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Optimising your wellbeing this Christmas

Everyone’s vision of Christmas is different. 

For some, it’s about perusing the Waitrose food brochure (12 Festive Balkava anyone?), untangling the fairy lights for 35 minutes and screaming the words to Wizzard’s ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day.’ 

For others, it’s arguing with a partner over spending priorities, ruminating about how to survive in the wake of loss, or battling addiction when alcohol seeps its way into every social event.

Last year, we published our guide to caring for your wellbeing during the festivities, and here we’ve collated further recommendations to help you maintain balance. 

Physical wellbeing: Support the gut-brain axis

Our digestive system faces its most gruelling challenge at Christmas as the food lures us into a coma by 4pm. Probiotics like vinegar, yoghurt and sauerkraut can reduce intestinal inflammation and low budget sources of fibre like baked potatoes with the skin, baked beans and pears help control blood sugar, reduce cholesterol, and manage heart health. 

Nutrition experts at Zoe also advise:

  • Use some ginger root in your cooking to ease nausea, whether it’s in cookies or as a glaze on your Christmas ham.
  • Sip a mug of peppermint tea to help calm digestion. Its antispasmodic properties soothe abdominal cramping.
  • Incorporate mood-boosting polyphenols with foods such as dark chocolate, cocoa powder, strawberries, olives, red onion and spices like cloves and oregano.
  • Try to leave at least 12 hours between when your last eat at night and when you first eat in the morning as this gives your gut time to rest. When we eat is as important as what we eat! 

For those who experience problems with eating, such as anorexia or bulimia, Christmas can be particularly anxiety-inducing. Caitlin, who is recovering from anorexia, suggests:

  • Confiding in someone you trust to help you plan your meals, so that you feel supported. For example, request to sit next to them during dinner and find out in advance how food will be plated. 
  • Engage in activities to distract you from ruminating like board games, festive films, dancing to songs, drawing….anything you enjoy! This is particularly helpful immediately after dinner when emotions and thoughts may be especially difficult to manage.

Financial wellbeingBefriend inner kindness

Consumerism tells us that the love we have for our friends and families is proportional to the size of the gift we give them. It’s in our power to ‘make someone’s year’ and ‘show how much we care’ by splurging, and if we don’t then we’ve failed. This leads to shame, which then puts us at risk of making unhealthy financial decisions. 

To break the cycle of shame and financial hardship, research indicates that recalling examples of when you have been kind to others can buffer this negative impact. Have you ever forgiven another person when they hurt you? Have you ever been considerate of another person’s feelings? Visualise this memory in as much detail as possible. 

Once you’ve labelled the shame and recalled acts of kindness, you'll be more prepared to face, rather than avoid, your financial responsibilities. This means not leaving Christmas shopping until the last minute, but proactively planning:

  • Setting a budget is pivotal, but this can be tricky to calculate so here is a Christmas planner from RIFT and a general budget planner from Money Helper (both free!)
  • Consider cashing in on any loyalty cards, and have a hunt around for seasonal deals on MoneySavingExpert which show great discounts from popular retailers such as Argos, Boots, John Lewis.
  • If you’re struggling to save for Christmas, try viewing the budget as a bill to pay. Viewing it as a non-negotiable amount similar to an electricity or council tax bill may help you protect the money. Apps such as Monzo have specific pots you can set up for this purpose.

…and take a peek at our festive gift guide if you need affordable but thoughtful inspiration!

Relational wellbeingIdentify and acknowledge

We become particularly sensitive at Christmas due to the pressure of a perfect holiday, and tensions are often highest than at any other time of year. This means almost any interaction, even something as benign as helping a parent peel the carrots, has the potential for conflict. Left unchecked, our emotions fester which is why we have the urge to leave once the sun rises after Boxing Day. 

This is not inevitable. Before we get to this point, we have the opportunity to make space between our emotions and our response. First, identify where you feel anger in the body. Does your chest tighten, or do your teeth clench? Maybe your palms sweat, or your stomach churns? As soon as you notice your body responding to a comment or behaviour, engage in Active Love. The idea is we don’t want to be stuck in our anger, but free ourselves from its clutches: 

  • Imagine your heart expanding to encompass infinite love around you. When it contracts back to normal size, all this love is concentrated inside your chest.
  • Send all this love to the other person, holding nothing back.
  • When the love reaches this other person, feel it enter; sense a oneness with them. Relax and feel all the energy you gave away return to you. 

Remembering the difficulties that this person has endured can also help to foster compassion. No one is immune to life’s pain or uncertainty. 

For those spending Christmas alone, the silence can be overwhelming, and there’s a deep yearning to hear laughter, singing, and even arguments. While a lack of social interaction around this time of year can be incredibly tough, there are ways to navigate this daunting period:

  • While tempting, acknowledge rather than push away the loneliness; suppressing our emotions only makes them louder. Don’t judge yourself for feeling this way, emotions are neither right nor wrong, they just are.
  • See the day as an opportunity for self-care, however that may look like to you. Perhaps it’s a long walk in a local park or nearby forest, reading the book that’s sat on your bedside table for months, baking some festive treats, discovering new music or listening to your favourite artists.
  • Volunteering is a powerful antidote to isolation and its negative effects. This might involve helping the homelesscaring for the elderly, or hosting a refugee.

If you are grieving the death of a loved one this Christmas, we have addresses this in a separate piece you can find here.

Emotional wellbeing: Whisper a silent ‘thank you’

The word ‘gratitude’ has permeated our culture in recent years. An abundance of studies show its positive impact, which has spurred its commodification in the form of journals and meditations. Why does it matter? Gratitude, quite simply, frees us from the mindset of constantly chasing more. Do you remember when you wanted something you already have? We always look to acquire the next ‘thing’ without acknowledging that we are already abundantly rich in numerous ways.  

Gratitude doesn’t need to be a formal ritual. It can simply be a silent ‘thank you’. For example, when you have a cold, you realise how much you take for granted that you can breathe properly! Being grateful for our senses is a strong reminder of what we can hear, see, taste, touch, smell. Another illustration is to ask yourself how many hands helped prepare the meal you ate this morning. We inhale food multiple times a day without second thought even though it supports our entire existence.

When you inevitably feel disappointed that festive celebrations have fallen short of your expectations in some way (burnt vegetables, late guests, tears after a spat), try this brilliant adaptation of the traditional gratitude meditation called grateful flow. It connects us to The Source; a higher force in the universe that created us remains intimately involved with our wellbeing:

  • Silently say to yourself three specific things you are grateful for and feel the gratitude with each one. 
  • Stop thinking and focus on this sensation of gratitude coming from your heart. This is Grateful Flow.
  • Your chest will soften and open, permeating through the dark cloud that hangs above you in this moment. Here you will feel an overwhelming presence approach you and you’ll be filled with the power of infinite giving. You’ve connected with The Source.