How to survive winter

Last updated 05:02 31/05/2014

BRRR: Many find it hard to keep stay healthy during winter.

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Batten down the hatches - winter is here and so is your winter survival guide, compiled by Bess Manson.

There are many theories about what causes some people to feel flat, sleep more and eat more in winter. Most relate to the effect reduced sunlight has on the brain. More practically, a shorter day means it can take more motivation to pursue activities that we enjoy and that keep us happy, according to clinical psychologist Duncan Thomson.

Giving advice about staying mentally healthy is really easy - it's actually changing your lifestyle to take care of your wellbeing that is the challenge, Thomson says.

"I want people to know that with effort they can influence how they feel. I think a lot of people feel at the mercy of their emotions. There are many things we can do to manage our mental wellbeing no matter who you are and what you experience. It just takes effort and commitment.

"Make an effort to connect with other people. Take regular exercise, especially outside and in the morning if you are particularly prone to symptoms of depression in winter.

"Practise mindfulness meditation to take the sting out of upsetting thoughts and to get better at noticing the small but wonderful things in life."

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) rears its head at this time of the year.

SAD - when people experience significant symptoms of depression in relation to the changing season - is related to light, so its prevalence changes depending on latitude. It is very rare in equatorial countries and becomes increasingly common the further south or north the world.

Treatments for SAD include lightbox therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and anti-depressant medication, he says.

GP Cathy Stephenson recommends a vitamin D supplement over the winter months. "Over summer we get masses of vitamin D, as we absorb it from sunlight. In winter it's harder to get, especially the further south you live."

A deficiency leads to frail bones and in some instances, low moods and SAD.

Stephenson also says we should take the flu seriously. An average of 400 people, including young and otherwise healthy people, die of flu in New Zealand each year.

Flu symptoms include fever, body aches and in some cases, gastro problems. A bout of flu can floor you for one to two weeks.

Don't tough it out at work or school if you get flu. You'll bring us all down, she says. "Bosses need to be understanding. You're not being wussy staying at home, you are stopping flu from becoming an epidemic."

The flu vaccination is free to anyone over 65, diabetics, people with asthma (who use an inhaler) and people under 65 with with long-term health conditions. Otherwise it's $25.

More than a million doses of vaccine were given out in New Zealand last year and the Health Ministry says it's on target to do the same again this winter.

Her advice for those suffering from flu is to stay away from people altogether. "There are those in society who are particularly vulnerable - the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, people going through cancer treatment. If you have flu and go to work or go out and about shopping where you are around others, you are putting people like this at risk."

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■ Exercise – this contributes to both your physical and mental wellbeing.

■ Eat healthy – plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

■ Get your flu jab.

■ Make an effort to connect with other people.

■ Try to get better at noticing the small but wonderful things in life. 

- The Dominion Post


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