Belfast Telegraph

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How to stop Christmas giving you a festive meltdown

It's the most wonderful time of the year - but it can also be one of the most exhausting and stressful. Minding your physical and mental health is key to enjoying yourself this holiday season, so Katie Byrne has sought some expert advice to see you through until January.

Christmas Eve panic

When you only have a few hours to tick off the last items on your list, it's important to try to stay in the moment, says Fiona Brennan, clinical hypnotherapist and founder of The Positive Habit. "Let go of perfection," she says. "If you have taken on the Christmas dinner - again - remember what is really important is not what you eat, but that the atmosphere is loving and grateful. Look at how kids respond to Christmas; they have a great attitude that is based on excitement and joy - not perfection. Delegate tasks: ask family members to help and take some load off yourself. Be fully present and take deep breaths if you feel your own, or someone else's expectations, are unrealistic. Bring it back to the moment. The breath is a wonderful tool to bring mindfulness to any situation."

Box-lifting backache

Lifting Christmas trees, carrying crates of wine and lugging shopping bags can strain the back and exacerbate pre-existing aches. Physiotherapist Tomas O'Connell of Rathfarnham Physiotherapy in Dublin says it's important to take heed of manual handling guidelines during the festive season.

"Make sure your knees are bent and your back is straight and keep what you're holding close to your chest," he explains. "The idea is to lift with your legs and hips, rather than your back."

The other festive trigger, says O'Connell, is lack of exercise. "At this time of the year, a lot of people are not doing as much exercise as they are used to. So if you're sitting on a couch for an extended period, don't sit right back in it, and make sure your hips are above your knees.

"In the evening, try the cat-cow yoga stretch, which involves arching and curving the spine," he adds. "Or try lying on the ground, both knees bent, and rotating the knees from side to side. If the lower back is aching, foam-rolling the middle and upper back, and stretching the legs, can help take the pressure off."

Christmas dinner indigestion

"Indigestion or heartburn occurs when the contents of your stomach reflux into the oesophagus - and often goes unnoticed as it is brief and does not cause any symptoms," says Dr Jennifer Grant. "Mild reflux is classified as fewer than two episodes of indigestion per week and can be managed with over-the-counter medication. If this has been happening a lot then you should discuss your symptoms with a doctor, who might consider arranging a camera test into your stomach to rule out inflammatory changes or a hiatus hernia. Weight loss (if you are overweight) and elevation of the head end of the bed have been proven effective in the management of reflux disease. Along with this advice goes the obvious refraining from lying flat after meals and avoidance of meals two to three hours before bedtime.

"There are well-known dietary triggers, including caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, food with high fat content, carbonated drinks and peppermint. Interestingly, the data on tobacco and alcohol is a little more inconsistent. Both reduce lower oesophageal sphincter pressure and, in theory, should cause more reflux. My advice is to refrain from over-doing it on the cigarettes and alcohol, try to eat a decent meal before going out and take some over the counter medication. Consider taking the stronger OTC medication such as ranitidine or proton pump inhibitors if you have suffered with indigestion in the past after a big night out."

Santa-is-coming insomnia

Festive excitement - especially on Christmas Eve - can wreak havoc on the sleep schedules of younger children. Lucy Wolfe, paediatric sleep consultant and author of The Baby Sleep Solution, offers the following tips:

• Don't miss their day time sleep: if you need to have the sleep on the go/in the buggy/at granny's then do, but make sure that it happens around the time it normally does.

• Avoid having a later than usual bedtime: try the best you can to observe your typical times and practices, even if you are staying away from home.

• If you are staying away from home, take time, by day, to familiarise your child with the room they will be sleeping in. Dress, play and change them there.

• Try to avoid too much adult stimulation the hour before bedtime. Quiet the house and avoid TV and electronics, visitors etc.

• Ensure that you are limiting sugary treats as you get closer to bedtime.

• Don't make any big changes: Christmas Eve is not the night to give up the soother.

Boxing Day hangover

Health experts are united in their advice on treating hangovers: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Nutritionist Orla Walsh recommends an oral rehydration solution before bed and once again in the morning. Dioralyte sachets can be bought over the counter in pharmacies, but Walsh says it's easier - and cheaper - to make up your own: just add six level teaspoons of sugar and a half level teaspoon of salt to one litre of water (one serving is 200ml).

She has equally prudent advice for those who are considering taking activated charcoal tablets to prevent a hangover. "Why not just have one drink less and avoid buying the tablets? It's better from a cost point of view, but also from a health point of view. And let's not forget that most drinks have an average of 200kcal per glass…"

New Year's Day puffiness

After a night of overindulgence, it is common to wake with a puffy, swollen face, says Dr Caitriona Ryan, a consultant dermatologist.

"Dehydration due to alcohol leads to retention of fluid in the skin. Although it seems counter-intuitive, the most important way to reduce fluid retention in the face is to drink as much water as possible throughout the day. Avoid diuretics such as coffee and tea, which cause further dehydration and exacerbate the problem. Ingestion of salty foods (the type we typically crave when hungover) will increase water retention and puffiness," she says.

If possible, work out - this will improve circulation, while sweating will reduce the salt load in the body to help reduce swelling. Cold compresses (ice cubes in a wash-cloth) help to reduce puffiness. Gently massaging the skin for five to 10 minutes can help to encourage lymphatic drainage.

Moisturisers containing caffeine (or adding your own ground coffee beans to a face mask) increase the circulation within the skin to help reduce excess swelling. Get some 'beauty sleep' - studies show that we appear more attractive when well rested. Elevating your head when sleeping by using two pillows will also improve drainage of fluid from facial skin, particularly from around the eyes."

Under-the-mistletoe heartache

Heartache can weigh heavier at Christmas time, especially if you've recently broken up or divorced. The antidote, says psychotherapist Margaret Mara, is self-care.

"You have to look after yourself," she says. "In order to cope, you need to start with self-care. Allow time to heal. There is a new year just around the corner. A new start. A new beginning.

"What positive change do you want with that new beginning? No love is greater than the love of self, for without that, we cannot express love. With self-love, self-care, self-management comes the ability to cope. See the beauty in yourself. Stop criticising yourself. Be kinder to yourself. Allow yourself to grow as a person.

"What lesson have you learned? Listen to your heart's needs, love yourself first. Self-worth is about loving you. You are worthy of love from yourself."

Back-to-work fatigue

We sleep for longer during the festive season, so why is it that we're exhausted when we go back to work in January? Sleep technologist Breege Leddy of the Insomnia Clinic describes the phenomenon as 'social jet lag'.

"Jet lag disorder is alterations to the body's circadian rhythm (body clock) resulting from rapid long-distance travel. This results in the body clock having to adjust to the new local time. This recovery period can take one day per time zone crossed. What we now refer to as 'social jet lag' is really jet lag without the nice holiday," she says.

"Particularly at Christmas time, our lack of routine during the day time, not having to get up to the alarm clock, late nights, alcohol and the long lie-in all push the body clock out of sync.

"There tends to be lack of routine not just for the individual but everyone around them also. Sleep does not like change and regular routine must be implemented in order to avoid social jet lag. And it's not just at Christmas: I'm seeing it more and more where the lack of routine and lie-ins at the weekend cause social jet lag, hence individuals find it difficult to get to sleep on the Sunday night and difficult to get out of bed on Monday morning."

Festive meltdowns

There can come a point in the lead-up to Christmas when it all gets too much. The solution, says Fiona Brennan, is not to take on too much in the first place.

"It is really important not to over-commit to too many different events and parties," she says. "Know your own boundaries in terms of your energy levels. Above all, maintain an attitude of gratitude; it is difficult to feel stressed, enter conflict or worry about finances when you practise being truly grateful for all that you have. See the best in yourself and you'll see the best in others.

"Christmas is a time of course for giving, but in order to give to others you need to first give love and joy to yourself. Release pressure and embrace compassion."

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