Taking care of your wellbeing this Christmas time

Categories: School of Health and Society

As concerns over the cost of living continue, many of us may be worrying about how to achieve the ‘perfect festive season’ on a budget.

But a recent report suggests that we don’t need to bow to the pressure to spend large amounts of money, as people focus more on comfort and meaningful time with family and friends. Many are even planning to exchange home-made gifts, or re-gift something they’ve received themselves previously.

Two experts in wellbeing from the University of Salford explain where this change has come from and how we can embrace and adapt it, whatever our situation this festive season.

Dr Ashley Weinberg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, said: “Positive psychologists encourage us to spend time focusing on things that are going well, rather than on what's going wrong. The challenges of rising prices are undoubtedly making life really difficult for many people. But, as this survey shows, gifts don’t need to be expensive to be meaningful – you could agree a budget in advance with friends and family, or perhaps share ideas for redefining gifts to be something that costs nothing but is more than valuable, maybe by making something for a loved one or doing a task for them that you know they find difficult.”

Ashley also highlights the importance of taking time out over the holidays if you can. “Research shows that taking breaks from work, whether over evenings, weekends or holidays, helps psychological recovery from the experiences of our job. Of course, finding time to take breaks isn’t always easy, particularly in high pressure job situations or industries like retail or hospitality which stay open during the festive season and may be particularly busy. However, it is worth remembering that while it is up to your employer or organisation to manage the impact of working patterns and ensuring staff take a break, as employees we can also play our part by raising awareness of healthier working practices, staying off emails and being as assertive as we can about boundaries between work and home life.”

For those who can take the time off, according to the John Lewis Festive Traditions Tracker 2023, 34% of people say they’ll be dressing down for Christmas. This trend is particularly popular among younger people, with more than half of 25–34-year-olds planning to stick to cosier clothes and a third of a third of 18–24-year-olds saying they’ll stay in pyjamas all day.

Dr Mark Widdowson, Senior Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy, says this more relaxed approach can have benefits, in moderation. “It’s great to take some time to relax and unwind over Christmas but remembering self-care concepts such as the ‘Healthy Mind Platter’ can be useful – we need a balance of activities to be at our best, so do also try to build in some time away from the Christmas telly to get outdoors and be active. Making time to go for a walk - even if it is just for ten minutes to the local shop - can have a really beneficial effect on mood and on reducing stress levels.”

But he also flags that this year’s focus on quality time with family and friends can have its own problems. “Media representations of a ‘perfect Christmas’ can be particularly unhelpful as they tend to leave people placing unrealistic expectation on themselves and others to try and make everything perfect. Relaxing these expectations and accepting imperfections can really make a difference. 

“Being together with others over the holidays can also be stressful. It is absolutely fine for you to take a little time out for yourself and carve out a few minutes of peace and quiet here and there. It’s also really common for people to have a family member who is argumentative or difficult to get on with. If you can, try and fix things to limit your contact with them, and if that isn’t possible, have a game plan of how you will manage if they start to wind you up. 

“If you do find yourself getting irritated or anxious, have a break and take some slow, deep breaths. This exercise may help: slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of four, gently hold your breath for a count of two and slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of six. Repeat this 10-20 times, to give your body time to settle back to normal. Be patient, as it often takes a few minutes of breathing slowly for you to feel the benefit of it.

“Whatever your plans for the holidays, try to enjoy the break, stay safe and don't feel that you have to do everything – be kind to yourself!”

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