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'Tis the season to...prioritise your wellbeing

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, according to Andy Williams at least whose popular Christmas song continues to fill shops, advertisements and festive playlists. Research, however, suggests otherwise. Last year, YouGov found that 1 in 4 Brits struggle with anxiety or depression during the festive season.

Now, we face a new challenge. Blindsided by the pandemic, 2020 has been a year of rupture, change and loss, which is exacerbating existing pressures to embrace the Christmas spirit. It will bring obstacles of all shapes and sizes whether it’s the prospect of loneliness, the financial burden of gift-giving or the risk of relapsing from addiction. So, here’s our ‘how to’ guide on navigating Christmas amidst a pandemic.            

Physical wellbeing: Prepare for indulgence and temptation

The festive period can often feel like an endurance test for our digestive system. We approach Christmas Eve with intentions to eat in moderation, but 24 hours later, the gloves are off and we’re on our 3rd serving of Christmas pudding and we’ve lost count of our mulled wine intake.

It is futile punishing yourself for indulging, but you can protect your gut microbiome in several ways:

  1. Eat prebiotic food (e.g., grapefruit, oats, cashew nuts) to fend off any intestinal inflammation.
  2. Add kombucha or coconut water to your alcoholic beverages or have plenty of water throughout to keep your stomach lining strong.
  3. Increase your fibre to buffer the effect of richer foods, i.e., maybe have a bowl of porridge before diving into the chocolate coins – difficult, we know!

For those living with an alcohol or drug addiction, Christmas can feel like the greatest hurdle. This is because the all-consuming festive cheer leaves little room for those experiencing mental health issues.

If you’re worried that you may be susceptible:

  1. Be with people who support your recovery or have a confidante who you can contact when you’re feeling vulnerable to relapse.
  2. Create a plan in case you feel uncomfortable at a social gathering, such as helping with the cooking, going for a walk or phoning a friend to reduce the likelihood of resorting to addictive behaviours.
  3. Have a look at useful resources, such as Hip Sobriety’s manifesto or Beautiful Hangover by author Chelsey Flood. There are also podcasts, such as Recovery Elevator and apps, for example I am Sober.

Financial wellbeing: Outline limits and budgets

The economic downturn has already put families under immense strain, but the added pressure of gift-giving is proving unbearable for some parents. In a recent poll by Action for Children, 17% of parents wished they could cancel Christmas due to financial concerns.

Here are some tips to alleviate anxieties about money:

  1. Limit gift-giving to children only as this side-steps additional spending on adults.
  2. Encourage children to pick one big present and make it a fun activity to research different toys that are within your means.
  3. Set a budget with tools, such as through Martin Lewis’ Budget Planner and use techniques like The Piggy Bank Technique to form saving habits.
  4. Get in touch with Step Change, a debt charity, which offers free confidential financial support for those struggling.

Emotional wellbeing: Honour your needs

The pandemic pulled the rug out from underneath us this year, and so we’re all experiencing grief to some degree whether it’s loss of a loved one, uncelebrated moments, or pre-pandemic life. There are also many who must spend Christmas in their own company for the first time, and others who will endure their umpteenth Christmas alone.

Here are some ways to persevere during this daunting period:

  1. Grieve your way, such as visiting a place that was special to the person, lighting candles as a tribute, talking aloud or silently with them, maintaining your normal Christmas routine or skipping celebrations entirely; there is no ‘right’ way.
  2. Try to transform feelings of loneliness into an intimate, cosy Christmas by baking delicious treats, wrapping up for a peaceful walk amongst nature, keeping logs on a burning fire, or decorating your home with colourful ornaments, tinsel and candles.
  3. Volunteering can improve our wellbeing by offering a powerful distraction. Check out Reengage’s acts of kindness ideas like carol singing for the community or organising socially distanced walks on Christmas Day. You can also get creative with a shoebox gift through Samaritan’s Purse or check out The Big Issue for volunteering options in your local area.

Relational wellbeing: Practice tolerance and take breathers

From infuriating in-laws to sibling rivalries, family tension is a big risk factor for emotional wellbeing. Arguments can arise for all sorts of reasons, such as a game of trivial pursuit gone awry, undercooked parsnips, political discussions or building new toys.

We can all relate, but how do we prevent bickers and passive aggressive remarks from developing into full-blown rows?

  1. Steer clear of controversial topics by changing the subject if you sense conflict is brewing.
  2. Make room for ‘me time’ so you don’t reach boiling point. Step outside for several minutes to do some deep breaths, or message a friend to vent any frustrations.
  3. Lighten the load for the host, or delegate chores if you’re hosting, such as cooking, washing up, walking the dog, handing out canapes, setting the table, or taking charge of refreshments. Even with lower numbers this year, lending a hand will be appreciated.
  4. Adopt an acceptance mindset towards your family’s triggering habits rather than trying to change them. It will help you become less reactive to their behaviour.

Spiritual wellbeing: Choose self-love

We end with some spiritual guidance on how you can find comfort when tough emotions come to the surface:

  1. Avoid comparisons with others. More than ever, Christmas draws attention to what our lives are lacking both materially and emotionally. Try a social media detox; too often posts fool us into thinking everyone else has it better.
  2. Practice gratitude. Perhaps it’s a kind Christmas card, a helpful stranger, a warm home, a soothing mug of hot chocolate, or access to some brilliant films; even the smallest appreciation can shift our perspective. You can stick an ongoing list to your fridge or just list one thing in your mind before you sleep. It all counts.
  3. Be kind to yourself. If the stuffing is burnt, gifts are unaffordable, celebrations are too much or tears are uncontrollable, it’s OK. Christmas is about giving light, and this year, we must not leave ourselves in the dark.


Published: 17 December 2021