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It’s Twixmas – the time of year where we are at our brokest, most bloated, most hungover and most exhausted. But help is at hand ...

Following Christmas and St Stephen’s Day, many of us are feeling overfed and tired after we’ve had our fill of food and drink. But as a year like no other draws to a close, we speak to two experts who inform us of the best ways to deal with the malaise

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Emily Hourican

Emily Hourican

Emily Hourican

We talk a lot about ‘surviving’ Christmas as though it were some kind of ordeal (and indeed it can be), but frankly for many of us it isn’t Christmas Day, but the days after, that require survival skills.

So often all of December is a steady build-up to the big day.

Everything — shopping, cooking, prepping, partying — tends towards Christmas Day. It happens, and then what? St Stephen’s Day is generally pleasant (for some of us, the chilling out of St Stephen’s Day is the pay-off for all the hassle and stress of Christmas), but after that, there can be a lull, almost a low period, before round two, the New Year, kicks off.

It’s a funny time, this ‘Twixmas’. There’s no point — or so it feels — getting going with our ‘new year new us’ stuff because the old year isn’t gone yet.

Plus, there is undoubtedly the post-Christmas come-down — physical, financial and psychological — to be reckoned with. In those days of the 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th, we are at our fattest, brokest, most hungover and most exhausted.

This year, possibly, Twixmas will be worse than ever. Chances are very few of us will have had the kind of Christmas we’re used to, or indeed the kind of Christmas we dream about. It is likely to have been small, strange, straightened and stressful, so what might that mean for the aftermath? And how can we turn this around?

“The reason this time can be challenging is that it’s an in-between phase,” says Dr Malie Coyne, clinical psychologist and author of Love In, Love Out: A Compassionate Approach to Parenting Your Anxious Child.

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Dr Malie Coyne

Dr Malie Coyne

Dr Malie Coyne

“Very often during this time, you don’t even know what day it is because you’ve been off work. There’s less routine, less structure, less predictability, and humans do really well with structure.

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You’ve eaten loads, you’ve possibly been unhealthy in terms of exercising in the weeks leading up. It is that lack of routine, knowing you’re going into a new year and not feeling as healthy as you usually would.”

The lack of predictability is, of course, only compounded by the shockingly unpredictable year we’ve all had — the sudden and unexpected appearance of an entirely new menace. “Who would have known last year that we would be facing into literally a year of pandemic,” says Dr Coyne.

“It is amazing that it happened and amazing that we have survived it. But all of us have been affected in different ways to different degrees, and we need to remember that. This year might be more difficult for many of us.

"On Christmas Day we might be able to see close family, but there may well be more restricted access in the days afterwards. I think that’s going to be difficult. We’re used, many of us, to extending Christmas into the days afterwards, seeing people we perhaps haven’t been able to see on the day, and I think we may be doing less of that because of restrictions.”

Also, as she points out, “time off means time to think and reflect. A lot of us might be thinking back over the year we’ve had and it has been challenging. Most of us have felt grief in ways, if not for loved ones then for the lives that we had. And then others again might feel like they don’t want to rush back to what was normal before.”

She also makes the point that many of the outings and events we might traditionally engage in at this time of year — the pantomime, the theatre, amusement parks, ice skating — won’t be available. “We will miss those. Just as we miss people, we miss hugs and contact.”

Neither can those of us who enjoy doing such things confidently plan very much for the year ahead. There won’t be much clarity around travel, for example, which means the booking of holidays is a risk. “Uncertainty is hard,” says Dr Coyne. “We might struggle with that, too.”

So, how to combat the Twixmas gloom? “Be kind to yourself,” she says. “I don’t mean sit around and eat chocolates and be lazy, but reflect on how you have survived, how your loved ones have survived.

"Rather than focus on what we don’t have, focus on what we do have. Gratitude is good for our mental health, because we have this negativity bias in our brains that leaves us attuned to negativity and threat. Try to deliberately attune to positivity — ask yourself, ‘what is good in my life, that I can be grateful for?’ Turn off that critical voice, the one that says other people are happier, we’re not doing well enough.

“Try to keep a little bit of routine. Have something planned for every day: a walk, baking, board games. Aim to arrange your days so that each day you do something that gives you a sense of achievement — even if it’s just tidying a drawer, walking with a friend, talking to someone on the phone — something that is nice. Let yourself relax if you’ve had a busy year.”

And if you do run into a bad hour or so, and find yourself arguing with your family, she says: “Forgive yourself for that. Expect that rows will happen if you spend so much time with family. And remember that it’s important to realise, if we want to grow children who are human, we need to show that we are human too, and perfection is not part of that. We need to show our children that we also struggle, within reason, and that’s ok. That’s how resilience is built.”

For psychotherapist and author Stella O’Malley, this period of Twixmas may in fact be an opportunity — a chance to bring positive change. “We can over dramatise how everything is going to be terrible,” she says.

“In fact, there’s a lovely space between Christmas and New Year this year in which we can check out of everywhere if we want. We can hang out, reflect, watch films, we don’t have to see anyone.

"The pressure can be taken off this year if we choose to take it off. We can have the kind of gentle, quiet, reflective Christmas that we’ve never had before because we don’t have to rush around and see every relative.”

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Stella O’Malley

Stella O’Malley

Stella O’Malley

And this, she points out, can be a chance to “look at the monster under the rug. If you’re not looking forward to 2021, ask yourself, why not? What would you like to do in 2021? What would you like to be different? It’s a time in which to do a reckoning, turn and face whatever it is that’s making us unhappy. If your life isn’t going the way it should be, take the opportunity to ask ‘what would I like to be different?’

"Take responsibility, don’t just go all fatalistic; be more productive about it. It’s only once a year you get the opportunity to reflect back. And if you don’t like what you have to reflect on, consider facing it and changing.”

Take the time for an end-of-year update: “Ask yourself what’s going wrong, what’s going right? What do I want more of? What do I want less of?” Feel free to be vague, she says, this doesn’t have to be a specific, five-point plan: “It could be ‘I need more time to myself’, ‘I work too much’, ‘I’m too angry with the children’, ‘I’m lonely’.

"Pick a theme for the year ahead: ‘I’m going to sort out my loneliness’, I’m going to sort out my anger issues’, I’m going to sort out my over-work’, and then you can begin to address that.

"Yes it’s been a weird year, it’s been the worst of times, but consider that now we can have the best of times.”


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