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Your party season survival guide
So your diary's packed with get-togethers over the coming weeks? Lucky you! But if you've still got a super-long Christmas to-do list - including squeezing three weeks' work into one - you could be heading for burnout. Here are 10 top tips to help you have a stress-free, super-healthy, pleasure-packed party season...
1. Just say no!
As much as you feel a duty to see all your friends and relatives over Christmas, it just isn't practical - or even possible - to do so. If you try to squeeze everyone in, chances are you'll spend the whole time looking at your watch and rushing from one place to the next, which makes you feel stressed, anxious and under the weather. Still, turning people down can be stressful in itself. 'Learn that you can't take responsibility for other people's emotions,' says psychologist Dr Massimo Stocchi (www.harleystreetpsychology.com). 'Yes, there's bound to be someone who gets offended by you choosing not to attend their party. But what is key is that you are responsible for your emotional state, and they're responsible for theirs.'
2. Extend Christmas
There's no rule that says you're obliged to have all your festive get-togethers with friends in late December. Spread them out over a longer period and you'll be more refreshed and ready to enjoy yourself - plus you may well have more money to spend on treats such as drinks and restaurant meals if you're meeting after your post-Christmas pay day. What's more, planning something nice for January or February will give you something to look forward to after all the festive fuss has died down.
3. Don't let difficult people get you down
Dreading getting collared by your whining colleague or a boring relative at a Christmas party? Obviously, the wisest course of action is to try to steer clear of them. 'But if you do get stuck with a misery or moaner, try putting yourself in their shoes,' suggests clinical hypnotherapist Dominic Knight (www.dominicknight.co.uk). 'Have empathy and try to look beyond their attitude and tone of voice to find out what's really at issue. Often, people have a root cause of their unpleasantness and you're merely the person in their path of emotional fire. Understanding what makes someone tick may not make them easier to take, but it will keep you calm as you process what's being directed at you.'
4. Go easy on the booze
It's easier said than done, we know. But just reminding yourself how horrible a hangover feels should really be enough to stop you cracking open that second bottle of wine. Want more tips from the Drinkaware campaign (www.drinkaware.co.uk)? Drink plenty of water throughout the evening, including a full glass before you have your first alcoholic drink; people often guzzle the first drink before they're thirsty. And be wary of home-poured measures: the glass of gin your uncle pours is likely to be two or three times the volume you'd get in a pub. Lastly, only top up your glass when it's empty: that way, it's much easier to keep track of what you've had.
5. Protect your liver
Want another reason not to overdo the booze? 'Increased alcohol intake causes your oestrogen levels to peak and blood sugar to plummet,' warns hormone health specialist Dr Alyssa Burns Hill. 'That extra oestrogen leaves you craving carbohydrates and feeling bloated, as well as being susceptible to PMT.' Her advice? Support your liver with a milk thistle supplement. And - perhaps surprisingly - load up on Brussels sprouts! 'Sprouts contain the phytonutrients DIM and 13C, which help your liver metabolise more effectively.'
6. Don't eat too much
OK, of course you're going to eat too much over Christmas - but there are ways to lessen the damage. First, pick a smaller plate at the buffet table. When you've finished that serving, put a napkin on top of the empty plate to remind yourself you're full and not going back for second helpings! Second, if you're meeting friends in the pub, eat wisely beforehand. 'Choose slow-release carbohydrates - such as oat cakes, wholemeal pasta or sweet potatoes - as they help you feel fuller for longer and resist the temptation to grab a takeaway on the way home,' says nutrition therapist Liz Keaney (www.lizkeaney.co.uk).
7. Sleep well
All that socialising inevitably means your sleep will suffer. But if you can't get your prescribed eight hours every night, you can at least ensure the rest you do get is as fitful and restorative as possible. 'Try not to drink alcohol for two to three hours before you go to bed, as this will stop you waking up in the middle of the night when the sedative effect of the booze wears off,' advises Dr Alyssa Burns Hill. And try snacking on dates instead of Quality Street or crisps. The reason? Liz Keaney explains: 'Dates are rich in an amino acid called tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin to help promote peaceful sleep.'
8. Don't overdo the to-do lists
Yes, we realise you've got people to see, presents to buy and turkeys to stuff in the run-up to Christmas. But if you spend half your time compiling to-do lists instead of actually getting on with the jobs in hand, you'll never get anything done. 'Check lists are great, but should be restricted to no more than six of the most important things and written out every night,' advises Dominic Knight. 'In the morning, review your list and work through the most important task first. Do not move on to the second without completing the first.'
9. Don't forget to exercise
If you're already trying to pack 101 social gatherings and commitments into the festive period, chances are you'll be tempted to slack off the gym. But taking half an hour out to do some exercise isn't just the best way of burning off those extra Christmas calories. It can also serve as all-important me-time to help you feel more able to face those festive challenges. Need more convincing? A 30-minute swim will burn off one mince pie, while a 20-minute run can redress the balance after eating five Quality Street or Cadbury's Roses.
10. Be nice!
Now, we know you probably don't need reminding to be a nice person. But all those little Christmas challenges can sometimes take their toll. The trick is to be assertive - but try not to get angry or irritable, no matter how tired or stressed you are. 'Keep in mind that you should always leave people better off than when you met them first,' says Dr Stocchi. 'Remember, this can mean being authentic and truthful with them, even when they don't want to hear the things you have to say.'