There’s no denying it, Winter 2020 is going to be a challenge. What with the uncertainties the coronavirus continues to throw up, we know it feels like a worry for some members of our community, especially those who are older, more vulnerable or in low-income households.

Changing movement restrictions aside, we traditionally spend more time indoors during winter, what with shorter days, longer, darker evenings, and colder temperatures, so it’s important we take steps now to get our homes and lives as ready as possible for the winter months. Here are some practical steps you can take.

Are your home and car safe for winter?

Take the time now to have your boiler serviced, chimney swept (if you’ve got one), and ordered your logs, coal and oil. That way you’re fully prepared for any sudden changes in the weather. Don’t forget to find your torches and make sure you have a supply of batteries for any unexpected power cuts. If you use candles for a bit of cosy hygge, keep them away from anything flammable or tiny fingers.

Is your car ready for winter? Have you had it recently serviced or did its MOT expire during lockdown? Have you had your tyres checked where they may have been unused during lockdown (most places usually offer a free check)? Clean your lights and wash your windows and wipers, topping up anti-freeze or windscreen wash. It never hurts to have a winter breakdown kit in your car, such as a blanket, torch and bottle of water in the boot.

Are you entitled to a flu jab?

Flu affects people in different ways, so we encourage anyone who is eligible to get their flu vaccine from their GP does so as soon as possible. It’s expected that more people than ever will be offered their flu jab this year, to prepare for a winter that is likely to see flu season coincide with an increase in cases of COVID-19. The following people are all entitled to receive a flu vaccine.

    • are 65 and over (born on or before 31 March 1956)
    • have certain health conditions
    • are pregnant
    • are in a long-stay residential care
    • receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
    • live with someone who’s at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
    • frontline health or social care workers

You can have the NHS flu vaccine at your GP surgery, pharmacy offering the service or your midwifery service if you’re pregnant. If you have your flu vaccine at a pharmacy, you do not have to tell the GP. The pharmacist should tell them. All adult flu vaccines are given by injection into the muscle of the upper arm.

Are you worried about finances?

Keeping warm in the winter is so important, but many people worry about the extra expense of having heating on, but everyone deserves to be somewhere safe and warm. It’s recommended heating be set to 18 degrees, with windows kept closed to prevent a drop in temperature indoors. If you’re worried about your finances, there are steps you can take. You may be eligible for help insulating your home through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme. You may also be able to get help repairing or replacing your boiler or heating system if you own or privately rent your home, receive certain benefits, are in fuel poverty, live on a low income or are vulnerable to the effects of a cold home.

Contact Simple Energy Advice on 0800 444 202 for impartial advice on finding out if you’re eligible. Or if you need some help understanding things, get in contact with us and one of our Welfare Caseworkers will be able to talk through your options.

Most people born after 6 April 1954 will receive a Winter Fuel Payment between £100 and £300 either in November or December 2019. If you’d like more information, call the Winter Fuel Payment Centre on 0800 731 0160 or visit the government website.

Do you know of any vulnerable or isolated members of your community?

During lockdown and the following months, many of us took on extra responsibilities in our communities, checking in on elderly or isolated people. Winter (and particularly Christmas) can be difficult for elderly or socially isolated people in the community at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. Do you know of anyone who might be spending more time alone who you could check in or (from a safe distance)?

Making sure they have essentials like and medicines is really important, but so too is conversation and company. If you can phone for a quick chat, pop round (while adhering to government guidelines) or offer support with small errands, it can make a huge difference to someone. If you’re doing an online food shop, see if they would benefit from you doing an order from them, to avoid them having to go out in bad weather.

How active are you?

With the dark, cold winter nights fast approaching (not to mention the increasingly-gloomy news reports) finding the motivation to keep active can be tough. But you should be aiming to get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, as it helps boost your immune system by improving circulation and helping to circulate white blood cells around the body. This will also help better equip your body against any lurking winter bugs.

If you’re exercising outdoors, wear lots of layers of clothing, to trap small pockets of air and keep yourself insulated against the British winter. If you’re going out in the dark, make sure you’re visible to cars, checking bike lights and wearing reflective clothing If it’s icy or wet, think about swapping your outdoor activity for indoor to avoid slipping and injuring yourself. See this as a great opportunity to try something different, like that online zumba class you always quite fancied, or a socially-distanced swim (following government guidelines on distancing). Why not join us for some of our at-home exercise videos?

Are you eating healthily?

It’s also important to think about our nutrition, especially during these days where we may feel inclined to turn to comforting stodgy foods. With fewer sunny hours, the “feel-good chemical” serotonin stored in your brain from all that bright light will start to decline, and you may notice a dip in your mood. Not only does serotonin regulate our moods, it also helps control our circadian rhythms and therefore our sleep patterns, regulate our appetite and promote learning and memory. Sunlight isn’t the only place we can get serotonin, and if you suddenly start craving comforting carbohydrates, this is actually your body’s message for wanting more of the serotonin, which can be converted from amino acid in certain foods. But it’s important to choose healthy carbohydrates to boost these levels, so opt for nutritious whole grains and high-quality carbs, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkins or winter squashes.

There are other good things we get from sunlight that we need in our bodies, such as vitamin D, for which food becomes our only source during shorter days. Oily fish like salmon and mackerel are good sources of vitamin D, and you can buy vitamin D-fortified milks and yoghurts. The winter months are also a great time to add more dark leafy greens that are high in vitamins and antioxidants, such as spinach or broccoli, so think twice about passing on the sprouts at Christmas! Stock up on green veggies by keeping lots of canned or frozen options available, and keep your store cupboard replenished with larder staples such as tins of beans and wholemeal pasta. Enjoy the seasonal foods that are great for your immune system, such as a nice healthy soup containing lots of vegetables, beans and maybe some meat.

Are you drinking enough?

Unlike the hot summer days, it can be easy to forget about drinking plenty of water when it gets cold out. But staying hydrated is just as important in the winter, because you need it to keep your energy levels up, boost your immune system and aid digestion. It also helps to keep your skin moisturised, which we need against harsh winter winds and all the nose blowing. Put a reusable bottle in your bag and try to sip on it all day and snack on juicy fruits that contain lots of water.

Could you benefit from talking to someone?

If you’re struggling, for whatever reason, get in contact with us. We may be able to offer you a course of online or telephone counselling with one of our psychological therapists or put you in touch with one of our Welfare Caseworkers to help you find a solution for whatever is affecting your home life. You may also like to browse our library of health and wellbeing resources. Get in touch with us by calling 0800 389 8820 or making an enquiry online.