There’s no doubt this year has been difficult and here in the UK, the usual festivities and respite that Christmas provides has been stolen for many people because of COVID-19. Just listening to my colleagues discussing which parent to choose to spend Christmas with because of how support bubbles work, or friends not able to afford as much as usual because they were unexpectedly made redundant. People who cannot travel home to see their family, holidays cancelled, isolation… my word the list just keeps on going!
Last year Northampton Branch Manager Kerry wrote a piece (Looking After Your Elves At Christmas) giving tips to employers on ways to support their staff through one of the most stressful times of the year. I don’t think any of us knew what was coming in 2020 and COVID-19 has exacerbated everyone’s stress levels enormously. And as some of us are lucky enough to be able to take annual leave, order presents, do a bit of actual shopping in shops and spend Christmas with the people we want to, not everyone is in the same boat and just knowing that can make one feel guilty and stressed. So, a stressful time of year has become even more taxing and full of worry! But, there are ways you can help yours-elf and prioritise some actual ‘elf-care’ to help reduce stress levels and increase enjoyment.
Keep Up With Hobbies
Research shows that having hobbies helps “reduce the risk of depression, improve physical health and reduce social isolation and loneliness.” They are being recognised as a way to improve your cognitive function as you age, as well as give you a sense of achievement, help you switch off from work and get your mind off your worries.
Remembering that you don’t actually have to be good at your hobby is also important – not everyone needs to turn their arts and crafts into a successful Etsy shop, or post their creations on Instagram for the world to see– you just need to enjoy yourself. This is the perfect time of year to find a new hobby or pick an old one back up, and there are so many out there, that can still be done despite COVID, you will be spoilt for choice.
This time of year usually has an increase in social activities such as parties, get-togethers, gift exchanges and shopping with friends, so with the limits of social distancing and support bubbles, it’s very tempting to just hibernate and wallow. However really, it’s more important than ever to be as (safely) social as you can be, especially when research says that social interactions can help you live longer, lower the risk of dementia and boost your physical and mental health. A lot like hobbies, connecting with people socially (i.e., not work related), is extremely good for you. However you choose to socialise, try to do it regularly and avoid any people who bring you down or you don’t enjoy hanging out with.
And when I say enough, I really mean it. The NHS say that not getting enough sleep contributes to all sorts of physical and mental health problems and that 1 in 3 of us do not get enough sleep. They explain that although most people need 8 hours, everyone is different so it is important to experiment and learn what you need then stick to it. Getting a solid nights sleep regularly can contribute to better immunity, weight loss, mental wellbeing plus lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. If getting enough sleep was easy though, we’d all be doing it, so the NHS has some tips on how to get into a better sleep routine and get enough sleep to get all the benefits you can. Spoiler alert; it goes against what a lot of society tells us to do. How is one supposed to accomplish everything society tells us we should in one day if we allow ourselves the right amount of time we need to sleep? You can’t, it’s impossible to. But that’s where one needs to prioritise sleep over other activities, especially unhealthy ones.
Can you guess what I’m going to say next? Studies show that the act of giving something or helping someone, leads to feelings of self-worth and improves self-esteem and that the act of generosity can help boost a low mood and lead to longer life expectancy. The actual donation doesn’t have to be anything in particular; it could be donating items to a charity shop, donating blood or plasma, donating an hour of your time to a good cause or donating money. Whatever you can afford to do or give, it is the act itself that triggers the release of chemicals in the brain that are associated with rewards and pleasure, such as dopamine, and is also known as “helpers high” and “warm-glow giving”. Some research is suggesting that ultimately humans are hardwired to enjoy helping others because it makes themselves feel good.
Don’t Worry About A New Year Resolution
You’ve had enough on your plate in 2020 without starting 2021 with a long list of things you think you should do to become a better person. I realise all my points above could be resolutions in themselves, and things like losing weight or exercising more (two of the most common resolutions) are actually good for you, but the process of setting a goal and failing at it (23% in the first week of January) can be damaging and make things worse. Failing a resolution is the norm though, most people don’t stick to them because it’s really difficult to break ingrained habits and lifestyles overnight and in the middle of winter, during a traditionally celebratory time, really doesn’t seem like the ideal time to make drastic changes. The key for sticking to a resolution is choosing a good time to do it, after lots of planning and when you know you actually want to change. You need to prepare for the trade-off that will come; if you’re not ready, or able, to plan, shop for, prepare and eat a healthy breakfast every day – you will fail that goal. So, when is a good time to start? It is up to you, just don’t add to your stress levels this winter, by insisting you need to set a resolution on 1st January 2021, maybe wait until spring and give yourself a few months to prepare and plan for it.
We know not everyone is the same, no one has the same experience of life and people handle this time of year differently, what is important however, is that this year, you give yourself a break. Everyone could do with a little more love and kindness to themselves and to others and this list is a good place to start for yours-elf. Even Santa’s elves get time for ‘elf-care’ after all.