With Christmas and the New Year fast approaching, the Mental Health Foundation’s Chief Executive, Dr Andrew McCulloch, offers advice on how to cope with the pressures of Christmas and how to implement positive mental change for 2011.
1. Drink sensibly
“The celebratory spirit of Christmas and New Year often involves social drinking and although the consumption of alcohol might make you feel more relaxed, it is important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and drinking excessive amounts can cause low mood, irritability or potentially aggressive behaviour. By not exceeding the recommended number of safe units, you will be better able to sustain good mental and physical wellbeing.”
2. Eat well
“The festive period has become synonymous with over-indulgence, which in turn prompts a pressing desire for many of us to lose weight in the New Year. Therefore, where possible, it is important to maintain a good balance of fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and omega 3 sources throughout the year in order to help us work towards weight loss in a sensible way. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can improve your mood and can work towards preventing symptoms of lethargy and irritability that many of us feel during the busy festive season and dark winter months.”
3. Be active
“Exercise releases the feel-good chemicals, endorphins, which help you to relax, feel happy and boost your mood. By undertaking simple tasks such as cycling to work, walking in the park, or joining in with Christmas games, you can benefit from experiencing reduced anxiety, decreased depression and improved self-esteem. In addition, recent research has indicated that regular exercise can help to boost our immune systems, enabling us to better fight off colds and flu viruses that are prolific in winter months.”
4. Get involved
“The festive period provides us with an ideal opportunity to talk to, visit or engage with the people around us. Face-to-face communication has been shown to improve our mental and physical wellbeing as this interaction produces the hormone, oxytocin, which can benefit our immune system, heart health and cognitive function. With our Lonely Society? report from earlier in the year having indicated that a third of us have a close friend or family member we think is lonely, a Christmas or new year’s resolution to see our friends and family more often can help to boost both our own mental wellbeing, and that of others. If you are apart from your family then volunteering for a charity or local community organisation can provide that same human contact, as well as help provide essential support and encouragement for others in need. These interactions can easily be sustained throughout the coming year and need not just be for Christmas.”
“Christmas can be a very busy and stressful time as we prepare to entertain family and friends, worry about cooking a delicious Christmas dinner, and fit in some last minute present shopping. These feelings of being under pressure can produce symptoms of anxiety, anger and difficulty sleeping which, if prolonged, could have a long-term detrimental impact on your mental health and wellbeing. By exercising more regularly or practicing mindfulness – a combination of meditation, yoga and breathing techniques – you can help to both alleviate the symptoms of your stress and gain more control when coping with difficult situations. Christmas presents aside, implementing a new exercise regime or signing up for a course in mindfulness, such as our online course in mindfulness-based stress reduction2, could be your best investment for a more relaxed Christmas and New Year.
“Despite many of us having time off work during Christmas and the New Year, our sleep patterns can be disturbed between catching up with friends and family and partying late in to the night. There is mounting evidence on the link between sleep and mental wellbeing, meaning improvements in the quality of your sleep could result in improvements to your overall mental health. There are several steps you can take towards achieving a better night’s sleep: attempting to get back in to your regular sleep routine as soon as possible after the party period, consuming less alcohol during the festivities, implementing regular exercise into your weekly routine, and taking measures to alleviate your stress”.
For further advice about maintaining mental wellbeing, visit the main Mental Health Foundation website. For more information about mindfulness, or to register for the online course, please visit the Mental Health Foundation’s dedicated mindfulness website, Be Mindful.
For further information or for an interview with a spokesperson from the Mental Health Foundation please contact:
• Lisa Gilbert: 020 7803 1185 / firstname.lastname@example.org
• Alistair Martin: 020 7803 1130 / email@example.com