Christmas Health: Your 12 Steps to Surviving the Party Season

Christmas Health: Your 12 Steps to Surviving the Party Season

Charlotte Daly Charlotte is a fitness and health news writer with an extensive background in sport. on Dec 7th 2019

You're on the fast train to festive season and likely have a cal that's straining under the weight of drinks, work do's and early Christmas lunches that you've somehow ended up agreeing to.

And, although December’s social whirlwind can be a storm for your body – and, possibly, your brain – there are smart ways to get into the festive spirit and emerge unscathed.

1/ Hang in there

In giving you a dopamine-drenched high at 1am, alcohol interrupts other neurotransmitters (like serotonin), resulting in a whole gamut of FML feelings the next day – irritation, panic, depression, desperation for a McDonald’s.

Research shows that hangxiety is worse if you’re naturally shy. To beat it, Chloe Brotheridge, author of Brave New Girl, advises giving your thoughts a reality check: ‘Repeat in your head, “My thoughts are not facts,” and distract yourself with a simple guided meditation.

Brave New Girl: Seven Steps to Confidence

2/ Freshen up

It’s midday and the button on your jeans is already undone. Happily, pending a sensible beverage choice, you can drink some of that bloat away.

Studies (albeit on animals) have shown that peppermint relaxes the gut, relieving intestinal spasms and bloating and encouraging the release of gas. So grab a mint tea – and perhaps one of those heavily scented Christmas candles, too.

3/ Get some vit D

One in five Brits has low vitamin D levels and, unlike in a spontaneous dance floor limbo, it pays to stay high.

Fail to get enough D (strictly the vitamin), and your immune system takes a hit, leaving you susceptible to infections – ie, you’ll be sniffing all season. Public Health England advises taking a daily supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D in autumn and winter (if you spend a lot of time inside, take one all year).

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4/ Breakfast right

The smell of bacon might have you salivating, but porridge is a smarter breakfast choice.

‘Oats contain the amino acid cysteine, and there’s evidence that supplementation with a compound derived from cysteine is useful in fighting liver damage,’ says registered dietitian Aisling Pigott, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. Plus, you’ll be full till lunch

5/ Change your mindset

You’ve skipped two workouts this week and the run you did do? Not nearly fast enough. Research says women will self-criticise and dwell on fitness fails way more than men.

Practise self-compassion: consider that you’re likely not the only person to bin off the gym when things get busy pre-festive period, show understanding (you spent valuable time with your friends/colleagues/mum instead), then reframe what happened without emotion.

This strategy breeds self-compassion – and people who show themselves kindness after an interrupted routine prove more successful at getting back on track with their exercise goals.

6/ Be OMM point

Pack your competitive yogi away until January (this is no time for a headstand-off) and try restorative yoga – a low-movement, body-opening form that quietens frantic bodies and brains.

Yoga trainer Bridget Woods Kramer recommends taking a simple child’s pose – sit back on your heels, then fold over to touch your head to the floor – for five to 10 minutes or 10 breaths.

Put a pillow over your thighs to help compress your abdominal muscles and improve circulation to the lymphatic system.

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7/ Streamline your schedule

Diary looking more packed than the number of repeats on a terrestrial TV station? Get savvy on the warning signs that you’re burning out.

‘IBS symptoms (such as needing to go to the loo a lot), muscle tension in your shoulders or snapping at your partner more frequently are all signals your body sends to let you know that you’re doing too much,’ advises Brotheridge.

One antidote is to schedule downtime into your diary two weeks in advance – say, podcast time, a Pilates class or an evening on the sofa – and fit in your social engagements around that.

8/ Go for low booze or alcohol free

Underneath that glamorous party frock, beware the booze bowels. ‘Excessive alcohol increases intestinal permeability by impacting the tight junctions that keep the cells lining the gut together,’ explains Dr Rossi.

‘This means bacteria can move more easily, triggering inflammation and symptoms such as diarrhoea.’

Thankfully, going low-booze or booze-free no longer means mainlining J‑Os – Seedlip is made from botanicals and served with tonic water, while Ceder’s ‘alt gin’ passes the G&T sniff test.

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9/ Eat well

Skipping lunch to save space for a big dinner (team night out, anyone?) sounds like good grub maths but, intestinally, it doesn’t add up. ‘Missing a meal means you’re far more likely to overindulge and, although your stomach can expand up to 50 times, the added pressure can trigger bloating and stomach pain,’ explains Dr Megan Rossi, gut expert and author of Eat Yourself Healthy.

Whatever your plans, she suggests sticking to three meals a day or spreading your food intake across five smaller meals if you’re prone to diarrhoea-predominant IBS, prioritising 30g of fibre via fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds

10/ Sleep more

Swerving a regular routine, overindulging on food and bevs and increasing your mental load with thoughts of gift-buying for your in-laws and unavoidable festive travel will inevitably lead to poorer quality sleep.

There’s no one-size-fits-all sleep aid – instead, aim to find things that quieten your mind and relax your body. Worth a try: a nice warm bath, chilled music playing softly, breathwork, reading a book. They’re clichés for a reason, you know.

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11/ Lighten the load

The light-loving photoreceptors in your eyes can affect mood faster than you down your first Prosecco at the annual school friends reunion. Chase the sunshine or, failing that, any daylight will do.

‘We know that dog owners are less depressed in winter, which could be because they often walk outside,’ says Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford.

‘At dawn, natural light is already up to 100 times brighter than office light.’ He advises bagging a window seat if you’re confined indoors. A dawn-simulating alarm clock (see page 55) can further regulate sleep-wake timings, quelling your inner zombie.

12/ Load up on the olives

Like the quality of Secret Santa gifts, not all party foods were created equal. To swerve the duds (aka carbs more heavily processed than the harmonies on a Christmas comeback single), hedge your bets on the olive.

It’s rich in oleuropein, a phenolic compound that’s the foodie equivalent of a gift receipt, which brings antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiviral benefits. Olives also contain vitamin E, calcium and, in the black variety, iron. Santa’s little helper never tasted so good