Tis the season to be jolly… careful: How to cope with common reasons for feeling under the weather

The holiday period can be fraught with medical situations — here’s how to help resolve a selection

If you suspect your immune system is run-down or compromised, it’s always a good idea to check in with your GP, so they can check for any possible underlying issues that need to be addressed. There are several simple diet and lifestyle steps London Wellness Coach Lauren Johnson Reynolds encourages, to help support normal immune function.

“Focus on a whole-food balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein, healthy fats and whole grains. Nutrients like vitamins C, D, and zinc play a crucial role in immune function,” Reynolds says.

“Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve immune function and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Even 30 minutes three to four times per week is enough to have an impact. High levels of stress can weaken the immune system so practicing stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness, yoga or meditation can be beneficial.”

Sleep is also essential for a healthy immune system

“So it’s important to aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night — if sleep is an issue, doing things to help regulate the circadian rhythm such as morning light exposure and wearing blue light blocking glasses at night make a huge difference,” she added.

“Both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake are hugely beneficial.”

To help that festive hangover

Many will nod their heads (slowly and with care) at the thought of waking up the morning after the night before and feeling… less than merry and bright.

The liver can metabolise one standard drink in one hour and anything beyond that leads to intoxication. First things first: know your limits. But if you know your limits and passed them — well, it’s Christmas — here are a few things that may help you feel less like the Grinch.

If you’ve enjoyed that festive feeling too much, rehydration is key, as it’ll help you deal with any more painful symptoms, such as that headache (you know what we mean).

Looking after yourself with a hangover is imperative

While painkillers can help with muscle cramps and headaches, replace lost fluids as soon as you can. Bland liquids — probably quite different from your previous night’s imbibing — that are gentle on your digestive system are the best, such as isotonic drinks and, of course, water.

Avoid drinking more alcohol. Yes, it is Christmas but the hair of the dog is risky, and may delay the appearance of hangover symptoms until the additional alcohol wears off.

If you can, have something to eat. Again, bland food may be more digestible, so opt for toast and crackers (not loaded with cheese and chutney) to boost your blood sugar and settle any stomach issues.

And of course, if you’re off work and able to do so, sometimes going back to bed for a few more hours of sleep will help.

Four things to do if you want to avoid a cold

Chill out: Yes, sometimes just kicking back can help protect our immune systems. Being more vulnerable can come from “everyday occurrences such as too much stress and not getting enough sleep”, says Dr Nadja Auerbach from Thriva. So, don’t be afraid to hibernate this winter and destress from the busy year. Spending some time on your own will also reduce the number of people you may be exposed to.

Drink more water and less booze: If you are regularly “getting dehydrated, and binge drinking,” you are making yourself more vulnerable, according to Auerbach. It may be difficult when so much of the season is spent eating and drinking, but make sure you are having a bit of balance and drinking plenty of water too will help lower your risk of getting sick.

“A lifestyle with healthy habits is key in minimising your chances of getting an infection,” she says.

Eat immune-boosting food: “The best approach is to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” says Dr Rhianna McClymont, GP at Livi (livi.co.uk). “All the usual suspects — lean meat, fish, grains, pulses, and five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Try to have a mix of colours on your plate. The wider the variety of colours you eat, the more types of phytochemicals [the chemical compound produced by plants] you consume, which are essential for fighting inflammation in the body,” she says.

Try vitamin supplements or prioritise vitamin-rich food: “To go one step further, make sure your diet includes a mix of vitamins and minerals associated with a strong immune system,” says McClymont. She suggests: “Vitamin A — which can be found in liver, milk and cheese and green leafy vegetables. Also try prioritise vitamin C — found in oranges, tomatoes, kiwis, blackcurrants, peppers and broccoli. [And] vitamin D — found in oily fish, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals and dairy products.”

Don’t be a turkey

Turkey can carry food poisoning bacteria and there’s a risk of spreading it when you’re preparing the bird for the main feast. Make sure it dominates your Christmas Day dinner for all the right reasons.

Tips from safefood include never washing your turkey as this may spread bacteria through drops, drips and splashes. Handle the turkey as little as possible — safefood advises unpacking it directly into a roasting tray and, of course, washing and drying your hands thoroughly before and after handling.

Make sure the turkey is properly cooked

Remember that stuffed birds need additional cooking time, but beware overstuffing. Use a maximum of 10% of the weight of the bird in stuffing, for example, a 5kg turkey should have no more than 500g worth of stuffing.

Always check the turkey is cooked thoroughly before serving. If you’re in doubt about how long to cook, head to safefood’s turkey cooking time calculator. Even if your oven is at the right temperature, the turkey may require additional cooking time if there are lots of other items in the oven, if you’re opening the closing the oven door often or if your oven is less efficient than average.

Safefood recommends the use of a meat thermometer — the turkey’s ready when the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 75oC instantly. If you don’t have one, pierce the thickest part of the breast with a clean fork or skewer: if the juices are running clear, if there’s no pink meat and it’s piping hot all the way through, then it’s good to serve.

First aid kit

You may rarely be far from a pharmacy during the festive season, but it’s still sensible to stock up your first aid kit, just in case.

With broken decorations potentially causing cuts or burns from cooking dinner, accidents can happen anytime, anywhere.

Being prepared for mishaps will give you peace of mind and ensure that you’re ready to handle any unexpected scenarios. Make sure to include essentials like plasters, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any necessary medications.

Throat lozenges, cold and flu remedies and vitamin C boosters such as echinacea should be present, as well as indigestion aids. Equally, rehydration powders may help if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends… though seek professional advice if you experience any burns.

Scissors, gloves, sterile tweezers and sterile medical wipes are all a bonus, as is micropore tape to secure dressings, and tape toes and fingers together if needed. Crepe bandages will be useful for sprains and strains.

Of course, speak to a health professional through the out-of-hours service for serious concerns.

Feeling overwhelmed

For some, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. For others, it’s an occasion where we feel overwhelmed or pressured. Feelings of perfectionism, to have an ideal Christmas because it seems everyone else is living their best lives, for some the festive period is difficult and unsettling.

Some experiences during Christmas could make mental health worse or more difficult to manage. Routines may be disrupted, with everyone appearing busier than normal, and potentially difficult to contact.

If you find Christmas a difficult time of year, be gentle and patient with yourself. Prioritise what is best for your wellbeing and what you need, setting boundaries, even if that means saying no to certain arrangements or choosing to stay at home.

Where possible, take time out. Do something to forget that it’s Christmas or distract yourself. Let yourself have the time to experience your feelings. They may not match what is going on around you, but they are still valid.

If you need to speak to someone over the festive period, contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000

Belfast Telegraph Life