Irish Examiner: How to get through the physical, mental, and emotional impact of Christmas
Four experts explain to Jonathan deBurca Butler how you can enjoy the festive season while preserving your physical and mental health.
IT’S a wonderful time of the year. For most, the exchanging of presents, the twinkling lights and eyes, and the all-round goodwill that pervades the crisp Yuletide air makes mid-winter more tolerable.
But for some Christmas can be difficult. And it’s not just having to deal with a glut of hangovers and belly aches — there is loneliness , money worries and, of course, feelings of regret over things said or done.
How can we make sure we get through the physical, mental, and emotional impact that this busy time of the year can have on us?
We asked four experts to give us their tips.
Christmas is a time for parties and over-indulgence but Mark Beddis, pharmacist with McCabe’s Pharmacy tells us how we can help alleviate the pain.
“Everyone stocks up on the Panadols and Neurofens and the Alka Seltzers. It is party season, so things like Gaviscon for heartburn and the like would sell a lot more.
"People tend to overindulge, and everyone accepts that. People work hard during the year and it’s a time to let your hair down. So we see a massive spike on products like these and I have to say it’s a busy time of year for us.”
“Let’s start with alcohol. It’s all about staying hydrated. So things like Berocca and those fizzy vitamin drinks are really quite helpful because they replenish what you’re excreting.
It reduces the damage and they’ve got a bit of sugar in there to help you feel a bit better.
I’ve long been an advocate of people taking a Berocca before they go out and then again when they go to bed, as long as you’re sure you can stomach it. In the morning, you’ll feel a whole lot better.”
“For heartburn, there’s a relatively new product on the market called Nexium which is great. That said, I definitely wouldn’t be taking them every day. If you’re having a few pints and you suffer it’s no problem. As long as it’s not every day.”
COLDS AND FLUS
“As well as that, people are busy and stressed out and with that comes colds and flus. We definitely see an upsurge during and after the festive season so try and keep your vitamins up if you can.
“I should add that we’ve done a lot of flu jabs and the awareness is better this year. It really is worth the ten-second jab to prevent it because it’s debilitating. Everyone gets colds and sniffles but the flu will knock you for six.”
And although you may have come to the party alone, you may not leave alone.
Christmas is a time for love and, inevitably the odd bit of loving. We ask Deirdre Seery of The Sexual Health Centre in Cork how we can get through the season of goodwill without picking up more than we bargained for.
“It tends to be a busy time of the year for us, particularly after the New Year when people come out of the party mode. We see an upsurge in pregnancy testing, crisis pregnancy counselling, STI screening and rapid HIV testing.
“So if you want to avoid having to come to us, there are three stages we like people to think about really: the before, during and after stages of a sexual encounter.
“One of the things we want people to think about before they go out — and if they are looking for sexual contact is to think about what would, in fact, be pleasurable for them.
“So if they are going out for a one-night stand, that’s fine but do they want to wake up in the morning thinking: ‘Oh no, I’ve done it without a condom’. Do they want to be really drunk? If they want to have sex where do they want to go to have it? Is outside a nightclub really OK?
“Essentially, we want people to think about what’s okay for them and what’s not okay for them so that they don’t just fall into a situation they feel they can’t get out of.
“Alcohol has a big effect so we want people to think about how much they’re going to take. The other thing to think about is keeping in touch with friends. Have a plan in place so you and your friends know that you’re safe.”
Check that you have condoms. if you’re woman.
“If it’s going to be a one-night-stand, you need condoms or you’re really risking getting an STI. You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have an STI or not. You might think to yourself ‘oh he looks grand or she looks clean’ but you don’t know.
“Then, during sex, you need to able to talk. Are you able to say to the other person ‘this is OK’, ‘this is not OK’?
“Afterwards, make sure you check in with your friends and then think about what kind of relationship you want with the person you’ve shared the night with.
"If you want to end it, how do you do that in a nice way? When two people enter into a relationship, they don’t necessarily do it with the same expectations, so be sensitive.
“Then if you feel there’s anything that you need to get checked, check in with the various social services that are available if you feel you need to.” It’s worth remembering that.
STRESS AND PRESSURES
Although you might be decking the halls with leaves of holly there are others going through a tough time. Claire Hayes, clinical director of Aware tells us what we should watch out for.
“Christmas is starting earlier and earlier. There’s a huge build-up to it for weeks. There are all sorts of pressures that people experience: financial pressures, demands from children who don’t understand that it is an expensive time. And there’s this expectation that Christmas is supposed to be fabulous.
“But there are people who have never experienced that, who put themselves under pressure to feel that ‘this year will be different’, but who are then telling themselves that it might not be.
"It’s a real roller-coaster, and people with depression are often very critical of themselves, even if things are going well.”
It’s important to acknowledge that Christmas is a stressful time of the year for some people, says Ms Hayes, who adds that the build up can start from Halloween if not before.
“Make sure you look after yourself first. Like when you’re on an aeroplane and they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before anyone else’s.
“People spend a huge amount of time and money trying to make other people happy around Christmas and so we really need to ask ourselves what is the one thing we can do every day to keep ourselves balanced?
“I started doing a thing a few years back where I had a nice calming CD in the car and I used to play it as I was driving around. Every year now I pick a CD and keep it in the car for the two weeks before Christmas.
"It’s become a kind of ritual for me. It is quite grounding. So something practical like that I think really helps and also recognising the triggers of your stress.
“And something I’m really passionate about is encouraging people to ask for and accept help. We are good at giving help but not so good at asking and accepting.”
Aware runs lots of support groups.
“We also have a database of monthly lectures on the aware.ie website going back three years. There’s a lecture there on tips for coping with Christmas, so have a look at that too.”
The date for the Aware Christmas Run is Saturday December 10.
Registration online now at www.aware.ie
Finally, GP Brian Meade of the Kilmacud Medical Clinic in Dublin has a few things he thinks we should keep in mind for keeping well over the festive season.
“The most obvious thing is to keep the food and alcohol intake at moderate levels. It’s easy to let it go as you kind of wind down over the Christmas. Some form of exercise will help to burn off some of the calories and make you feel much better.
“There are several options available over Christmas to participate in outdoor exercise with other people including the Goal Mile for charity.
“Aware has a run in the Phoenix park and there’s a charity swim at the 40 foot in Dun Laoghaire. I’m sure there are lots of similar events around the country.
“Another thing to watch out for is accident-prevention — particularly burns and knife injuries. We see this quite a bit and it’s usually caused by people being in too much of a rush and accidentally hurting themselves.
“You also need to be careful of food hygiene. There’s a high risk of food-borne infections around this time of the year. And please be sure that you don’t wash the turkey as you end up contaminating the surrounding area with bacteria.”
Then there’s the emotional cost to consider.
“Avoid family rows. Christmas is not the time to settle scores or change the world. Go with the flow and be nice to your nearest and dearest.
"Christmas only lasts a few days so smile, laugh and be nice to those around you.”