Published on: 9th December 2019
What you eat at Christmas can affect your mental health
While Christmas is a wonderful time to spend with family and friends, it also provides numerous opportunities to overindulge. There is more food and drink around than at any other time of year, and unfortunately most of them are guaranteed to have an impact on your waistline and your mental health. The high sugar content of a lot of the season’s foods create a spike in energy levels which then result in a drop, which may in turn lead to you feeling lethargic and low in mood.
Over-eating is very common over the festive period and it is unlikely that you will be able to stick to a diet, or an exercise plan at this time of year, but that does not mean you have to give up on looking after yourself completely. A good rule to stick to is “all things in moderation”. Where possible, choose the healthier alternatives. Some of the food readily available at Christmas time is actually very beneficial for good mental health such as turkey and nuts which contain tryptophan, which releases serotonin, known to be beneficial in the treatment of depression. Rather than loading your plate with food, take or ask for a smaller serving, and avoid having seconds. Take your time to eat your meal so that your body can absorb it before you find yourself looking for another helping.
Alcohol is well known as a depressant, so consider ways that you can limit or manage your alcohol intake. Consider drinking two soft drinks for every alcoholic one. If you are going out, be the nominated driver, so that you have a ready excuse not to drink if you are feeling pressured into doing so.
Exercise can still be incorporated into the festivities, and a long walk in the cold fresh air is both invigorating and releases positive endorphins. Try and have a walk after every big meal, and encourage other people to go with you to make it more fun.
Managing family demands
Managing the demands of family can be difficult over the festive period, especially if they don’t live locally, and it can also be a time where tensions run high and you are expected to spend time with people that you may not necessarily get on well with. It’s not always quite as joyful as the movies make it out to be! Christmas is a time for you to enjoy, as well as everyone else, and so it is important to consider your own needs.
Be realistic and try to manage expectations and be open and honest about how much time you can spend with people. It may feel easier to host gatherings at your house and ask people to bring food and drink so that you aren’t travelling too much or having to dash between houses.
Spread out gatherings across the festive season rather than being expected to see everyone all in one day. Suggest meeting up in the New Year and doing something nice together where you can spend more time with them. Meet somewhere neutral like a pub or coffee shop to ease tensions and save someone having to do the cooking and washing up.
Try to put differences aside for the shorter term and deal with these at a more appropriate time, and if possible try to clear the air before hand.
If it really feels too difficult to see family that you don’t get on well with, then explain this and don’t see them
Remember, you may not be able to keep everyone happy, but it’s your Christmas too!
Perfectionism and putting yourself under pressure
It is all too easy to put pressure on yourself at Christmas and want everything to be perfect, this can cause you to feel stressed and ultimately not enjoy the day.
The following tips may help:
- Ask for help, you don’t have to do everything yourself and involving family members may make it more fun.
- Try not to set your standards too high, aim for ‘good enough’, remember Christmas is a time for families to unite and spend precious time together. Does it matter if things don’t go as planned?
- Say ‘no’.
- Remember it’s not your job to make everyone happy to the detriment to your own happiness!
- Take time to enjoy the moment, it can be easy to be so stressed about everything being right that the day can pass you by, it’s your day too!
Loneliness is a widespread problem. Loneliness and isolation affects people of all ages, so the cliché ‘you are not alone in being alone’ is never more apt.
At this time of year people can be on their own through choice or circumstances. During Christmas there is such an enormous focus on family gatherings, being social and having the perfect Christmas that feelings of loneliness are intensified. Unsurprisingly, loneliness can be detrimental to a person’s mental health, by increasing a person’s anxiety and depression.
If you feel lonely and unhappy during Christmas or any at time, here are some tips on how to deal with loneliness. It is important to remember that loneliness is as individual as the person feeling it, so not all these suggestions would be appropriate. The charity MIND, recommends taking small steps to feel more connected.
- Accept Invitations. Be selective, don’t just blindly accept all that come your way, you can be lonely amongst the wrong crowd.
- Join a group, take a course, join a church, take up a new hobby, join a gym. Make an effort to get out there and make connections.
- Just take a walk. Sometimes it is just enough to be out and about amongst people. Also exercise is good for the soul. Then when you feel up to it, strike up a casual conversation, with a neighbour, another person in a long queue that you meet when you are out and about.
- Make contact with people you know, call, text, email or Skype a friend or family member. A gentle reminder of what you do have in your life, rather than what you are missing.
- Plan your time alone on Christmas day itself. Make it your day to do exactly what you like – you’ve got no one to please but yourself, no need to feeling guilty about it either. So make sure you add some treats to your shopping in preparation.
- Go on holiday – be it to a hotel running a Christmas break, somewhere hot or hit the ski slopes.
- Do some voluntary work, help others feel less lonely.
- Turn the TV off and do something else instead. Also this gets you away from the ‘perfect’ Christmas images you see in the TV programs and adverts.
- If you enjoy your work, and you have the option to work on Christmas, why not spend the day being productive? This is a great choice if your job involves interacting with co-workers or customers; being at work will help you feel less lonely.
A bit of TLC and self-care
Christmas is traditionally a time of giving, but it can also be highly stressful.
It is important to look after yourself and your mental health wellbeing during the festive period, so, whilst you are planning what you need to do in the build up to the big day, make sure that you set aside time for yourself when you can take some time out to restore your energy and recharge your batteries.
How about scheduling some time to take a walk, a long bath or to watch your favourite Christmas film? Relaxation techniques and mindfulness are great ways to reduce your stress levels, reduce your anxiety and improve your low mood. Time out from the frantic whirlwind of planning, shopping, cooking and present wrapping will help you to keep calm and clear minded so that you too can enjoy all the fun of the season.
Why not try one of our free mindfulness podcast which are available online on our SoundCloud channel.
Christmas can be a stressful and busy time with presents to buy, meals to plan, food to prepare, houses to decorate, Christmas parties to attend and family to see. All of this can result in stress rather than festive cheer!
- Make a list, but try not to check it twice, of jobs you need to do and what needs to be bought.
- Ask for present ideas from loved ones to help speed up shopping and reduce worries about what to buy.
- Write and post your cards as early as possible.
- Pre order food and collection dates.
- Prioritise tasks – consider when tasks need to be done by such as posting cards or presents.
Plan your time in the build up to Christmas
- Try to space out the tasks that you need to do rather than leaving it all to the last minut.
- Spending smaller, but more regular time on working through your job list may be helpful.
- Be realistic about how many social events you can attend, and afford, and the impact on jobs that you need to do at home.
Delegate – even Santa has helpers!
- Many hands make light work! Think about who can help you – someone to help peel the spuds or cut the sallotape will save you time, and you can also make it fun and festive.
- Give tasks to others and share responsibility and jobs.
Do things in advance
- Set the Christmas table early if you won’t be using it
- Pre-cook food and freeze it and buy non perishable items in your shops in the weeks before.
- Prepare the house for any guests you might have such as making spare beds in advance.
- Make a time line of the day so that you know what time food needs cooking and it will help you to keep you on track and reduce worries before hand.
There is a lot of pressure at Christmas to spend money and lots of people can find themselves in debt. This can ultimately lead to stress and low mood, below are some tips to consider.
- Decide how much you are going to spend and stick to it.
- Don’t sacrifice your household bills, they will need to be paid at some point.
- Shop around for deals.
- Spend time not money, being with loved ones is more valuable.
- If you have a large extended family, maybe decide to just buy for the children.
- Resist the temptation to borrow more money, remember it’s just one day a year.
Good sleep is something that it important at any time of the year.
Christmas can be a time when we may get out of our usual sleep routine and this can then impact our mental health and wellbeing. Although you might want to stay up for Santa or feel pressured to wrap the presents, try to stick to your usual sleep/wake times.
An extra mulled wine or nightcap might seem tempting, but try to moderate your alcohol intake. And everyone needs a post-Christmas dinner nap, but try not to get into the habit of napping too much over the festive season.
Exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do, especially during the colder months and darker days. Everyone knows exercise is good for your body, but did you know it’s also good for your mental wellbeing? Just being a little more active, for example taking a short walk or a gentle swim can improve symptoms of low mood, anxiety and stress. In fact, studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication.
When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins – the feel good chemicals, into our body. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in our bodies and help relieve symptoms of pain and tension. Exercise also allows you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of stress, worry and negative thoughts that feed poor wellbeing. The body and mind are closely linked, so simply put, when our body feels good, we feel good. Don’t forget, exercise also helps you sleep better too!
Remember to start small. You might want to consider going for a short walk or doing the housework at a quicker pace or make it into a social event by getting others involved. Lincolnshire has many walking groups, gyms and leisure centres, tennis and golf clubs to tempt you. If the weather is miserable consider an indoor activity and if you still don’t feel like it, focus on the positive rewards it will bring.
Christmas is the time of giving so give a little something back to yourself this year – give a little time to be more active.
The festive season for many people will involve enjoying an alcoholic beverage or two. This could be social gatherings or chilling at home. For some people alcohol may not help them to relax, but cause more stress, hangovers or even confrontations.
Here are some tips help stop alcohol ruining your Christmas:
- Be aware of safe guidelines, the current recommendation is no more than 14 units a week for both men and women. If you are not sure use a drinks tracker like the one available at One You campaign pages
- Have some alcohol free nights and have fun making delicious ‘mocktails’ with friends or plan things that do not directly involved alcohol, there are lots of nice Christmas activities and events to try.
- If you do want to enjoy a few drinks, then try and alternate between alcoholic and soft drinks. This will not only potentially save the hangover, but will also benefit your health, keep you safer from injury and cost less!
There are strong links between alcohol and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. If you experience these problems, alcohol use in the long term can make these symptoms worse. It can impact on you mood, sleep, behaviour and physical health.
There is no harm in enjoying alcohol over the festive season, just remember to stay safe.
Christmas can be a very difficult time of year for people and incidents of domestic violence to both men and women rise during the festive period.
There are many reasons for the increased incidents over the festive period but in the main the combination of financial pressure, free-flowing alcohol and being cooped up in closed quarters, exerts additional burden on relationships. Bombarded with images of the perfect family Christmas it can be easy to forget that Christmas is a time of belittling, punishment and violence for many people. Instead of being a time of year to be happy or to be grateful, it becomes a time of year to be anxious and on guard. In some cases the slightest deviation from perfection – burnt pigs in blankets or the wrong gift choice – can quickly escalate. Here are some helpful tips to reduce the impact for you:
- If you are finding the whole idea of Christmas too stressful, talk to a friend or someone else that you can trust.
- Go easy on the alcohol. If you are drinking make sure you have equal amounts of water or non-alcoholic drinks.
- Don't spend what you can't afford. Work out what you need to buy for Christmas and what bills you need to cover, and set that money aside.
- If there have been any family rows during the year, resolve them. Tell the people you argued with that you're looking forward to seeing them. Ask if you can get together before Christmas to talk about whatever problem you had.
- Have a timetable for Christmas Day so that you don’t all sit around for hours doing nothing. Try to make sure you won't be spending a lot of time with a difficult person or someone you don’t get along with.
- Plan a lovely long walk for a change of scene and some fresh air. Everybody will feel better and pleasantly tired instead of irritably tired.
- If an argument starts to brew, take a deep breath and walk away. Take time out to let everyone calm down or sober up.
- If you have real concerns for your safety or the safety of your children, contact the police.