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Bah humbug ... It's Twixmas!

The period between Christmas and New Year can be a time of anti-climax and exhaustion, but it is possible to use it for good, writes Emily Hourican

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Emily Hourican pictured at home in Dublin. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Emily Hourican pictured at home in Dublin. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Emily Hourican says make the most of this lull in proceedings

Emily Hourican says make the most of this lull in proceedings

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Emily Hourican pictured at home in Dublin. Photo: Justin Farrelly

The Norwegians - of course! - have a name for it: Romjul. It's the period between Christmas and the New Year, also sometimes called Twixmas. A time when the frantic organising and socialising of Christmas is over, and before the excitement of New Year's Eve begins. For the Norwegians, it's a state of mind; a time to rest and recharge, physically and mentally.

Which is a great deal better than seeing this time as The Slough of Despond, which is what one friend calls it. I know what she means. Those days can feel a bit lost, swallowed up by post-Xmas exhaustion, with the knowledge that another round of over-consumption is on its way.

Our seasonal bad habits can be so ingrained by then - all those hours indoors, in front of the TV, with leftover mince pies to get through - that redirecting to a more dynamic frame of mind, can feel hard. 'What's the point?' we ask ourselves; 'I'm only going to fall off the wagon (all the wagons: diet, exercise, drink) again in a few days, I may as well just stick with the over-indulgence 'til January…'

These days are, for me anyway, a bit of a danger zone. A kind of lassitude sets in, one that disinclines me to exercise, and over-inclines me to mindless eating. I feel sluggish, unmotivated, lethargic. It would be fine if I enjoyed those feelings, if I could throw myself wholeheartedly into the downtime. But the truth is, I can't. I don't want to spend eight hours watching re-runs of Friends with endless turkey and ham sandwiches.

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Emily Hourican says make the most of this lull in proceedings

Emily Hourican says make the most of this lull in proceedings

Emily Hourican says make the most of this lull in proceedings

The good news is, I don't have to.

In fact, all we need to do is reframe it slightly, and this current period before the New Year becomes a golden opportunity to rebalance, take stock, look ahead, and gather ourselves. It is a small block of real time-out for most of us, when the demands of our regular lives have receded, leaving us free to decide how we want to spend these days, and how the way we spend them, may influence the year ahead. So, how to go about this?

As Dr Louise Clarke, chartered psychologist and founder of The Consulting Clinic says, "The holiday period can provide an excellent opportunity to stop and pause, to capture the moments over Christmas but also to connect with our intentions for the year ahead." A central concept of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), she points out, "is that you 'feel the way you think.' Therefore you can live more happily and productively if you are thinking in healthier ways."

Some specific ways to do this, she says, are to be "values-focused as opposed to goal-focused. Society often encourages us to achieve our goals, which leads to the mind-set of 'If we achieve these goals, it can bring happiness'. But how long does that last? If we live our lives striving to achieve one goal after the next, we can become depleted."

A better idea, she says, is the connect with our values: "Values are what is truly important to us in life - what you want to live by and live for. They guide many of our actions and decisions, but are not goals in that we never 'accomplish' a value.

"Rather, we need to work on our values every day in order to grow and nurture what is important to us, and this in turn will give a rich, meaningful life. Over this period, take time to think about what is truly important to you and what you truly value. Examples of values are: Being honest, spending time with your family, being curious, nurturing your relationship and so on. You then need to break this down again - ie, how can you nurture your relationship? And act in line with the value."

Another suggestion Louise has is to "let go of unhelpful thinking. Increase awareness of how much time you invest in past events or future worries. Aim to spend less time in your mind and more time connecting with your life. Research has shown that investing in worry and rumination leads to increased anxiety, depression and stress.

"Ground yourself in the present moment and notice the unworkability of engaging in worry and what it takes you away from; ie your values, being present and building resilience."

For those of us who are still eating like it's Christmas Day, Gillian McConnell, dietitian and founder of Inside Out Nutrition, says "one of my main tips would be to get back into routine with your meal pattern, as mostly this goes out the window over the festive period.

"Getting back to eating a daily breakfast, lunch and dinner will hopefully mean less snacking between meals, and nourishing your body with nutritious meals to get things back on track."

And she has a few simple suggestions as to how to begin doing this: "If you feel you've overdone it on the turkey and ham sandwiches, now is the time to bring back the wholemeal bread and add lots of salad to sandwiches to bulk them out with fibre.

"Each meal should have some colour, ie fruit, veg or salad. If you don't see colour, you're not going to meet your seven a day. If you're out of routine and used to nibbling all day long, add fruit to the end of a meal to add that sweet touch and help you fill up on fibre."

Another tip from Gillian is "get rehydrating! So many of us drink too much alcohol over Christmas and don't realise we are suffering as a result. Often we mistaken thirst for hunger and find ourselves nibbling instead of providing our bodies with a well-needed glass of water. Rehydration also means better sleep and better concentration and clarity."

For those of us with the niggling sense that a little less time on the sofa might be a good thing, fitness trainer Liz Costigan Fleury says: "The time between Christmas and New Year is a great chance to get a head-start on your New Year healthy resolutions. Use the time to get out into nature, clear your head and get some much-needed fresh air.

"Take to the many hills, parks and beaches we have to offer. Meet friends for walks instead of, or before, heading for food or drinks. Being in nature has a huge positive impact on our physical and emotional well-being. With more time on your hands over the festive period, check out some of the classes on offer at local yoga studios and gyms."

And, she emphasises, this is not a purgatorial approach: "The best idea is to do what you enjoy. Even if it's just 20 minutes, it will be a very positive step in the right direction.

"Meditation is also a great practice, and one that might help over the holiday season when things get overwhelming and busy. Take even just three five-minutes out of your day, place your hand on your heart and take a deep breath in for five counts, hold for three and exhale for seven counts.

"This will help to calm the nervous system, slow the thoughts and give yourself space. Remember, it's not about punishing yourself, it's about feeling better and making 2020 a healthy year!"

OK, forewarned, forearmed, blessed with an actual name for what was previously just an in-between time, here's to a happy (and productive) Romjul!

theconsultingclinic.ie; lizcostiganfleury.com; insideoutnutrition.ie

Health & Living