain circumstances.

How to Help Yourself

There are many things that you can do in order to help keep yourself well throughout the winter months. The NHS lists several things that you can do in order to stay healthy, these are:

Banish winter tiredness

The winter naturally makes people feel tired and sluggish. This is generally due to the dark days, and lack of sunlight, and can really affect the way that someone sleeps as well as the sleep/wake cycle. Just because the winter has arrived, you shouldn’t stop doing the things that you enjoy for example exercise/meditation, going to events whether indoors or outdoors, get as much natural daylight as you possibly can.

Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables

These dark, cold, uncomfortable days generally make you reach for the warm comfort foods in order to make you feel better and warm. However this can be the wrong thing to do, and it is as important in these months to keep eating your fresh fruit and vegetables to keep the body working as normal. Try reaching for a sweet piece of fruit rather than a sweet sugary treat. During these months there is a plethora of different fruits and vegetables that can be tried and enjoyed.

Drink more milk

This will automatically seem a little odd as milk is naturally cold, and the thought process here to not do so might be that it will make me feel colder. However, you are going to have to keep your immune system strong during the winter months. Milk is a good source of calcium which will help to maintain strong bones, it also includes vitamin A and B12 as well as protein.

Try new activities for the whole family

As we mentioned earlier, the winter makes you feel sluggish and tired, but don’t allow it. This is the time of year where you and your family can try new experiences, for example ice skating, maybe at one of the pop-up rinks around shopping centres and malls across the country. Why not even try a brisk winter walk, taking into account how natural habitats change at this time of year. If you are active beach goers in the summer, why not visit the beach for a walk in the winter and see how the water, sand and environment changes across season.

Have a hearty breakfast

The NHS would recommend a nice bowl of porridge for breakfast. This will help you take onboard starchy foods as well as fibre. This will also assist you to feel fuller for longer and will enhance your energy levels throughout the day. The thing that the NHS would advise is using semi-skimmed milk to make your porridge and add to it things like sliced banana, blueberries and other fresh fruit.

Heat house to 18˚C

If you are not very mobile, over the age of 65 years old or have a heart condition the advice is to ensure that your home is heated to 18˚C, even through the night, ensuring that the bedroom window is closed during the night. This will help to keep the body warm and at a good operating temperature, obviously if you are leading an active life and under the age of 65 then as long as you are comfortable you do not need to have the house heated to 18˚C, indeed it can be even cooler than this.

This temperature is slap bang in the middle of the guidance given to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the advice is for the child’s room to be between 16˚C and 20˚C.

Other top tips that you should consider include:

  • Use a hot-water bottle or an electric blanket at night, but do not use both at the same time,
  • Have at least one hot meal per day, this will help to keep you warm by eating regularly,
  • Draw curtains at dusk and keep doors closed to try to keep out draughts,
  • Ensure that your heating system is serviced regularly by a qualified engineer and also that it works prior to the cold weather kicking in.

There are things that you could consider doing for other people in your community, in particular elderly neighbours, the idea being to make sure that they are safe and well, staying warm particularly at night and that they have enough medications that they are prescribed. The simple act of just popping in to make sure that they are ok could be just enough to stave off the feeling of loneliness that they may experience as the dark days draw in.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very often referred to as winter depression as the symptoms generally appear more apparent and severe during this time of year. It isn’t unheard of that the symptoms are the other way around, but most cases occur during the winter months.

Unfortunately, the exact cause of the disorder is not known and understood. SAD is usually linked to reduced exposure to sunlight through the shorter days of the autumn and winter months. The main theory of the disorder is that the lack of sunlight and the vitamins that this brings stops an area of the brain from working properly; this part of the brain is the hypothalamus.

Should the hypothalamus not work effectively, it can affect the body’s production of melatonin. This hormone can make you feel sleepy and it is thought that in people with SAD the hormone is produced in bigger quantities making the sufferer even more tired.

The hypothalamus also produces serotonin; this is the hormone that affects your mood, appetite, and sleep. A lack of sunlight may lead to less serotonin being made and therefore adding to the effects of depression. The other thing that the hypothalamus controls is the body’s internal body clock. When working effectively, the hypothalamus uses the sunlight to help regulate things like when you wake up. With the lower levels of sunlight in these months it may lead to depression and the signs and symptoms of SAD.

What are the signs and symptoms of SAD?

The main signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • A persistent low mood,
  • A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities,
  • Irritability,
  • Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness,
  • Feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day,
  • Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning,
  • Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight,

For some sufferers these signs and symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day lives, and can also result in missing days of work due to the disorder.

What can be done to support people with SAD?

One of the most important things that anyone who believes that they are suffering with the symptoms of SAD should seek is to see their GP as soon as possible, particularly if you are struggling to cope with the symptoms that you have. The GP will then carry out an assessment of your mental health. The GP may ask questions about your mood, lifestyle, sleep pattern and quality of sleep as well as eating habits. They will also look for any seasonal changes in your behaviour and thoughts.

The GP will look to find a treatment that works for the sufferer, this may include:

  • Lifestyle measures,
  • Light therapy,
  • Talking therapies,
  • Antidepressant medication.

Lifestyle measures

This will include things like getting as much natural sunlight as is possible, ensuring that exercise is being carried out and that stress is being managed effectively.

Light therapy

This will be carried out by using a special light box that omits artificial sunlight to stimulate the exposure to sunlight.

Talking therapies

This will include counselling, which can be very effective to help to deal with the thought processes of the brain, but it may also include the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Antidepressant medication

This could include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) which are usually the first-choice medication of depression as they generally have less side effects than other depression medication.

What about hypothermia, I hear you cry!

Hypothermia is caused when the body’s core temperature falls below 35˚C. |Usually, when a casualty suffers from hypothermia in its mildest form the casualty will make a full recovery, providing they have been treated effectively.

It is likely that if the body’s core temperature drops below 26˚C that the hypothermia in this casualty may be fatal, however there are occasions when casualties have survived even when their core body temperature had dropped to as low as 10˚C. This shows why trying to help a casualty at any temperature is worth attempting.

What causes hypothermia?

The main cause of hypothermia is overexposure to cold temperature. There are, however, different conditions and types of casualties that can increase the risk including:

  • Baby or young person with under-developed hypothalamus,
  • Elderly and infirm people,
  • Not being clothed appropriately for the weather,
  • Wearing wet clothing or immersion into cold water.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia

The signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering,
  • Pale skin,
  • Cold to touch,
  • Fatigue,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Confusion,
  • Forgetfulness,
  • Shivering stops due to muscle rigidity,
  • Very slow and weak pulse (33˚C),
  • Noticeable drowsiness (32˚C),
  • Severe reduction in response levels,
  • Unconsciousness (30˚C),
  • Dilated pupils,
  • Pulse undetectable (29˚C),  
  • Appearance of death (28˚C),
  • Death (26˚C).

Treatment of hypothermia

The treatment of hypothermia will depend on whether the casualty is conscious or otherwise.

Conscious casualty:

  • If you can shelter the casualty, remove any wet clothing. Quickly replace with dry, warm garments, and cover the head, ensure that you reduce the amount of body that is exposed to the elements,
  • Give warm drink, and high energy foods such as chocolate,
  • Wrap the casualty in warm blankets,
  • If indoors heat the room to 25˚C,
  • A casualty outdoors should be insulated from the environment and the ground, share your body heat if possible,
  • Seek medical advice if the casualty is:
  • Elderly,
  • A child, or
  • You are in any doubt about their condition,
  • Remember with the elderly that there is a possibility of underlying health issues that can add to the problem,
  • If the condition is severe call 999/112 for emergency help.

Unconscious casualty:

  • Maintain airway and breathing,
  • Very gently, place the casualty into the recovery position,
  • Place insulating materials under and around the casualty and cover the head,
  • DO NOT move the casualty unnecessarily,
  • Call 999/112 for emergency help and continually monitor breathing.

We hope that you are able to enjoy whatever you decide to do during these dark, cold months,
Stay safe and warm.


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