Winter wellbeing guide for healthcare professionals

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Winter wellbeing guide for healthcare professionals

The extra pressure that healthcare professionals face in the winter months due to circulating winter bugs putting a strain on health services as well as staff shortages and sickness, working longer hours, and the physical and physiological effects the cold weather and darker days can have can often leave you feeling burnt out, stressed, low in mood, sluggish or even ill.

At Pulse, supporting your wellbeing and mental health is our top priority, and when you’re so busy looking after others, it can be easy to lose sight of your own wellbeing. That’s why we’ve compiled some simple steps to ensure you’re looking after yourself over this time so you can enjoy a happier and healthier winter.

What are the winter blues?

The winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression, is a mild form of depression that affects some people during the autumn and winter months. There are two leading causes of winter blues: lack of sunlight and vitamin D deficiencies. Lack of sunlight can cause low serotonin levels in your brain, leading to depression. While low vitamin D levels may have a similar effect on serotonin production.

Our top 5 tips to prevent seasonal low mood and burn out

  • Keeping active is important for everyone, particularly people with a higher risk of depression. Try and get outside in the sunlight, when possible, even if it’s just for a short time each day.
  • Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated is also good advice for anyone, especially those with low energy levels. Make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables daily; they’re full of vitamins that will help keep you healthy and happy throughout the winter months.
  • Taking time out. We know it’s easier said than done sometimes but finding time to wind down and relax is so important when you have a mentally and physically demanding job.
  • Socialising with friends, family members, or work colleagues can be a great way to reduce stress levels which can lead to depression if left unchecked over long periods.
  • Get help if you need it. If you’re experiencing low mood or depression, you must seek help from your GP or a mental health professional as soon as possible. Don’t suffer in silence; you can do many things to make coping easier.

Keeping active

Exercise is important for your physical and mental health. It can help reduce stress, improve mood and confidence, increase energy levels, and promote better sleep.

The best way to make the most of any physical activity in the winter is to get outside at a time when you’ll get as much sunlight as possible and participate in an activity you enjoy. We know getting outside during daylight hours isn’t always easy with a busy schedule and different shift patterns but setting aside just 20-30 minutes each day will help.

If you enjoy walking, try taking a quick walk around your neighbourhood or a local park while listening to your favourite playlist, podcast, or audiobook. If you like to get your heart racing a little more, you can also go for scenic hikes or a run. Both are also great activities to do with friends.

If you’re new to physical activity or like to exercise from the comfort of your own home, although not outside, it’s still great to get those endorphins flowing that, in turn, will improve your mood by reducing stress levels. There are many free online resources available via the NHS Get Active website, as well as videos on YouTube for all different fitness levels.

Eating a balanced diet

The food you eat can significantly affect your health and wellbeing. It is important to consume a balanced diet with the right nutrients. In winter, increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is advisable as they are rich in antioxidants that protect against colds and flu. Try adding more green leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale into your meals and citrus fruits, as they all contain vitamin C, which boosts immunity against infections like colds and flu.

You could also limit the amount of sugar you eat; this includes sweetened drinks like fizzy pop or squash. It’s not just about cutting out chocolate! Sugar causes spikes in blood sugar levels, so avoiding these will help keep insulin levels even throughout the day, resulting in better energy levels without crashing later on due to a lack of glucose supply.

Meal preparation is key for keeping you on track in the winter months, and there’s no better time to whip out the slow cooker and reap the benefits of coming home to a warm, nourishing meal after a long day at work. From casseroles to Shepherd’s pie and risottos, BBC Food has an extensive list of delicious and healthy slow cooker and winter warmer recipes for you to try.

Batch cooking is also an ideal alternative for healthcare professionals with busy schedules, cutting down the amount of time you need to spend in the kitchen. With batch cooking you can cook up to 10 meals at once using similar ingredients by freezing in smaller portions. It’s also a way to maximise the nutritional value of fresh produce as you’re cooking and freezing them straight away. Check out some of these golden rules for batch cooking.

When it comes to water intake, as a healthcare professional, staying hydrated on shift is essential. Spending so much time on your feet means you are prone to an increased risk of headaches and impaired concentration. Drinking the recommended 2 litres of water per day will help you remain hydrated and give you the energy you need for a busy day while keeping toxins and headaches at bay.

Taking time out

When things get too much, whether that’s because you’ve got a busy work and social schedule on the run-up to and around the festive season or you need to wind down after a stressful shift and switch off, make sure you set some time aside to stop and rest.

Do whatever it is that helps you relax! For some people, this might mean unwinding in the bath, reading a book, watching their favourite Netflix series, or for others, simply nothing. It’s also vital to ensure you get the recommended 6-9 hours of sleep a night.

Socialising with family and friends

Staying connected to those closest to you is important, not just for your mental health and wellbeing, but for theirs too. Winter, particularly the festive season, can be an isolating and lonely time of year, especially for the elderly or those without family or friends who live close by.

Regular social interaction, whether a text on your break, phone or video call, or chat over coffee, promotes a sense of safety, belonging, and security. It can also lighten your mood, make you feel happier, and allow you to confide in your nearest and dearest and they will be able to confide in you too.

If you’re struggling this winter, please don’t suffer in silence. We’ve listed a number of mental health and wellbeing resources and apps available for you to look into below, but if you ever need professional support, get in touch with a mental health professional as soon as possible or contact your GP.

Where you can access free and confidential mental health support:

Free apps to support wellbeing:

We hope this article has given you some ideas about looking after yourself during the winter. From everyone here at Pulse, we can’t thank you enough for your hard work, dedication, and compassionate care during these challenging months. We are so grateful for each and every one of you.

Something we’ve missed?

If you would like to share your winter wellbeing tips, we’d love for you to share them in the comments section below.

The information in this blog is for general informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for personalised guidance. The author(s) and publisher(s) are not liable for errors or omissions, and reliance on the content is at your own risk.

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