image source: Half Baked Harvest
Don’t be daunted by a festive season marked by restrictions – try these tips for a physical and mental boost.
The beginning of December always feels like the real start of winter. However the gloom is usually offset with a festive whirl of time spent with loved ones, heartwarming nativity plays, parties and Christmas drinks with neighbours. Not so this year! We will be living under restrictions, and even Christmas Day will be subject to laws about bubbles.
Take heart, though. Although December 21 – the winter solstice – marks the official start of winter, it also marks the point at which we start to claw a little bit of daylight back into these dreary days. Another bonus? In just a few weeks, we will be able to refer to 2020 as ‘last year.’ Won’t that be something? In the meantime, here is how to take care of yourself during a, shall we say, unusual festive season.
Sleep on it
We need seven to eight hours of sleep each night so that our brains can complete their sleep cycles. Sleep deprivation reduces how many immune cells our bodies produce to fight infection, which is particularly important right now. Adher to a routine of going to bed and rising at the same time each day, plus creating a restful environment to make nodding off easier.
Reduce external light, block out distracting noises and maintain a room temperature of around 16°C. You shopuld keep all TVs, laptops, tablets and phone out of reach, as these create further distractions that delay sleep.
You should avoid alcohol, as it disrupts restorative sleep. Additionally, be sure to go outside in daylight. It helps restore energy and sets your body clock up for deep sleep.
Nourish and nurture
Food affects health and mood, no matter what time of year it is, so resist the temptation to dial for takeout or load up on stodgy comfort food as it gets colder. Planning and shopping is key. Stock up on fresh vegetables and fruits and take the time to cook meals from scratch. Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated. Healthy, colourful foods will provide the nutrients your body needs to function efficiently.
Focus on food group portions, with half the plate made up of vegetables, primarily dark green varieties, and just one starchy vegetable, such as corn. The other half should include one quarter lean protein such as fish, tofu or eggs and one quarter complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice or quinoa. There is mounting evidence to suggest a link between gut health and mood, too. Adding a probiotic, such as sauerkraut, will help lift mood, as will turmeric.
To supplement, or not to supplement? Lifestyle and environment can affect our ability to absorb optimum vitamin levels from food alone. The winter months mean a reduction in natural Vitamin D from sunlight. Intravenous or transdermal delivery of vitamins, bypass the gut and aid maximum absorption.
While Vitamin C is, of course, also a boon for immune systems, evidence suggests that liposomal varieties, such as Altrient C, are better absorbed and utilised by the body than standard oral supplements. As well as helping to protect us from colds and flu, trials have shown that it also does great things for skin, contributing to collagen synthesis as well as increasing skin elasticity and reducing fine lines.
Finding the motivation for fitness can be tough when it is cold and dark outside. Make the most of what light there is and kickstart the day with a walk. Unlike heavier forms of exercise, won’t raise cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. Aim for about 5,000 steps if possible. This will take around 30-40 minutes, helping you to wake up and boosting some much-needed endorphins.
Follow your nose
The need to hunker down at home has seen a recent jump in sales of scented candles. However, the power of scent to affect mood is well known, even without Covid-related restrictions. Essential oils such as wild orange can help to support our mood in many ways. Scent, whether soothing or energising, can create therapeutic chemical changes, especially in the brain.
And if you crave the uplifting scent of time outside in nature, which harnesses fragrance technology to replicate compounds emitted by trees, which are proven to ease stress and anxiety.
This period may see a spike in isolation, depression and anxiety. But that being more mindful can alleviate these negative feelings. Take as little as five minutes out of your day to bring yourself more into the present moment, without fretting over the past or future.
Choose a task – anything from walking to washing up. As you complete the task, work your way through your senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste – focusing on five items of sight down to one item of taste. Each item should have a 20-second focus, with an emphasis on the finer detail. This will help you to stop overthinking and you will find yourself becoming more relaxed and immersed with the task at hand.
Sparkle and shine
After the trouble faced this year, it may feel all too easy to Scrooge our way through the festive season, but this is the last thing we should do. Having something to look forward to is great therapy in tougher times. Take pleasure in decorating the house with loads of twinkly lights and scented candles, plus watching feel-good classic Christmas films. Remember – with Christmas comes New Year: new beginnings, better days and fresh hope.