Overindulging in food and alcohol, a lack of exercise, overspending and other pressures can put a dampener on the whole season. Here are some tips to help you look after your mental and physical health.

Time out from the frenzy

The holiday season can be stressful which can negatively impact your mental health but it’s also a perfect time to be focusing on your own and others’ wellbeing.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson says this time of year is about getting together with people you love and having some time out from the frenzy of the working year.

“Christmas does bring a lot of pressures for people. It’s very easy to get caught up in the materialistic and money focus, the need to spend lots of money on presents, food and holidays that won’t necessarily support our mental health and wellbeing.

“Think about what’s important at this time, there are lots of things people can do for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of whānau and friends that are not about money.”

It can be much easier to be together, connect and be kind to others because there aren’t other time pressures, he says.

“It’s a great time to do things that are really positive for your mental health and wellbeing.”

Relaxing, spending time in nature, exercising, reading, talking about new topics and having fun with your kids can have a positive impact.

“They are things that uplift your wellbeing.”

Corporate wellbeing specialist Sarah McGuinness says people should be kind to themselves during this stressful time with work, financial and family pressures.

“Really that’s about taking that time to acknowledge that it’s a really challenging time.

“Give yourself a break if you can. It’s the one time of year when everything is happening at once.”

Keeping up with the Joneses

One big cause of stress during summer is finances with people spending up large so they feel like they’ve celebrated the silly season properly.

Sorted managing editor Tom Hartmann says money doesn’t need to be a stress if the right planning is done and if people change their focus.

“Don’t extend yourself too much, don’t do more than you can handle. If you spend too much you’re not going to feel very good.”

If you put aside some money each week for Christmas during the year it really helps, he says, but if you’ve got to this time of year without doing that then you need to plan your shopping and stick to a list.

“People feel the pressure at this time of year. Try to escape from ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.”

People think that others are spending more than they actually are, so tend to feel the need to overextend themselves. Gift options to help with financial stress can include secret Santa for large families, money (so you don’t get caught up in buying extra), using rewards points or making something yourself.

If you are going to have to get into debt at this time of year, remember that credit cards and buy-now pay-later schemes often have administration costs, deposits and interests so may not be a good deal, he says.

“Don’t get too many at the same time; before you know it they can become quite unmanageable.”

Eat, drink and be wary

Christmas feasts, celebrations, holidays and work parties can be full of delicious food and drink that can be hard to resist.

Massey University School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition associate professor and dietician Carol Wham says it is important for people to eat, drink and be wary over the holiday season.

“It’s pretty easy to overindulge at this time because of the social importance of this time of year.

“Just be careful not to overeat and over drink … concentrate on keeping your weight stable.”

It is not a time to start a diet or exercise regime, but if you eat or drink too much you will need to continue to be active, she says.

“If you overindulge one day, eat sparingly the next. Be selective with what you ‘must’ have and what you can leave. One month of excess feeding will pile on the kilos.

“Ease up on the drink too; remember that alcohol is packed full of calories.”

Robinson says going easy on the food and alcohol will mean you will have a better time and feel better.

“It’s not good for your mental or physical health to really trash yourself throughout the Christmas and holiday season.”

Wham says this time of year can also be a good time to try new foods or new recipes because people usually have a bit more time or motivation and there are great seasonal vegetables.

“It’s a good opportunity to start trying a few things like making your own hummus; there are also amazing seasonal vegetables if you want to try vegetarian options. Make it fun and interesting.”

Keep the building blocks going

Because the holidays provide a break from people’s normal lives, they tend to forget to keep up with their routines.

Corporate wellbeing specialist Sarah McGuinness says people need to get enough sleep, drink enough water and maintain regular exercise.

“Keep the building blocks going. Try to do what you can and keep grounded, even if it’s just a walk around the block.”

Wham says exercising every day is important – swimming, walking, playing cricket, it doesn’t matter what it is, but just do something each day.

This is something that’s quite easy to do in New Zealand with it being summer and there being bush, beach and rivers nearby, she says.


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