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From surviving to thriving at Christmas

 

From surviving to thriving at Christmas - Picture of Christmas tree

As we charge towards the Christmas Holidays, I am mindful of how important it is to maintain good wellbeing habits during the festive season.  Many of us have hit Christmas tired or exhausted having worked intensely to clear the decks while partaking in the early seasonal festivities, meaning that we find ourselves struggling at what should be a joyful time of year.

In the workplace I coach sustainable high performance; in other words, planning, thinking and working in ways that move us from chronic stress, with no respite, to a balanced workday. Key to this is taking regular short breaks through the day, finding ways to put the brain in neutral and to be mindful, focusing on one task at a time, rather than defaulting to multi-tasking, which we know is poor for our wellbeing and performance.

So, what does this look like at Christmastime? Below are my top tips for ensuring a Happy and Healthy Christmas.

Start each day with 10 minutes of mindfulness. Mindfulness grounds you for the day, sets the tone and reminds you what is important. (www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/about-mindfulness)

Next, set out your goals for the day – what are your key priorities? How much time does each  need? Who can help me with the practical stuff? How do I fit in some joy?

Once you have your plan, think about how you can break up the day so that you are just not rushing from one task to another. How can you build 5-10 minute breaks into your schedule every hour or so? Short breaks are essential for recovery. You could sit down with a cuppa; listen to some music; do some mindful breathing; enjoy a chat with someone near or far; step out into the elements to feel the wind, sun or snow on your face –anything to bring some calm into your mind. These mini breaks are absolutely the opposite to being lazy, think of them as mental and physical pit stops to keep your body and mind running efficiently.

Prioritise meaningful connection with loved ones every day of the holidays. Be present. Cherish the time you have together. Put away your digital device when with your partner, children or friends. Ideally put it away for long periods – even a few hours is beneficial. Also try thinking beyond the family. Is there someone who you have drifted away from or fallen out with? Christmas is the perfect reason to reach out so just pick up the phone and call. You may be amazed at what develops.

Alcohol in moderation. Many of us, myself included, enjoy the social aspects of drinking over the holidays. Interestingly after as little as 2 units (a glass of wine or a bottle of beer) our judgement is impaired and we feel mildly socially disinhibited. This often means that in our joviality or excitement our alcohol consumption tends to accelerate. Unfortunately, our bodies are designed to metabolise alcohol at a rate of 1 unit per hour. That means that drinking more than a single beer or glass of wine each hour leads to an accumulation of blood alcohol, persisting through the night and into the next day. Hence broken sleep and hangovers. My advice is PACE YOUR DRINKING – for example: alternate alcohol with water, put your glass down rather than holding it continually, consider setting a time for your last drink (www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/how-to-not-get-drunk). Modest amounts of alcohol give us all the benefits of feeling more talkative, more sociable and confident, enabling us to have a really enjoyable evening without the downsides. How often do you hear people say, “I really regret having one less last night”?

End your day with gratitude: bring to mind 3-5 things that you really appreciate. This is an established way of bringing perspective into our lives and boosting our mood. (www.forbes.com/health/mind/mental-health-benefits-of-gratitude/) What are the things that you perhaps take for granted yet truly value? Mine include my family, my health and many wonderful memories of experiences enjoyed over the years that can be easily forgotten.

Finally prioritise sleep because it is the cornerstone of good health. The irony of the Christmas break, however, is that our socialising and preparations can reduce the quality and quantity of our sleep. Try being consistent with bedtimes as our brains respond positively to routine. Also try leaving your phone outside the bedroom as blue light from most digital devices disrupts sleep (www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side) And if you absolutely have to use your phone as an alarm clock, then put it on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and leave it under your bed.

A thriving Christmas means returning to work refreshed, happy and grateful for what we have enjoyed, not more exhausted than when we left. Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday.

Dr Phil Hopley

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