Although the winter season begins with a bit of holiday cheer, many people can feel a little ‘off’ as the cold weather drags on.
And Stornoway Rugby Club, in partnership with NHS Western Isles Public Health team, is encouraging islanders to take time this winter to look after their own mental health with a few small steps each day.
At this time of year, often our bodies are just responding to the darker and colder days with the sky getting bright later in the morning and darker earlier in the evening.
We're expected to carry on with everyday life and hectic schedules as if nothing has changed. We also don't appreciate how much added stress the festive season in particular can bring.
Skip out on anything and you might feel guilty that you’re not making the season sufficiently magical. But do it all and fade into exhaustion and emotional turmoil. It can feel like a no-win game.
These feelings of being under pressure can produce symptoms of anxiety, anger and difficulty sleeping which, if prolonged, could have a long-term harmful impact on your mental health and wellbeing.
Add into the mix Christmas and New Year being celebrated with alcohol. Although drinking alcohol can make you feel relaxed, confident and sociable, aside from the physical harm, too much alcohol is actually more likely to make your stress levels worse and lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, rather than relieving them.
In fact, as alcohol is a depressant, drinking increases our negative thinking, causes poor judgement and impairs memory, and can also lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour.
To reduce your alcohol risk, both men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week, which is the equivalent of six pints of beer or six glasses of wine or 14 shots.
If you do plan on drinking it is recommended to spread this evenly across the week rather than 'saving up' drinking alcohol for one session. It is also healthier to have at least several alcohol-free days each week.
However, there are a number of ways you can relax, feel happy and boost your mood this festive season - and the good news is they're free!
Try going for a 30 minute walk, cycle or joining in with Christmas games: these physical activities will help you to release the feel-good chemicals called endorphins, your natural 'happy hormones', which help you to relax. This in turn will help you to reduce anxiety, depression and improve your overall self-esteem.
Even better news is that taking regular exercise can help boost your immune system, helping you to fight off colds and flu viruses over the winter months.
The festive period also provides us with a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends, especially those we don't see too often.
These types of catch ups can also improve our mental and physical wellbeing by helping us to produce another hormone called Oxytocin, which benefits our immune system, heart health and brain function.
Staying connected may seem easy with social media and new technology, but these connections aren’t as good as meeting face to face, or having a long chat. Try to make a phone call rather than email or text, and meet up with that friend you haven't seen in a while. You’ll share a lot more than you would over social media and talking can be a good way to tackle a problem you've been carrying around.
If you continually experience stress, depression, or anxiety, remember that a whole body of professional help exists to support you. Here is a selection of mental health helplines that could help you:
- Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87 (6pm - 2am): www.breathingspacescotland.co.uk
- Mind – 0300 123 3393
- SANE – 0845 767 8000
- Young Minds (helpline for parents) – 0808 802 5544