December.

My first ever blog post on this site was written about the winter and how to manage the typical viral illnesses we all experience. For my last clinical post of the year, I want to write about other aspects of winter and the festive period that are important to bear in mind in regards to keeping well.

Cold

Over the winter the temperature can drop quite considerably which leads to an increased chance of developing chest infections or flare ups of chronic diseases like COPD or asthma. It is important to try and stay warm when indoors, whether that means putting the heating on or wearing several layers. If you have any elderly friends/family/neighbours do consider checking in on them regularly; maybe they need help with their thermostat or would appreciate you popping to the shops for them. Loneliness can have a big impact on a person’s physical and mental health, seeing a friendly face for a chat or a cuppa can make a big difference.

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Over-indulging 

Many of us enjoy an extra serving of turkey and a tipple or two over the festive period. Think about balancing out all the cheese and crackers with some healthier snacks and plenty of water. Keep your alcohol intake to a safe level, if you’re going out and expecting a ‘heavy one’, be with friends and people who you trust to keep you safe. It doesn’t take much to go over the alcohol driving limit so bear this in mind when travelling between relatives on the big day. Something else I have recently seen trending on Twitter is the pressure tee-total people feel when at a work or family parties. There are so many personal reasons why people do not drink alcohol; healthy choice, pregnancy, medication or addiction – remember not to push the issue if someone politely declines a drink.

Consider what your New Years resolution might be to counteract the indulgence? Couch to 5k, dry January, weight loss target? It’s such a great time to come up with new goals and aims for the year ahead!

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Mental Health

This time of year brings joy to many but for some it can be a really difficult month. It can be a reminder of loss and loved ones no longer present so consider this if your friend or co-worker isn’t as ‘jolly’ as you would expect. A simple ‘how are you’ can make a big difference. Christmas is not only a reminder of loss, but a stressful time overall; presents to buy, family to see, work to finish and money can be tight. We can all be so good at putting a brave face on, when in reality maybe you’re worried about being able to feed the family, let alone trying to afford something off the kid’s list. It’s easy to look around and think everyone else has it better; an elf of the shelf, a Santa experience or the newest game console under the tree. Guilt is a common feature at this time of year, you’re not alone. If you are struggling with your mental health – talk to someone whether that it a friend, family member or your GP.

It is common for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions to worsen over winter and the festive period. Alcohol is a depressant, over time using alcohol to excess is likely to worsen mental health symptoms and disrupt sleep patterns, so remember this when reaching for another ale or port.

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Pressures on the NHS

The winter is a pressurised time in Emergency Departments and hospital wards; flu, gastroenteritis and chest infections fill the wards and in some cases outbreaks can close whole wards. Bear this in mind when visiting loved ones in hospital, if you have symptoms of Norovirus, for example, stay clear of the hospital for a good 48 hours after your symptoms have cleared.

If you are feeling unwell with a cough or sore throat but are not too unwell, do consider ‘self-caring’ at gomeusing your local pharmacy or contacting 111 for advice. Here in general practice we see a lot of typical winter viral illness in our same day clinics, some of which needn’t have seen a doctor or nurse. Do help us as we try and keep appointments available for those patients that really need them. If you book an appointment and no longer need it then do cancel; if you opt in to receive text message reminders or have an online account then this is really easy to do.

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I love Christmas for so many reasons; mince pies, festive films, pigs in blankets and family time to name a few. Thank you all for reading my blog post this year and giving me such lovely feedback. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and all the best for 2019. My next post will include some reflections on 2018 and hopes for 2019.

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