We are heading rapidly towards Christmas and this is traditionally a busy time of year for us all. I see many patients around this time of year who are experiencing stress and looking for ways to reduce or manage this. I’m always interested in approaches that work and I’d like to share some tips that have helped others navigate Christmas and enjoy the holiday period.
- Be mindful of alcohol consumption Alcohol consumption “appears” to provide a predictable and quick way of calming racing thorghts and difficult emotions which is possibly why we can reach for a drink when stressed. It’s better to be mindful instead of the underlying emotions and stressors and look for ways to problem solve. Also alcohol may blot things out for a time but prolonged use affects sleep, mood, relationships and comes with a host of other health consequences. If alcohol use is costing you more than money, then it’s worth looking closely at your consumption. Talk to your GP or find out more information below (1).
- Schedule some time to “switch off” More than one patient of mine has experimented with a “smart phone switch off” over Christmas. I think the record was one week, which for a daily iPhone user was quite impressive. Smartphones and tablets can easily get in the way of face to face relationships and it’s so norrmalised now, that we don’t really notice it. Those that do “switch off” report feeling closer to people, having more memories of amusing conversations and funny anecdotes and less stress. Social media can make people feel quite miserable, particularly if there is a sense that others are having a better time than we are. So switch off, go for a walk and spend some time paying attention to your surroundings. You may notice new things about your environment that you haven’t seen before.
- Making time to practice relaxation. Modern day life is hectic and busy has become a new normal. However, we seem to function better with periods of “doing nothing” incorporated into our days. A great way to do this, is to use one of the commercially available apps such as Headspace or Calm. There are also a number of free relaxation meditations available on YouTube. The key is to practice regularly (at least daily) and pick one you enjoy. It doesn’t have to take long, 15-20 minutes once or twice daily is beneficial.
- Repeat prescriptions. Every year, a few of my patients run short on their medication as they forget to request it from the GP or pharmacist. It’s worth thinking about it 2-3 weeks before Christmas, checking supplies and making sure it is ordered in time. If you use a local pharmacy, many will order the medication in for you and collect the prescriptions from the surgery on your behalf. If you have elderly relatives taking medication, it’s a good idea to check that they have enough to tide them through the festive period.
- Volunteering. Helping others is a fantastic way to build relationships in the community and make a difference to others. Many of my patients have spent part of Christmas helping out at homeless shelters or working to make Christmas special for those who would otherwise be on their own. Groups of people you could consider volunteering with are the elderly, asylum seekers, international students of those spending the holiday period in hospital. The Do-It website provides a searchable index of opportunities available locally. (2)
- Relationships. This is something that a lot of my patients worry about over the holiday period. Christmas is traditionally a time when we spend extended periods of time with relatives. Sometimes these relationships can be difficult for all manner of reasons. People often feel quite stressed with all sorts of divided loyalties to in-laws and immediate family. Accepting people how they are takes the pressure off wishing that they were in some way different and also perhaps cutting them some slack depending on the nature of the difficulty – if only for one day. A colleague of mine, really stuggles with the behaviour of one of her relatives and so decides beforehand to visit them earlier in the day so that they have the option of leaving after a few hours to do something else. In doing so, they have the chance to connect but also the option of leaving in a timely fashion. That said, if someone’s behaviour is grossly abusive or violent, it’s completely acceptable to limit contact whilst the behaviour persists.
- Count your blessings. Being grateful is a very powerful practice and it really doesn’t take much effort. Simply writing down three things that you are grateful for morning and evening is a fantastic start. Being grateful has been linked with all sorts of health benefits (3) and there is a really neat app called Five Minute Journal which allows you to record gratitudes and pictures together. It has a really nice interface which is downloadable and exportable as a PDF to help you reminisce
Dr Lizzie Crotonn