Why it’s important to take care of yourself as the days get shorter
We’ve reached that time of year when it becomes even harder to get out of bed in the morning and that bit more difficult to persuade yourself to go to an evening gym class. The days get shorter, its dark when you get home and our level of Vitamin D exposure takes a nosedive – winter is on its way.
To make life a little easier and make the most of the number of daylight hours we have, the clocks go back. Our 24-hour body clock is dictated by light and the change in light levels can trigger mental and physical responses in many people. While it might not happen to you, it is important to realise that it can affect your friends, family and colleagues. Here are some things to be aware of and a couple of ways you can encourage everyone to take care of themselves at this time of year.
1. Sleep disruption
The changing clocks can really impact our sleep patterns. While the promise of an extra hour in bed can seem delightful, it can put our natural rhythm out of whack, giving us mild jet lag. It doesn’t cause much disruption to healthy people who get a good amount of sleep but it can really affect people who are already sleep deprived or suffer from insomnia.
If you, or someone you work with suffers from sleep deprivation, it might be worth considering being flexible with your working hours. If possible, allow your body to adjust and come in half an hour earlier or later than usual.
It’s difficult to motivate ourselves to exercise at this time of year, and as our social calendars become busy in the run up to Christmas, exercise routines can fall by the wayside. However, to maintain our energy levels, boost our immune system and keep regular sleep patterns, exercise is key. Instead of trying to continue with the same summer routines, switch up your workouts – either change the time of day you do them or choose a different activity.
Enlist a friend to join you and make it a social occasion – you are less likely to shun workouts if you let other people down! At work, make the most of daylight and encourage colleagues to take lunchtime walks with you – increasing your step count and enjoying fresh air.
3. Allow yourself time to relax
It is not unusual to feel more sluggish at this time of year and find it difficult to do much more than curl up in front of the TV with a hot drink and snacks in the evening. In fact, we are programmed to slow down and conserve energy as the temperature drops, daylight lessens and food traditionally became scarce (long before there were supermarkets filled with tubs of Roses and Quality Street!). So allow yourself time to relax without feeling guilty or thinking about all the jobs you should be doing instead. Whether it is watching your favourite TV programme, taking a long bath or treating yourself to a massage, schedule time to do something you enjoy.
4. Monitor your mental health
Waking up and getting home in darkness can leave many people feeling down but if you feel it is impacting your mood for a long period, it may be worth speaking to your GP. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that the NHS estimates to affect approximately one in 15 people in the UK between September and April.¹
While the cause is not fully understood, the theory is that a lack of sunlight can lead to hormonal imbalances. There are a number of treatments that may help, including medication, counselling and exposure to a special light box. If SAD is affecting one of your colleagues, there are many ways employers can support workers’ mental wellbeing, which are detailed in my previous blog post.
5. See the change as a positive
While we may naturally see October and November as a dismal time of year and leave us longing for spring and summer, it can also be just as important to take the time to relish in the changing of the seasons. Plan activities, such as coffee with friends, autumn walks, cosy family meals in and trips to the cinema. Simply changing your perspective can help you to enjoy this time of year and make the long nights seem much more appealing.
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