'Tis the season, after all...
Feel like you’re defaulting to Christmas survival mode already? Tell us about it.
The festive season is meant to be about spending quality time with loved ones (and eating Quality Street), decorating the house with a Christmas tree, tinsel, and mistletoe, and, well, drinking copious amounts of Bailey’s.
Sound familiar? It will for most. That’s why, this year, to save your sanity (and ours), we’ve enlisted the help of some of the best doctors, nutritionists, and psychologists in the business and asked them to share their very own Christmas survival toolkit.
Buckle up – your festive season will never look the same again.
Christmas survival: 15 top tips for bulletproofing your mind and body
Ready for the expert’s round-up of the best ways to safeguard both your physical and mental health this Christmas season? Us too. Whether it’s less screentime, stockpiling electrolytes or avoiding drinks with congeners (more on that later), they’ve got a tip for every need. Keep scrolling.
1. Water is your best friend
Yes, we know this is an obvious one, but you’d be amazed at how a. easy it is to forget to do and b. helpful upping your agua intake can be.
You all know that hangovers are one of the worst side effects of the festive season. But did you know? Many of the unwanted effects, such as – headaches, sickness, and dizziness – are a result of dehydration, or so shares nutritionist Lauren Windas.
Top tip: Drink water in between each alcoholic drink, a glass before you go to sleep, and have – yep, you guessed it – a glass next to your bedside if you’ve been drinking. “Basically, keep drinking plenty of fluids and limit your caffeine intake”, recommends doctor Luke Powles, clinical director for Bupa Health Clinics.
2. Don’t drink on an empty stomach
Another obvious one but drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. If you’ve got a night of festivities booked in, do make sure you eat a nutrient-dense meal, too. “This will help to slow down how quickly your body absorbs alcohol,” explains doctor Powles.
3. Avoid drinks high in congeners
Ever heard of them? Us neither. Congeners are by-products of alcohol and occur when it’s distilled or fermented. “They tend to be in alcohols such as whiskey, tequila, and cognac,” shares Windas – so steer clear of drinking lots of these. Colourless spirits such as vodka and gin, on the other hand, have lower levels of congeners.
Why is it best to avoid? “Some studies show a correlation between drinks higher in congeners causing more intense hangovers,” she explains.
4. Up the electrolytes
As a health editor, I have to try a lot of wellness products for a living. One game-changer for me? Drinking electrolytes post a night of drinking.
Electrolytes work by replenishing your body’s minerals, such as sodium, magnesium, potassium, and more, making them a seriously effective (and cheap) hangover remedy.
5. Practice mindful eating
While, sure, Christmas is a time for joy and celebration, for many, it’s also filled with food anxiety and guilt, explains Windas.
“The way many people approach food during the festive season and then restrict in January is reminiscent of the classic binge-and-restrict cycle,” she points out. Her advice? Practicing eating mindfully. “This – as the name suggests – involves making an active effort to be present while eating. Try putting your knife and fork down between bites, tune into physical sensations, and pay attention to the thoughts you have about food.”
Why? Simply, because it can help you to understand your eating behaviours better, empowering you to tune into hunger and fulness signals. Neat.
6. Prioritise your sleep
We all know sleep is one of the most powerful anti-aging tools and boosts everything from metabolism to brain function, so it’s no wonder it’s on the expert’s list of “things-to-do-lots-of” this Christmas.
Psychologist Charlotte Armitage recommends ensuring you’re in a good sleep pattern for the entirety of December, but if this simply isn’t possible – we’re looking at you, work Christmas party, and your school friends reunion – then Windas recommends planning some extra shut-eye in bed ahead of full-on social occasions.
Power naps FTW.
7. Turn your phone off more
Something we should all do more of regularly, but that has the potential to safeguard your mental health this Christmas season.
“At this time of year, social media becomes prime for comparison and showing off, and so taking a holiday from Instagram for even a week can help you refresh. Remind yourself that the world is bigger than your phone and everything that goes on it,” says Michelle Elman, author of The Joy of Being Selfish.
Try this: She does a digital detox every year at this time of year – why not give it a go yourself? “It’s a great way to give your mind a break. The amount of reading I get done in those two weeks is unparalleled,” she shares.
8. Get some fresh air – but don’t push yourself too hard
There’s an urban myth that you can exercise off a hangover – while fresh air certainly helps, one of the worst things you can do the next day is exercise excessively, shares Powles. “While a bit of fresh air can help, nothing more than a gentle stroll is enough to feel the benefits. Your body needs to recover – so rest and rehydrate.”
9. Listen to your gut
You know that thing called your gut instinct? Myth dictates you listen to it for a reason – “because it knows what you really need,” shares Armitage.
“Your gut feeling is your unconscious mind telling you that it’s already worked the situation out before your conscious mind has caught up,” she explains. “That instinct is based upon years of your personal experiences, learning, and knowledge – it’s too much for the conscious brain to hold.”
Try this: Trust that instinct and use it to set your boundaries. “This will help to protect your mental health against situations that could be damaging for you,” the expert explains.
10. Acknowledge your emotions
Christmas can sometimes bring up a whole host of painful emotions, from the grief of lost loved ones to negative past memories.
“It’s important that we accept that these matters are hurtful and try and feel and process the feelings associated with them, rather than avoiding those feelings. Good mental health relies on tolerance; the more we can tolerate the experience of negative emotions in a healthy way, the more balanced our mental wellbeing will be,” shares Armitage.
11. Set boundaries
This one’s important. Rather than spending your festive period with loads of people who aren’t that important to you, try and surround yourself with those you a. feel comfortable and safe with and b. have healthy, interpersonal interaction with.
“This is extremely important for any period of potentially poor mental health,” shares the psychologist.
12. Respect everyone’s OOO
A really important boundary at this time of year? Work, and giving people the rest they all deserve, says Elman.
“If someone says they are out of office, respect that boundary, and with your own out of office, force yourself to abide by that,” she recommends.
Try this: When you put on your OOO, put “I will have no access to emails” and then actually delete the emails app off your phone. Don’t put a return date – instead, put “I will get back to you when I am able to”, advises the coach. “When you put a return date, people expect a response on that date but just because I’m back doesn’t mean you will get a reply that day,” shares Elman.
13. Know it’s ok to bow out
Another important one that we’re not too good at but should do more of? Saying no.
“You don’t need to partake in conversations that you don’t want to be a part of. Whether it’s body shaming, Brexit or vaccines, if you don’t want to be in a conversation, you are allowed to say “can we talk about something else?”,” shares Elman.
Try this: If someone continues to talk about a situation you’re not comfortable with, or it’s in a group situation, then excuse yourself by saying “I don’t want to talk about this so finish your conversation, I’m going to go get a drink and I’ll come back later”.
14. Don’t automatically say yes
Ever found yourself at a social event that you really – and we mean really – don’t want to be at? We all have. Next time, rain check before you go.
“Before saying yes to an invite, insert a filter that asks yourself “do I actually want to go?”. So often we have a kneejerk reaction of checking your diary and if you are free, putting in your diary and saying yes without actually considering if you want to attend. It’s also OK to decline an event to spend an evening in alone. Making sure your diary includes rest time is good time management,” explains Elman.
Fatmata Kamara, Mental Health Nurse Advisor at Bupa UK, agrees, also adds that if you’re not feeling up to attending festive plans – remember it is okay to say no to this, too. “Pushing yourself to do more than you are able to take on can lead to burnout and fatigue over the Christmas period, making it harder for you to enjoy the festivities,” she shares.
15. Reach out
And finally, if you are really struggling with your mental health this Christmas, know it’s ok to ask for help. As Kamara says, if you’re feeling lonely or isolated, there are plenty of community groups and charities that offer support and companionship over the Christmas period.
“This could be a great opportunity to build new relationships and make new friends,” she goes on.