In the run-up to Christmas demands at work and home can be sky-high, leaving people feeling stressed and overwhelmed. So, what can you do to tackle the winter blues? And what are your rights when it comes to taking sick leave?
Shorter days can mean there’s less time to get organised and many struggle with mental health-related issues such as anxiety and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Head of coaching at Westfield Health, Mark Pinches, offered the following advice on the holiday blues.
How the festive season can impact people’s mental health
During the winter months people can often feel down and less able to cope. Not only does our physical health take a hit, due to low immune systems, depression and mental health-related issues, such as SAD, tend to be more common. Whilst trying to plan the ‘perfect Christmas’ it’s easy to let stress get the better of you. Being too busy can have an impact on your mental health as there is less time to look after yourself – just when you might need to the most.
Christmas is about spending time with families – but it can be a very difficult time. People also tend to feel lonely during winter, with shorter days leaving little time for social activities after work compared to the spring and summer months.
How SAD impacts people’s lives
Lack of exposure to sunlight lowers serotonin levels in the brain, which affects mood, sleep and appetite; as a result, people often feel more tired and lethargic – causing them to feel less motivated when completing daily tasks. People with SAD often have poor concentration levels, which causes them to lose interest in things they normally enjoy doing, and to become less sociable. Although the symptoms of SAD usually improve in the spring, in some cases it can lead to long term problems as the symptoms can remain all year round.
The best way to manage SAD
Finding time to exercise can be a challenge; however, it is a great way of relieving stress and tension. By keeping up with physical activity you will, naturally, boost your mood as your brain releases endorphins. In addition to this, spending as much time outside as possible will maximise exposure to sunlight and improve your mood. This can be hard when days are short during winter, so going for a walk at lunchtime or walking to work, when possible, are easy ways of fitting this in.
In the run-up to Christmas you may find yourself socialising more and sleeping less. Having a combination of quantity and quality sleep is an effective way to recharge your batteries when suffering with SAD; most of us will need somewhere between 6-9 hours of sleep. There are lots of tips for getting a good night’s sleep to be found on the internet.
How to keep Christmas stress to a minimum
It’s easy to take on too much during the busy Christmas period, so it’s important to not be afraid to say no. Taking on too much will make you feel stressed and run down; it is better to have a smaller work load and to complete tasks efficiently than to over-stretch yourself.
Don’t get caught up in trying to make everything perfect and forget to enjoy yourself. Laughing helps to keep the mind clear and balanced so it’s important to have some fun! If things go wrong, try your best to see the positives; you’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel if you laugh it off.
Sick leave – rights and responsibilities
If you, or other staff, are feeling rundown, overwhelmed or unwell, there may be a need to take time off work. Euan Laurence, employment solicitor Blacks Solicitors , offers the following tips on the rights employees have when it comes to taking sick leave.
Your rights as an employee for taking sick leave
Mental health problems, such as stress, are an increasingly common reason for employees needing to take sick leave during the winter months. There are many reasons for employers to be interested in protecting the mental health of their staff (not least, talent retention and productivity) but, from a legal perspective, employers could face liability – not only under employment law, but also under personal injury law – if their employees are not given adequate support and protection.
How is leave authorised?
In the first instance it’s a decision for the employee, who is able to ‘self-certify’ their sickness absence (i.e. without any note from their doctor) for up to seven days at the start of any period of absence. Any sickness absence after the first seven days needs to be authorised by a ‘fit note’ from the employee’s doctor, confirming the reason the employee is not fit for work and the period during which the doctor anticipates that they will remain unfit for work.
Employees must comply fully with their employer’s sickness absence reporting procedures. During the first seven days this will usually include calling a designated person at the school each day, prior to the time they would normally be expected to start, to confirm their absence, as well as completing a self-certification form. After this time employees will usually be required to send in fit notes in respect of their absence at regular intervals, attend sickness absence meetings and (in some cases) submit to an examination by a doctor and/or occupational health specialist and/or provide access to their medical records.
Thankfully, employers in the UK generally seem to be making efforts to get to grips with the issues facing employees relating to mental health and wellbeing at work and are, therefore, better equipped to provide that, much needed, support to their workforces.