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Christmas can be a challenging time for our stress levels and it’s even harder for those of us with depression, anxiety or panic.

So many things that are part of our routines and we take for granted become disrupted by the change of pace in our lives at this time of year.

Leaving all your preparations for Christmas until the last minute can cause unnecessary stress, but planning ahead can save you time and money. Making lists for jobs to do, presents to buy and groceries you’ll need helps to organise your thoughts, prevents you forgetting something (or someone) and makes it easier to stick to a budget.

So while many people will be looking forward to having time off work, for some the impact of Christmas is increased stress, family conflict or alcohol misuse and intense financial pressure. For others it can be loneliness and isolation from friends and family. Also for people who have suffered bereavement the feeling of loss and sadness can be especially hard to bear at Christmas time.

Christmas and the New Year period can be a difficult time for many reasons, but you should remember that there is always someone to talk to, be it friends and family members or support services including your local Psychologist.

Body of Life’s tips for this Christmas are:

Food

The festive period is always linked to over-indulgence, which in turn prompts a pressing desire for many of us to lose weight in the New Year. Where possible, maintain a good balance of fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and omega 3 sources throughout the year in order to be in good physical condition and have sufficient energy.

Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can improve your mood and can work towards preventing symptoms of lethargy and irritability that many of us feel during the busy festive season and dark winter months.

Exercise

Physical activity releases the feel-good chemicals, endorphins, which help you to relax, feel happy and boost your mood. By undertaking simple tasks such as cycling to work, walking in the park, or joining in with Christmas games, you can benefit from experiencing reduced anxiety, decreased depression and improved self-esteem.

In addition, recent research has indicated that regular exercise can help to boost our immune systems, enabling us to better fight off colds and flu viruses.

Five ways to stay active over the Christmas period

·       Go for a walk.  It is a less strenuous form of exercise than going for a hard-core session in the gym.

·       Prefer to be indoors? Why not dance to some festive tunes. A fun way to burn off the Christmas turkey!

·       Take advantage of the Christmas weather. When the sun is shining head to the beach for a walk or a swim!

·       Do activities as a family. Over indulgence is hard to avoid around Christmas so why not decide to go for a walk with all the family after dinner.

Alcohol

The celebratory spirit of Christmas and New Year often involves social drinking and although the consumption of alcohol might make you feel more relaxed, it is important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and drinking excessive amounts can cause low mood, irritability or potentially aggressive behaviour.

By not exceeding the recommended number of safe units, you will be better able to sustain good mental and physical wellbeing.

Get involved

The festive period provides us with an ideal opportunity to talk to, visit or engage with the people around us. Face-to-face communication has been shown to improve our mental and physical wellbeing as this interaction produces the hormone, oxytocin, which can benefit our immune system, heart health and cognitive function.

You could arrange a shared experience as a gift for a friend or loved one such as a cookery lesson or cinema outing.

If you’re travelling to visit family or friends for Christmas booking travel in advance can often be much cheaper.

If you are apart from your family then volunteering for a charity or local community organisation can provide that same human contact, as well as help provide essential support and encouragement for others in need. These interactions can easily be sustained throughout the coming year and need not just be for Christmas.

Stay in touch

There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face-to-face, but that’s not always possible. Give them a call, drop them a note or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open – it’s good for you!

If you’re feeling out of touch with some people, Christmas can be a good opportunity to reconnect with a card, email or phone call. Talking can be a good way to cope with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head.

If something is worrying you, whether it’s work, family problems or other feelings, just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. It works both ways: if you open up, it might encourage others to do the same and get something off their mind.

Try to relax

Christmas can be a very busy and stressful time as we prepare to entertain family and friends, worry about cooking a delicious Christmas dinner, and fit in some last minute present shopping. These feelings of being under pressure can produce symptoms of anxiety, anger and difficulty sleeping which, if prolonged, could have a long-term detrimental impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

By exercising more regularly or practicing mindfulness – a combination of meditation, yoga and breathing techniques – you can help to both alleviate the symptoms of your stress and gain more control when coping with difficult situations.

Do good

Helping others is good for your own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress, improve your mood, increase self-esteem and happiness and even benefit your physical health.

Christmas is a good opportunity to volunteer for a charity or local community organisation and provide essential support and encouragement for others in need.

Sleep

Despite many of us having time off work during Christmas and the New Year, our sleep patterns can be disturbed between catching up with friends and family and partying late in to the night. There is mounting evidence on the link between sleep and mental wellbeing, meaning improvements in the quality of your sleep could result in improvements to your overall mental health.

There are several steps you can take towards achieving a better night’s sleep: attempting to get back in to your regular sleep routine as soon as possible after the party period, consuming less alcohol during the festivities, implementing regular exercise into your weekly routine, and taking measures to alleviate your stress.

Merry Christmas from Body of Life!