The festive season is (almost) here, so we invited dietitian and health writer Laura Tilt to explain why maintaining some of your daily routine over Christmas can be a positive thing for your mind, body and gut.
routine/ruːˈtiːn/ - (activities or things we do regularly, at specific intervals)
Routine. We tend to think of it as being a bit, well, ordinary, but in truth, there’s a lot to be said for routine, whether it’s morning porridge, a lunchtime walk or making your bed before work. Routines can actually be quite powerful.
They can also be incredibly grounding. They give us a sense of purpose and are comforting during times of chaos (hello, 2020). There’s also research to suggest that routines and rituals can help us manage anxiety levels, which have often been higher than normal this year.
Having a particular routine also means that we allocate time to things which are important to us, and get necessary tasks done.
Are you sold yet? I hope so, because the next thing I’m going to suggest is that you make an effort to maintain some aspects of your daily routine during the festive season.
Hear me out…I’m not suggesting that you continue working or set your alarm for 6:30am over Christmas (!), but I am advocating keeping the activities which benefit your mind, body and gut.
Here’s why. Over the festive season, our usual routines and habits can easily go out the window. As lovely as that can be (a lie-in is always welcome), it also means the things which keep us grounded can be side-lined.
We might even find ourselves returning to work feeling frazzled and foggy come January after a few too many snowballs and sausage rolls, rather than rested, connected and ready to face a new year. And once you’re out of a good habit, it can be harder to return to it.
So with that in mind, have a think about which parts of your routine you find beneficial, and how you can keep them up over Christmas (with some added sparkle, if required!)
Here’s some that I’ll be keeping...
Feel Good Movement
There’s nothing more festive than an afternoon (or three!) spent watching Christmas movies, but try to factor in movement each day that makes you feel good - it’s a great tonic for your mental and physical health.
Running fan? I’ve been loving the guided runs from the Nike Running Club App, and plan to sneak out of the house for a solo morning jog when I can - this can feel especially calming when the roads are quiet and the frost is sparkling on the trees. Or could you round up the family for a stroll on the beach or arrange a walking date with a friend?
Days of Christmas feasting can leave the beneficial bugs in your gut needing some TLC, as they require a regular intake of dietary fibre to survive. In fact, the make-up of your microbiome can change in as little as 24 hours with dramatic shifts in diet, so remembering to feed your gut over the festive period is a good thing.
I’ll be making an effort to include five fruits and vegetables a day with my festive meals and snacks - think about piling your plate with festive veggies (brussels with walnuts, maple-glazed carrots, braised red cabbage and parsnips) and snack on sweet clementines and pomegranate. Other festive snacks which are a good source of fibre include nuts and seeds, dates and dark chocolate.
Most of us will enjoy a drink or two over Christmas, but keeping a few ‘drink-free days’ is a good move. Drinking lots of alcohol can aggravate anxiety, cause digestive upset and disrupt your sleep, causing you to wake up early, and spend less time in REM sleep - the restorative kind.
Consider the drinks you really enjoy and those you drink just because they’re on offer - the latter are easier to stop. For drink-free-days, try some of the brilliant alcohol-free spirits you can now buy, or try simmering pomegranate juice with festive spices and a cinnamon stick.
As glorious as this time of year is, the festive season can also be stressful, and lonely at times. It might also be the case that you’re apart from family and friends, or that the festive plans haven’t gone as you expected.
Practicing kindness towards yourself can help give you strength in difficult times. Join me in aiming to do something for your mental health each day - whether that’s a 10 minute ‘time out’, a hot bath and some calming music, a walk in nature or a guided meditation.
If you find yourself caught up in turmoil, take a few deep breaths and lengthen your exhale - this can switch you from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’. This narrated 3 minute breathing space is also great to bookmark in your phone for a mini ‘time out’.