Christmas is a time of year most people are crazily excited about… it often seems the only ones who aren’t are those with family difficulties and those who have suffered a loss. But there’s also a group that tries to stay unseen over Christmas and so gets overlooked:
While often forgotten, people with eating disorders, disordered eating and/or body image issues can really struggle at Christmas.
Food is pushed front and centre not just on December 25th, but in the month leading up to it – mince pies, chocolate and treats flood the office, mulled wine is everywhere, party invites and dinners and drinks keep coming… and then again afterwards right up until New Year. Not to mention all the chocolates that get gifted that lie around for ages into January and February…
And people talk NON STOP about how calories don’t count at Christmas, how they’ll ‘be good’ in January, how much turkey they plan to eat…
There’s so much loaded language around ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food (remember: no food is good or bad or intrinsically moral – there are foods that are more and less nutrient dense) and this dialogue is normally pretty constant. At Christmas it can go into overdrive.
If you suffer (or have previously suffered) with EDs, disordered eating or body image issues you will know what a toll Christmas can take on your mental health and how difficult it can be to not only have so much public focus on food, but constant commentary on what you eat (or choose not to eat):
“Go on, it’s Christmas!”
“Have another one, go onnnnn!”
“Don’t you like mince pies?”
“Calories don’t count at Christmas, you can burn it off in the new year!”
“You’re tiny, what are you talking about! Have some!”
“Please finish those off so that I don’t, I’m trying to be good.”
“Oh no, I’m being good now so I can go crazy on Christmas day!”
“Why aren’t you drinking?”
“If you’re not hungry, just have a piece of cake, it’s amazing!”
“It’s nice to see you finally eat something!”
“I’ve never seen you eat that much!”
The list goes on, and on. And what seems innocent on the surface can actually be at best, a bit stressful, and at worst, quite traumatic.
So this is a plea from someone who has been there, stressed, eaten and made her self sick at Christmas – please don’t say the above, or the below.
Please don’t comment on other peoples’ food choices.
Please don’t ask why someone isn’t drinking, or is eating that.
Please don’t comment on how much or little people are eating.
Not at home, not at the office, not to friends or family.
If you are concerned about someone, there’s a serious conversation to be had, but that is very different from “oh you shouldn’t be dieting over Christmas!” or “why aren’t you having any of this…?”
Those comments aren’t productive. They can trigger people, make them anxious and encourage damaging behavior, entrenching already-difficult beliefs and emotions about peoples’ relationships with food and their bodies.
For now, though, just be compassionate, and respect that food is personal. Don’t pile on pressure and stress by constantly referencing it – EDs and disordered eating aren’t always visible, and you never know who’s listening.
It’s no secret that pretty much the entire world is over-tired, undernourished, bombarded by stressful technology, media, internet, work requests 24/7… or even if not, anxiety is actually nothing new, we just live in a world which makes it more of an epidemic than ever because we’re so disconnected from the natural way of living our lives.
I’ve previously taken anti-anxiety medication, but I’m happy to say today I’m able to manage it entirely pharmaceutical free! Here are my top 6 tips for managing anxiety entirely au naturel! And I know some people get sick of always hearing meditate, meditate, meditate… so as big a meditation advocate as I am (I regard it as essential to my wellbeing and happiness!) this will not appear on my list of top tips… you’re welcome 😉
1. Your new (natural!) make-your-own-medicine
No need to pop pills – chamomile tea (available at any good supermarket or corner shop!) and 3-4 drops of Valerian tincture (available via this link at Planet Organic, and most good health stores) and you’re good to go! This works at least as well as if not better the drugs I was once prescribed (and took!) for anxiety… without any nasty side effects. It’s a life saver. I keep the tincture on my desk. You can add it to water or any herbal tea, but chamomile has calming properties and I find they work best together.
2. Movement – the right kind
Notice I didn’t say ‘exercise’ or ‘train hard’. If you’re stressed and anxious, hardcore workouts release quite a bit of cortisol (normally this is an okay dose and your body deals and it’s actually beneficial, but if you’re already frazzled it can be cortisol OD! Not good!) So I recommend mindful movement – 30 minutes of outdoor walking near as much greenery as possible per day (no excuses Londoners – Hyde Park, Holland Park, Victoria Park, Clapham Common, Hampstead heath, or even a leafy neighbourhood are great…!), things like yoga, pilates, cycling and swimming can all be nice, mindful, meditative and importantly they get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing without too much stress on the body.
3. Vitamin meeeeeee
Make sure you’re eating a diet rich in vegetables (all the colours of the rainbow, and don’t forget the leafy greens!) but if in doubt you may want to speak to a doctor or nutritionist and consider supplementing. Some mood-boosting (and general health boosting!) supplements I researched extensively and incorporate now include vitamins C, E, B12, Co-Q10, ashwagandha, ginseng, and olive leaf extract. I came across nature’s amazing pharmacy via the amazing book Cured by Nature by Tara Mackey (but always remember professional advice is key when supplementing! Don’t take my word for it. your body could be different, and always double check if you’re pregnant or on any medication with your GP if there are any issues with you supplementing). Most pharmacies and health food stores will stock all the ones I’ve listed above. Probiotics are also great (the gut brain strongly affects mood!) and you can get these good live cultures from kombucha, kimchi, or supplements.
4. Caffeine and alcohol (sorry folks!)
Cutting these out is good for your health anyway, but if you’re anxious and stressed, it’s super important. They’re dehydrating, they’ll make anxiety and mood issues worse (caffeine is a stimulant, and alcohol is a depressant) and so in difficult times, these are best avoided. They also disrupt your gut microbiome and so its no wonder they’re detrimental for mood, anxiety and stress! Try swapping for herbal teas – the calming ones are a much healthier swap for the over-anxious (peppermint, chamomile etc. and you can find all kinds of de-stress blends to help!) and if you’re missing alcohol, pop some kombucha (which feeds your microbiome the good gut bacteria and boosts your mood in the process!) in a wine glass – voila! No-one will know it’s not champagne!
5. Turmeric… gold dust!
Apparently studies show this can be as effective as some anti-depressants for mood (source: Cured by Nature). Even if not, it’s been used since ancient times for food-medicine for all sorts of things, and is a key spice in Ayurveda (an ancient Indian holistic health system). I drink it in the Yogi Tea Turmeric Chai herbal tea blend and add it to soups and salads. You can also mix it into juices, smoothies, sprinkle it on veggies or whatever meal you have, season meat, fish or veggie alternatives with it… and you can also buy it in capsule form online or from health food stores. It’s anti-inflammatory, and whether or not it works like magic, it’s placebo, or whatever… it’s great for your health, it’s the colour of sunshine and some studies do support its benefits so I’m totally in! No bad can come of incorporating this sun-dust into your diet.
6. Clary sage – so underrated! (lavender’s so last season…)
Everyone’s favourite essential oil for relaxation is lavender, and yes, it works… but if you’re anything like me, it reminds you of sleep. If you’re in the office and anxious in the middle of the day, you might like to sniff something else. I find clary sage oil to be the best calm remedy. Sniff straight from the bottle, or pop a few drops on a tissue and breathe in as needed. It’s calming, but less sleep-inducing than lavender. I’d also recommend uplifting scents like orange and lemon for a little energy boost!
I hope some of these help a little bit, or give you something to think about. There are so many more (I promised I wouldn’t say meditation or deep breathing, but those are great, but also reading, creativity, trying new things, journaling, finding inspiring podcasts and blogs, dancing… there are a million options we have to better manage our stress and anxiety!) Let me know some of your favourites if they’re not listed here 🙂 ❤
So everyone loves a bit of Christmas, right? Mulled wine, fairy lights, chocolate everywhere, epic roast dinners… but it also is the time of year where you’re expected to see EVERYBODY before the New Year, party every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then the day itself can be a political hotbed of family in-fighting!
Or may you have to do a lot of travelling. Or see relations you’re not hugely cool with. Or maybe you have eating issues, or social anxiety and the pressure is just too much.
I get it – our family is craaaaaaaay and this year we’ve opted to hole up at home in London, just me and the Boy and not do the big stressful family tour thing!
I also used to have an eating disorder as many of you know, and now I’m doing #100DaysSober I have had to turn down a LOT of alcohol at client drinks and office and general Christmas parties over this period.
Top tips for staying sane…!
Read on to discover my fave mental and physical wellbeing tips for the festive season, including mental health, food, fitness, alcohol, eating disorders, office parties, and family politics…
Just say ‘no’ to FOMO.
You don’t have to go to every party. Or if you do, you don’t have to stay until 2am. No-one has a gun to your head. Prioritise what YOU want. It’s hard at first, but when you get used to it, it’s empowering.
If you don’t want to go to something, apologise and suggest meeting up at a time more convenient for you (be it Jan, Feb, March, whatever!)
You can be polite and still take care of yourself. And remember: you are responsible for your actions, but not for anyone else’s reactions. That’s on them.
A therapist told me that once and it’s changed my life.
Make some time for you
Remember to schedule in some down time to treat yourself, be it some time to have a long bath, or lie-in, or read alone… whatever you need to re-charge so you don’t feel totally frazzled.
You do you, no explanation needed
If you don’t want to drink alcohol, or eat something, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. A smile and ‘no thank you, I’m fine,’ should suffice. If people push, you can firmly say you don’t want to talk about it.
If you’re hosting parties, take note:
Don’t ask people why they’re not drinking alcohol. It’s not your business.
Don’t ask people why they’re eating / not eating something, or make comments about them being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘treating themselves’ or ‘behaving’ or ‘staying on track’. It’s not your business, and if people do have eating disorders / disordered eating, this is supremely unhelpful.
Meditaaaaaaaate, meditate, meditate
It doesn’t have to be hippy-dippy. Even 5-10 minutes a day on an app like Calm, Headspace, Buddhify or Happy Not Perfect can help you reset, destress and relax. Breathing deeply taps into your parasympathetic nervous system (your ‘rest and digest’) system.
Take the pressure off
Remember, perfection is impossible. There’s no such thing as a perfect Christmas. People may not always get on 100% of the time. Things go wrong, turkeys burn, dogs eat the Christmas cake… c’est la vie.
Try to enjoy spending time with family, time off work, time eating amazing food, and stop expecting a chocolate box picture perfect Victorian Christmas with angels singing, family looking angelic and not annoying each other… don’t set impossible standards for it to live up to.
Christmas is a time to enjoy food. Enjoy it for what it is and don’t stress about weight. The trick is to try and eat when you’re hungry and not gorge when you’re full, or keep picking at quality street.
Savour your food. Focus on the smell, taste and texture. Have whatever you like – but just take it slow, chew it, enjoy it, and stop when you’re full – you can have more when you’re hungry again! This ‘naughty’ mentality means people binge because they feel Christmas is a free pass to be bad, but in reality there’s no good and bad – you just need to listen to your body and appetite, and not go overboard.
Over Christmas, yes there’ll be more off types of food you’d usually try to moderate better – chocolate and cake etc. That’s okay. Don’t sweat it. Just try to eat as mindfully as possible, and focus on getting those vitamins and minerals in as well – lots of veggies with that roast!
Alcohol… *mistletoe and wine*
If you drink alcohol, try to make sure you’re drinking mindfully and enjoying it, not downing the bottle…! And fundamentally, keep hydrating with water as much as possible.
Ideally I guess don’t drink, or limit it to very small amounts, as studies now show there’s technically no ‘safe’ amount of alcohol, but realistically people will drink, and life is for living and enjoying so just drink in moderation, stay hydrated and be safe!
Just remember, alcohol can make you more jittery and anxious, so consume with caution!
I’m not saying you need to rigorously gym over Christmas, but regular walking and a home workout or two (use this site, or apps like Sweat with Kayla, or free youtube videos!) can get rid of that stress and/or lethargy that can accompany the Christmas period. A crisp, Christmassy walk outside in the cold can really clear the head!
Movement is super important for stress, anxiety, depression and mood disorders as endorphins are nature’s happy pill!
Take a deep breath and walk away from family politics
Christmas gatherings aren’t the best place to thrash out serious issues*. Try to smile it out and not engage. Leave the room if you need to. If it’s normal family annoyances and feuds, breathe deeply, go and meditate or walk for a while and move on. You can argue later when you’re calmer, and not in front of all of your relations and likely to upset yourself and multiple others. (Unless it’s very serious: see below!)
*Obviously some things are intolerable, whatever the time of year. So equally take care of yourself, be safe, and you can and should just leave or walk away if something is dangerous or damaging. It’s okay to put yourself first.
Christmas should be a time to reflect on the year and all you’ve accomplished and everything amazing that’s happened, and to enjoy time with family and friends.
(I’m not religious so that’s it for me anyway! If you’re religious I guess it’s extra special!)
Be grateful – for family, friends, presents, food, a roof over your head, an income, a job, your body, the clothes on your back… when you’re truly feeling grateful it’s hard to be properly stressed, and there are people out there far worse off than us. Perspective is all it takes. There’s a lovely meditation called ‘The Universe’ on the app Buddhify, which helps put everything in perspective.
Everyone gets stressed and anxious, some more than others, but pretty much everyone can relate in some way! It’s become such a ‘thing’ (people talk about being busy and stressed and anxious 24/7 these days!) that we’re all looking for easy ways to de-stress all the time. While there aren’t any magic solutions, there are some effective tried-and-tested techniques, all of which help me manage my mood and hopefully will help you manage yours too!
Zen-up your life & feel better for Fall
Wake up early for a workout. This literally kickstarts your day in the best possible way, releases a rush of endorphins, boosts mood and creativity and is great for physical and mental health.
Snooze & hydrate
Make sure you’re getting 7 hours sleep a night, minimum.
Drink water! 80% of the human body is made up of water so it is ESSENTIAL!
Break free from the desk trap
Get away from your desk at any opportunity you can – easier said than done most days, but even a 20 minute walk at lunch, extra trips to the loo or to grab a coffee… movement and a change of scene always helps!
Get ruthless with social media – detox those screens!
Minimise social media usage if it’s making you compare yourself with others. De-toxify your insta and facebook by unfollowing and unfriending anyone who is making you feel bad – it’s not selfish to prioritise your sanity! An instagram cull can be so mentally cleansing if people’s content is irritating, making you envious or feel inadequate, or just isn’t what you want to see! It’s YOUR FEED. You decide.
Cut the caffeine (sorry!)
Reduce caffeine as much as possible – caffeine will amp up your stress levels and elevate your heart rate, and try to stop drinking it after lunch or it will still be in your system when you’re trying to go to sleep – true story!
Rewire your brain & delete ‘perfectionist’ from your vocabulary – rest is valuable!
Sometimes it’s okay to be good enough and not always work the overtime or volunteer for an extra project. Remember that, and rest up. You’re no good to anyone burned out!
Not just for New-Ageys… the science supports yoga and meditation
Yoga and meditation are amazing ways to promote what scientific studies have termed the ‘relaxation response’ – an alteration of your chemical state that is good for body and mind! They also help build resilience and flexibility, both mental and physical.
Fresh air ‘n’ breeeeeathe
Go outside – even just for 2 minutes – if you feel overwhelmed. It can totally shift your perspective, break up the day and give you a second to collect yourself.
Just. Say. NO.
Learn to say no – if you don’t want to go to that social thing, just get out of it and look after yourself. FOMO is so 90s. There’s no need for it!
Ditch public opinion & love yourself
Work on getting comfortable in your skin and not stressing about what other people think about you – whether you do this with yoga, meditation, journalling, sport, art, therapy, or all or none of these – honestly, it’s LIFE CHANGING. At 27 I had some mega realisations about living MY LIFE and liberating myself from being concerned with other peoples’ views of me… and it is honestly insane once you get there in the BEST POSSIBLE WAY. Obviously we’re all human and so relapse sometimes, but overall… I promise, you’ll feel amazing.
Re-prioritise… the good stuff
Recognise that work isn’t everything. Once you prioritise your relationships and your loves (be it a boyfriend, boxing, or family) you’ll feel so much more content with life. No-one dies wishing they’d spent more time at the office, however driven.
Nostrils, nostrils, nostrils (pranayama baby!)
Pranayama breathing, aka alternate nostril breathing. Sounds a bit mad, but I love this stuff… try it! It works. Go on. Give it a google.
Cultivate curiosity in new things, be it exploring, or learning a new language. Being stimulated in non-worky non-burnouty ways is so great for stress busting and feeling like you’ve achieved something, and re-invigorating your inspiration levels.
So, there you have it, my favourite ways to stay zen while spinning plates (or try to!) No-one is perfect and no-one can be chill all the time, but the nearer I get to 30 the more I realise what matters to me, and feeling happy and mentally and emotionally healthy is more of a priority than ever – I no longer have the obsession with beating myself up about things and stressing to the max… so I hope this helps you get happier too 😉