It’s that time of year again – the season to be jolly. However, for many, getting into the Christmas spirit can be a challenge; it can often be a time of rising stress, anxiety and overwhelm. Maybe it’s a brimming social calendar that doesn’t leave enough time to rest and recover, perhaps it’s financial pressure, expectations from family and friends, looming deadlines at work or a combination of all. Not to mention recovering from the year that’s been, dealing with a global pandemic, isolation from family & friends and navigating this “new normal” way of living.
If some (or all!) of this resonates with you, make sure you take the time and space this holiday season to nurture your mental wellbeing by taking stock and considering how to apply PREKURE’s simple but effective lifestyle levers.
1. Nutrition is medicine
- Remember what we eat affects our mental health. We know, it’s hard at this time of year to completely keep what we eat in check, and of course it’s important we make room for celebrating. But trying to keep some balance with the majority of your meals being whole and unprocessed where you can, will make sure you get the micronutrients you need to keep your brain functioning well. Professor of Nutritional Psychology and PREKURE Faculty member, Prof Julia Rucklidge, shares excellent tips on how to optimise your micronutrients for daily living and mental wellbeing in our recent podcast.
- Follow the 3 meal rule. Keeping to that healthy eating plan at this time of year can be stressful. While the social activities are great, a lot of these come with a little, or a lot, of excess alcohol, extra sugary treats and just extra food in general. Our dietitian, Dr Caryn Zinn, has a great tip for you on how to get through the festive season AND stick to your health goals and keep mentally fit, using the ‘3 Meal Rule’. Of 21 meals in a week, focus on 18 of those meals being wholesome foods that nourish your body and mind. For the other 3, indulge in Christmas treats as you like.
2. Fitness is medicine
- Remember that fitness is medicine, not just for your body but also for your brain. While getting out for a walk is fantastic for your cardiovascular system, it also boosts your brain’s ability to make a neurotrophic factor called BDNF, which is associated with cognitive improvement and mitigating depression and anxiety. Make a daily walk part of your routine, in spite of your hectic schedule, and your brain will thank you for it.
- If you’re suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, research shows that lower intensity exercise is probably better for you. If the festive season typically makes you a little stressed, or you’re feeling low because you can’t be with loved ones, smashing out a high intensity workout will likely not help your sympathetic nervous system. Instead head out for a walk at your local beach or park – for a bonus, see if you can rope a friend or family member in. Just like that you’re getting some exercise, connecting with people, and getting some Vitamin D – all things that will help boost your mental and physical health.
3. Social connection is medicine
- Take hold of what you can control and try to let go of what you can’t. This year, the holidays are also impacted by the pandemic. This may mean greater financial pressure, as many have lost their jobs or have had to change careers. It also means we may not be able to reunite with family and friends from overseas. But even if you can’t control how you connect, you can still connect. A phone call or video call, an old-fashioned snail mail letter or postcard could mean a lot to somebody.
- If you can meet in person, getting the whole family out for a beach walk, a swim or a bike ride will give you a triple bonus of social connection, exercise and experiencing nature. Research shows that exercising in the green zone – forests, meadows or hills – or by the blue zone – lakes, rivers or the sea – has a significant positive impact on our mental wellbeing.
4. Mindfulness is medicine
- Remember to take time for yourself. This is particularly important if you are a busy mum or dad who spends a lot of the festive season dashing about trying to make the best memories for your family. Make sure you also take some time for you. Slow down and focus on what is most important to you in your life. Maybe that means waking up early and getting into a mindfulness or gratitude practice each morning. Maybe it means doing some journaling, or maybe just having your morning coffee in peace.
- How to start a meditation or mindfulness practice if you’ve never done it before? The first step is sitting in silence and noticing your breath, in and out, just letting your thoughts be. Start by doing this for just 1 minute on the first day. Then add a minute every day. Eventually, you’ll get to 10 minutes. Once you’ve built the habit and the consistency, try to sustain it for at least 30 days. By the time you get to the end of those 30 days, you’ll most likely find it’s helping bring the stress levels down, and it’s easy! Dr Cliff Harvey, Clinical Nutritionist and researcher, talks about how to start a mindful practice in this short video.
5. ACT on it
- ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – doesn’t categorise thoughts and feelings to be positive or negative. They are either helpful or unhelpful, workable or unworkable. ACT normalises the idea that suffering is a common part of being human. The festive season can be particularly challenging for those experiencing loss or other significant challenges in their lives. Applying the principles of ACT can enable you to acknowledge and accept these hard feelings and move forward. PREKURE Psychologist Sophia Dawson talks about how to develop psychological flexibility in our recent podcast.
6. Setting a healthy holiday routine
- Keeping up a regular routine is more difficult, but also more important, than ever at this time of year, when the calendar is full and the to-do list never-ending, or once we unwind into holiday mode. Be mindful, acknowledge that it’s likely going to be harder, and set yourself a realistic morning routine to set your day up for success.
- What’s your healthy holiday routine? Take the time to make a plan that works for you, and practice some self-discipline to follow through, even (especially!) when it gets tough.
Where to get help during this time
If you are feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn, if you are having thoughts (or if someone you love is having thoughts) that make you afraid for your (their) life, then it is time to reach out. The following numbers may assist you.
New Zealand. If life is in danger, call 111. Or go to your nearest hospital emergency department. Or free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
Australia. If life is in danger, call 000. Or go to your nearest hospital emergency department. Or call 13 11 14 (Lifeline), call 1300 22 4636 (Beyond Blue), call 1300 659 467 (Suicide Call Back Service)