I spoke to Dr Caroline Pilot to get her top tips for the holidays:
1. Don’t overindulge
It might be hard to swallow, but eating, drinking and spending too much during December can lead to a pretty depressing January. Consuming lots of alcohol and foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar and salt can lead to weight gain and cause problems such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and cancer. Overspending, meanwhile, can lead to serious emotional stress come the New Year. The best way to prevent blowing your budget is to get organised as early as you can so you can avoid last minute panic-spending. When it comes to food, you might want to take your cue from a 2010 study that found that just picturing yourself eating something in advance made you eat less of it. In other words: it’s best to start dreaming of that turkey dinner now…
2. Healthy flying
Taking a long-haul flight this winter? Then try to stay active on the plane by stretching and walking up and down the aisle every hour. Wear flight socks to keep your circulation moving and do exercises with your feet and toes. If you find it difficult to sleep on long flights, bring an eyemask and some earplugs, and help to regulate your sleep patterns with jet lag tablets.
3. Prepare for different environments
It’s not uncommon to become unwell whilst visiting family and friends. This can be because your relatives live abroad and you’re not accustomed to the foreign bacteria that you pick up whilst there. You should also be aware that people living in the UK, who originally came from malaria countries, have no immunity to the disease. If you’re travelling to a malarial country over the holidays, even if it’s your country of origin, you’ll need to take malaria tablets. Other people’s houses can also be full of allergens (e.g. cat hair, dust mites or nuts) that you might react to. If you do have allergies, you should explain them to your host before arriving and make sure to bring antihistamines.
4. Mind what you drink
When you’re visiting friends and family or attending the office party, you’re less likely to be aware of what you’re drinking. An alcoholic punch can be packed with hidden calories and more booze than you’re expecting, while a glass of cheap wine that contains lots of sulphites might have you breaking out in a rash and reaching for your asthma inhaler. The best thing to do – particularly if you have any particular sensitivities to alcohol – is to a bring a bottle of your own and stick to that. You should also make sure to line your stomach before you start drinking and alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water.
5. The perils of winter sun
It can be tempting to OD on sun when you’ve been suffering the cold winter nights for weeks on end. But if you’re travelling to warmer climes this Christmas, make sure you check out the weather beforehand and stock up on sun lotion, sunglasses and a hat if you’re going to be in scorching temperatures. And remember: the UV rays will be a lot stronger the closer to the equator you get!
6. Don’t forget your health essentials
If you are going away – even if just for a few days – make sure you have a good supply of your health essentials with you, whether it’s the contraceptive pill, asthma inhalers, or allergy medicine. You should also bear in mind that during the winter months, your local GP surgery is going to be busier. If you need to get hold of a repeat prescription, make sure you book an appointment in advance, or arrange to get your treatment from an alternative medical service such as our online clinic.
7. Give yourself some room to breathe
The festive period can be very stressful and letting yourself get overwhelmed by friends, family, shopping and endless preparations can often lead to burnout. Allow yourself some time away from the madness, and be prepared to turn down social invitations when you don’t have the time. In the midst of a hectic week, an afternoon to yourself spent reading a good book or relaxing in the bath can be a real lifesaver.
8. Flu season
This time of year, seasonal flu and the common cold abound. You can take steps to protect yourself by having the flu vaccine (which is free from the NHS to anyone who is in a high-risk group), and by avoiding close contact with any friends or family who are ill. You should also wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water – especially after travelling on public transport!
9. Food poisoning
Christmas dinner is meant to be the most delicious meal of the year but, unless you take care with how you cook it, it can turn into a nightmare. Washing your turkey before cooking it is a common mistake – it can spread bacteria around your sink, onto your hands and over your work surfaces. Check out the NHS site for more tips for cooking safely at Christmas.
10. Uh oh Christmas tree…
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, in 2002 a thousand people visited A&E after being injured whilst putting up their Christmas tree, and in 2011 and 2012, fairy lights on trees caused 20 house fires across the UK. While it wouldn’t be Christmas without a little drama, stay safe by tossing old lights in favour of a new set, and – whatever you do – don’t try to tackle that eight foot Norway Spruce all on your own.