Hay fever can be more than just an irritation. Here, we’re exploring the impact it can have on our mental health, and the things that you can do to soothe it
According to the NHS, up to one in five people will experience hay fever at some point in their lives, with symptoms including sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy or watery eyes, a cough, itchy throat, headaches, and fatigue.
Caused by a reaction to different types of pollen, people may find that they experience hay fever through spring and summer, and into autumn – depending on the particular pollen that they are allergic to.
But in addition to the physical reaction, hay fever can also have an impact on our mental health, making it difficult for us to go about our daily routines as usual. Here, we’re exploring the four ways that you may notice hay fever affecting your mental health and wellbeing, and we’ll look at methods for coping.
1. Disrupted sleep
When you’re battling the symptoms of hay fever, sleep can feel elusive. When you no longer have the distractions of the day to keep your mind off a blocked or runny nose – and the other sensations that you may be experiencing – everything can suddenly feel a lot more intense. And the more intense those feelings are, the harder it is to switch off and fall asleep.
Sleep has a huge impact on our wellbeing. Not getting enough sleep can lead us to feel sluggish the next day, lowering our resilience levels, and affecting our concentration. We may find our relationships suffer as a result, and we could become irritable and irrational. Combine this with the impact hay fever is already having on our mood, and you’re looking at a perfect storm.
Increasingly, researchers are exploring a link between seasonal allergies and anxiety. And, while results are still early-on, the relationship makes sense. When we’re struggling with allergies, doing simple things can be a struggle. Getting through our to-do list, taking on caring responsibilities, dealing with challenges at work – everything feels amplified when you’re not feeling 100%.
All this can lead to a heightened sense of anxiety. Add in any feeling of embarrassment about managing symptoms in public, and symptoms blocking your ability to fully relax, and it’s easy to understand why researchers are looking into this link.
3. Low mood
The unpleasant symptoms themselves are enough to dampen anyone’s mood, but there are other factors at play here. One way of managing hay fever is to avoid going outside where you can. But, when the weather’s looking up, and the natural world is coming into bloom, the idea of being stuck inside can feel very frustrating and limiting. You may feel cut off from social events, or have to drastically alter your routines. And you’re also missing out on all of the mood-boosting effects of getting out in nature. Although the sacrifice may be necessary if your symptoms are really bad, feeling trapped and excluded is a hard price to pay.
The nature of hay fever symptoms – the itchiness, the runny nose, the way it impacts our breathing – are all pretty irritating. And there may come a point when that build-up of dealing with irritating sensations can come to fruition, and impacts the way that you respond to the world around you.
You may notice that you’re more snappy with the people in your life, as your resilience for anything else that might brush you up the wrong way is drastically reduced by the amount of focus your symptoms are taking up. Things that usually wouldn’t bother you now feel overwhelming, and it’s more of a challenge to remain calm and logical.
So, how can you deal with these feelings?
First things first, if you’re experiencing bad hay fever symptoms, and you’re finding that they’re impacting your day-to-day life, speak to your GP. You may be able to be prescribed medication that can make a real difference to your reactions, so it’s always worth sitting down and having a conversation.
There are also many other tricks that you can employ to help with the physical symptoms and, in turn, the mental health ones, too. You can wear sunglasses when you’re outside, to shield your eyes from pollen. You can take showers when you return home to try to clean off any pollen that may be lingering on your body. You can even try putting a small amount of Vaseline around your nostril, to trap pollen and make it harder for it to be inhaled. But if you’re already struggling with the mental health impact, it’s time to address those feelings face-on.
Meditation can be a really effective tool if you’re experiencing a build-up of frustration and anxiety – and this may be particularly helpful before bed, when you want to try to create a sense of relaxation. There are many free meditation tools out there, from YouTube videos to Spotify playlists, and lots of apps to choose from. If you’re new to meditation, start with short ones – five minutes should do it.
Another wellbeing technique to try is aromatherapy. Uses the power of plant oils, and their beautiful scented properties, essential oils such as eucalyptus (thought to help with congestion), tea tree (an anti-inflammatory), and peppermint (thought to reduce inflammation), can all be used to help soothe some of the symptoms of hay fever, while having the added benefit of aiding overall relaxation, making for a very pleasant sensory experience.
There are many ways you can use essential oils, from adding a few drops into a relaxing bath, to adding them to clothing or hankies. But, if you’re interested in using essential oils, make sure to do your research. Some are not safe to use on the skin, and others may need to be combined with a carrier oil before use.
Take a look at your diet
There are things that you can introduce into your diet that are thought to directly help with allergy management, such as eating foods that are rich in omega-3 and essential fats (fish, nuts, and seeds are good options.) And there are also foods that you may want to avoid, such as dairy products, refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
But our diet can also help support our overall mood. Try adding in rich, whole foods. Plenty of leafy greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, spices like ginger and turmeric, green tea, and local honey. Not only do these foods have properties that could help you manage your physical symptoms, but their nutrient-rich properties could support your mood, too.
Have a good vent
It’s unpleasant, it’s all-consuming, it’s annoying, and, sometimes, you just need to have a proper good vent about hay fever. It might not stop your running nose or ease your aching head, but getting the frustration out by speaking to a loved one who cares about what you’re going through can, at the very least, be cathartic.
So, grab yourself a cup of green tea, and get your hay fever frustrations off your chest.