Winter is a magical time of the year. The crisp, dry air and low winter sun, sparkling frost on the ground, and the chance to get cosy inside with plenty of knitwear… What’s not to love?
But although the cold, short winter days can be exciting, it’s also a time when our health takes a big hit. The hustle and bustle of the holidays — and the following recovery period in January — can have a big impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. And that’s without the additional risk and worry of a global pandemic.
In this post, we’ll be looking at four common health problems you’ll probably face in winter — as well as some useful tips on how to cope with them. Read on to find out more.
Disclaimer: we’re not including coronavirus in this one; head to the NHS website instead for more coronavirus advice and information).
Dry skin is one of the most common ailments you’ll face during the winter — and it happens to pretty much everyone.
It’s not surprising; although the clear, blue days of winter days are beautiful, the air is cold and dry, which is not good news for skin.
The lack of environmental humidity means that your skin can often feel dry, tight and uncomfortable during the winter — and this is exacerbated by the temperature difference between the cold outdoors and cosy, heated buildings.
Dry skin usually affects the face, hands, and feet, but can affect other parts of the body too. For some people, it may even get so severe that it will result in cracking, flaking, inflammation, and eczema. So what can we do about it?
- Boosting your winter skincare routine is the best way to tackle dry, sad skin. Moisturising more is a must: make sure you apply moisturiser twice daily (or more if you notice dry skin) — preferably after a bath or shower, and before you go to bed. Oil-based is best, as it will form a protective layer on your skin to retain moisture.
- Wear gloves when you go outside — this will protect the thin skin on your hands, helping to prevent dryness and cracking.
- Avoid taking piping-hot showers or baths — this will make your skin feel more itchy and dry. Aim for warm water instead.
Colds and coughs
One of the most common health problems you’ll face in winter (and almost everyone will, every winter) is the common cold. We’re also including general coughs and flu-like illnesses in this one, because they pretty much all come under the same branch (although as we mentioned, we’re not including coronavirus in this one).
The increase of colds during the winter could be down to a few things, including crowded indoor spaces helping cold viruses to spread from person to person. The cold outdoor air also dries out our nasal passages, which is our first defence against airborne viruses and germs.
Whatever the reason, the end result is that we feel awful; headaches, colds, sore throats, blocked noses and constant sneezing. So what’s the cure?
- Wash your hands regularly to prevent the spread of germs. They may look clean, but you might have picked up a bug from a light switch, door handle, or public transport.
- Make sure you eat a varied and balanced diet full of nutrition — this will help to support your immune system, and keep your body fuelled against colds. If you’re worried about not getting enough nutrition during the winter, you can try using vitamins and supplements to add more to your diet.
- Get plenty of rest and sleep: this will help your body to fight the cold.
- Keep warm — wrap up if you’re going outside, and keep the heating on in your house.
The winter blues
Winter can have a startling impact on our mental health. Lots of us often feel low, depressed, anxious and generally out-of-sorts during the winter months.
The winter blues (also known medically as SAD — Seasonal Affective Disorder), is a common affliction that many of us face during the winter. For a long time, the winter blues felt like a myth, but now we know that there are biological reasons behind the phenomenon.
This mood shift is primarily caused by a lack of natural sunlight during winter, due to the shorter, gloomy days and the longer nights. This creates a drop in serotonin levels — a chemical in the body that regulates mood and happiness — as well as causing disruptions to our circadian rhythms (the body’s natural internal clock) which messes with our sleeping patterns.
These disruptions have both physical and mental repercussions; we feel depressed and lethargic. Aches and pains can also feel more acute, and cold sores (generally a sign that you’re stressed) are more likely to appear.
So what can we do to help with the winter blues?
- Get outside regularly. Exposure to natural sunlight is a great way of boosting your serotonin levels, which will improve your mood. Go for a walk during your lunch break, especially if it’s a sunny day. Take the kids to the park or plan a hike on the weekends.
- If there is no sun to be seen or you can’t get outside, find an alternative. A SAD lamp (a lightbox that produces very bright light) mimics sunlight and can be used to treat the winter blues in the same way.
- Exercise. Regular exercise is renowned for improving your mental wellbeing and can help to boost your mood.
- Be kind to yourself and practice self-love: eat well during the winter to fuel your body (fruit and veg as well as any treats you’re craving). Spend time doing things you love with the people you love. Take some time for yourself and don’t feel guilty if you’re struggling.
Cold hands and feet
Cold hands and feet during winter is something that almost everyone experiences.
When the weather gets colder, your body makes sure that blood keeps flowing to your core to keep your vital organs warm and functioning well in the extreme conditions. Unfortunately, the by-product of this is getting cold hands and feet.
Not only can this be uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it can also be painful for some.
People who suffer from Raynaud’s disease (a condition that affects your blood circulation and means that the blood vessels in your fingers and toes become overly constricted) can experience numbness as well as coldness. Fingers and toes change colour (they may go white, yellow or blue) due to the reduced blood flow, and it can be painful too.
Whether you have Raynaud’s, bad circulation or you just really feel the cold, what can you do?
- Wear warm gloves and socks (and shoes) when you head out into cold weather. This will protect your extremities. In particular, wearing mittens rather than gloves is better for keeping your hands warm because they keep your fingers together to conserve warmth.
- Avoid your usual coffee and cigarettes: both caffeine and nicotine can make circulation problems worse by damaging and narrowing blood vessels around your body.
- Exercise regularly; physical activity gets your heart beating faster and pumps blood all around your body, promoting healthy circulation.
There are all sorts of health problems that the winter can bring — but these are the four you’re more likely to face.
Follow our tips and you’ll be able to handle anything the cold weather throws at you. Now go and enjoy that snow!