The common rule has it that Christmas is all about indulgence and is generally just bad, bad, bad for us. We eat too much. We drink too much. We stay up too late. We sleep in too much. We get super stressed. We get angry. Ultimately, we become lardy, grumpy, exhausted slaves to the Christmas conveyor belt, harassed by irritating family members, broken down by shopping lists and enslaved by our kitchen sinks.
I’ve read so many articles recently that make Christmas sound like some kind of ordeal we all have to get through unscathed.
There are the body fascists. Diets to beat the Christmas bloat. Exercise regimes to help you squeeze into that tiny party dress so you’ll only be thinking a little bit about your bingo wings while sipping vodka with low-cal tonic water and trying not to look in the direction of the canapés.
Then there are the dire warnings about the emotional pounding we’re all going to take. How to deal with the relatives from hell. How not to reach breaking point while wrapping your 83rd present at 2am on Christmas morning. How to avoid whacking your nearest and dearest over the head with the roasting tin when they interrupt your military menu planner and cause you to miss out a crucial step.
And I couldn’t help but think, if Christmas is so RUBbish, why do so many of us love it so much?
So, I decided to put together a few suggestions as to why Christmas can be good for your health too. That way, if it’s a bit stressful coordinating shopping, cooking, wrapping and tending to the needs of house guests, you can relax in the knowledge that it’s not all bad.
The carols: It’s easy to roll your eyes when asked to sing carols. Or when others are singing carols at you. But studies show that singing is good for your physical and mental health, helping to raise spirits and promote a sense of community and cooperative effort that can give you a good warm-and-fuzzy glow. Studies at the University of California showed that group singing can actually boost levels of Immunoglobulin A, the body’s main defense against colds and flu, helping to strengthen your immune system. One article in Medical Hypotheses even suggested that the vibration of the skull caused by singing can exert a massaging effect on the brain, helping with the removal of chemical waste via the cerebrospinal fluid. And if you really don’t want to sing in a choir, you can get similar uplifting effects by cranking up your cheesiest Christmas music at home and blasting out a few classics while wrapping your presents. Nothing beats that kind of feel-good factor.
The small things: That phrase ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’? Christmas is great for that. It’s true that not everyone is going to have a happy Christmas this year. Some people are going to have bloody miserable ones. But Christmas brings out our good, giving side. We could be a bit cynical and tut about why people aren’t loving and giving all year round but I’d rather think about how nice it is that we get a few extra days of caring. Like Operation Christmas Child. Or Crisis at Christmas. Spend a few minutes thinking about someone else, someone whose Christmas worries are larger than turkey timings, and your own problems might just shrink a bit in comparison. Being thankful for small things (and small problems) is good for your soul – I’ve often benefited from a bit of perspective when I’m having a stressful time. And turning formerly big problems into small ones can leave you with a bit of energy left over to do something that might make a real difference to someone.
The beautiful things: Christmas is BEAUTiful. Filling your home with sparkly things, spending a bit longer making yourself look lovely, trudging over snow dusted fields on a crisp, clear morning. It’s all so very pretty. And loveliness in all its forms is a pretty powerful lifter of spirits.
The people: Finally, I decided that the main reason Christmas was good for us is the people. I’m lucky enough to have some very special friends and a fantastic, supportive family who I would choose over Christmas presents any day. I may not see eye to eye with them all the time. But spending time with them at Christmas is a way of celebrating the fact that life would be a mere shadow were it not for all those slightly crazy, occasionally aggravating and endlessly lovable people.
People you love are good for your health. Just by being there. Studies have shown that being around a loved one or partner can actually slightly lower your blood pressure. Being in a caring environment can even boost your immune system, raising levels of immunoglobulin-A (there it is again!). Granted, you may occasionally want to kill them, but the benefits of a few days in the company of good family and friends will usually far outweigh the odd ruckus over the last bacon-wrapped cocktail sausage.
We’ll all have different ideas about what Christmas means to us. But for me, the good definitely outweighs the bad.
Photo(s): ©Natural Beauty Cabinet