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Christmas, along with the fun and joy it comes with, can in reality be emotionally provocative for others. Whether it’s the pressure to perform for the ‘gram, or your fam, it can be a source of anxiety, overwhelm and exhaustion for many. Although the office parties, crowded shops and nights crammed at the pub will be few and far between this year, the replacement of their digital versions can be just as anxiety-inducing and as a result, self-care can slip to the bottom of your to-do list… but it needn’t be that way, says health coach Thalia Renucci.

2020 has been the year of business from the waist up, banana bread bake-offs, home workout selfies, a new wardrobe for your sweats collection and learning to adjust to a ‘new normal’ …. whatever that means. If there is anything to learn from the past nine months – aside from how to nurture a sourdough starter – it’s that it’s ok to not whiz through life at 100 miles per hour, saying yes to every (zoom) party you’re invited to and answer ‘good, but busy!’ every time someone asks you how you are.

As a health coach, I know how the pressures and realities of modern living affect us. That’s why I’m all about making changes that better our physical, mental and emotional health, as realistic and sustainable as possible. This goes for self-care too.

Certain elements of self care can seem like a fad, however the concept of it – to take care of one’s own self – physically, mentally and emotionally – is a key component in our health, and it can be as simple as taking a few minutes a day for yourself is. You most likely don’t go a day without thinking about what you can do for your family, partner, colleague or friend, but how often do you put yourself first? Like … really? Self cares doesn’t have to include a long bubble bath, a massage or a face mask – it’s just about holding space for you and what lights you up (but if a bubble bath and a face mask help, then I’m all for it)

The realistic Christmas self care tips I’ll be sticking to:

ROUTINE: simple habits

In a season of excess and overwhelm, the first thing that likely goes out the window is a routine. Studies have shown that forming habits and keeping a routine helps to reduce stress and stabilise mood. To keep the balance, I like to focus on maintenance of habits and part of that is having an easy yet solid routine to return to. My motto is progress not perfection, so whether I have a particularly indulgent dinner, day or weekend, having a routine to return to keeps me on the right track. For me, that looks like 7-9 hours of sleep, dry brushing and drinking 2-3L of water. For you, that might be meditation, a daily walk or journaling – focus on being gentle and not restrictive or extreme.

GET OUTSIDE: circadian rhythm

With the longer nights and colder, shorter days, it’ll seem that much more appealing to stay bundled up inside. However, long periods of time indoors isn’t beneficial for our physical or mental health, and especially our circadian rhythms (our body’s internal 24-hr clock that governs certain processes and functions). We see this with winter related disorders such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and an effective way to banish silly season stresses is making the most of sunlight hours. Whether it’s having your morning coffee on your doorstep, or walking to your (socially distant) coffee date with your friend, spending more time outside will leave you with a boosted mood, sense of calm and even a rosy glow.

TUNE OUT: digital detox

Screens have followed us everywhere this year – from daily news updates and briefings to zoom meetings to showing off our sourdough baking on instagram, it’s no wonder some of you might be suffering from screen fatigue. If you recognise your own addiction to always being connected, capturing or scrolling, want to ease your dependency on your phone, without going on a full blown digital detox, a great place to start is to not share meals or moments with your screen. It not only has improved my clients digestive health – saving them money on probiotics, improving bloating and losing a few unwanted lbs, but it’s meant that time around the table with partners, flatmates or family is uninterrupted. If you want to take it a step further, take a few days off it altogether.

MOVEMENT: gentle exercise

Moving our bodies in the festive season doesn’t need to mean a 12 days of Christmas squat challenge, smashing a 10k on Boxing Day or a HIIT class on Christmas Eve to ‘balance out’ your Christmas dinner – it’s about moving your body consistently in a way that brings you joy. My favourite time to get moving is in the morning – it not only means that I’m less likely to put it off later in the day but it continues the good endorphins from a restful night sleep. Better yet if you can do it outside – be it a walk around the park or a light jog – that’s two boxes ticked.

RESPOND NOT REACT: stress management

There’s no denying it, Christmas can be a stressful time. No matter how much we plan ahead, sometimes things don’t go to plan, they get tense and before you know it, you’re arguing with your significant other over who’s fault it was that the cranberry sauce was left off the shopping list. It’s important that going home to family, or your partner’s family you’re able to prevent overwhelm and burnout by setting boundaries and arming yourself with stress management tools to employ when things get tense it’s important to be armed with stress management tools, and visualise yourself responding to a situation, rather than reacting to it. My go-tos going for stress management are walks, taking three deep breaths and cold showers. Blasting some cold water at the end of my morning shower amps up resilience – breathe calmly and deeply through it and you’ll be left feeling calmer throughout the day.

I took a cold shower for a week - here's what happened

COMMUNITY: connecting with others

Having close communities and connections with wider groups are far less common in modern life. Although filled with joy for some, Christmas can exacerbate this and be a very lonely time for others. However, did you know that also by connecting with others, we can actually help ourselves? When we make dates with friends or family this season, keep them and consider those commitments as important as work deadlines, workouts, foods or other things that are important to our wellbeing. Part of unloading a toxic burden is sharing, communicating and connecting with other people. It’s super hard when we have sweatpants and Netflix – but a phone call FaceTime can help.

EMBRACE BALANCE: eating healthy

If you’re someone, who like me previously would think ‘I’ll be start again on Monday’ / next month / January 1st, go all-out, feel rubbish, implement a restrictive regime that I couldn’t stick to, give-up and thus start the cycle all over again, then this is your permission to ditch the ‘all out’ attitude. If you have a Terry’s chocolate orange at 11am, don’t think that you need to balance it out by skipping lunch, or eating everything in sight so you can then ‘be good’ the next day. Follow up a morning indulgence with a normal lunch, maybe a gentle walk instead of a HIIT class and don’t regret one bite! Often the stress we experience around food is more harmful than the food itself. An easy way I’ll be implementing balance this year is pairing some more ‘indulgent’ comforting foods with a side of greens.

Bonus* GO WITH THE FLOW: ditching the perfection

Around Christmas time and the frivolities that come with it, that can also be when the comparison monster creeps in and one’s expectations of what Christmas ‘should’ look like begins to skew to the unrealistic. This has been a tough year for many and something I’ll be taking into Christmas is that the more I am able to relinquish control and be more present, the more I am able to go through life with a little less stress, and a lot more ease.

By Thalia Renucci

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