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12 top tips for Christmas


Christmas is always special but this year, it feels more important than ever. At the end of a tough and hectic year, it’s a much-needed opportunity to take stock of everything that has happened, to spend quality time with our nearest and dearest and to remember those we’ve sadly lost.

While the government has confirmed that Christmas will look very different this year, we hope than many of you can enjoy the festive period, albeit virtually for many.

In advance of the Christmas break, we caught up with staff and consultants around our Hospital to get a few tips on how best to look after your mental and physical health in the coming weeks and beyond.

Maintain a balanced diet

During these challenging, stressful times our food choices can make all the difference to our mood and health. We all know Christmas to be a time of excess – who doesn’t love festive snacks and treats? – but it’s important not to neglect healthy foods. Your body needs good nutrition to prevent illness, fatigue, depression and of course weight gain. Try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Filling half your plate with veg of different colours will help you get the necessary vitamins and minerals. Also, look to include some form of protein at each meal; lean meat, fish, chicken, beans, lentils, chickpeas, eggs and yoghurt all fit the bill. Complex high fibre carbohydrates like wholegrain cereals, whole meal bread, jacket potatoes, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice are also important. Looking to resist second portions? It takes 10 minutes to register you are full, so have a glass of water and wait while your body catches up with your eyes. Phaedra Dihmis, Dietitian

Look after your bones

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “If you can’t get rid of your family skeleton you may as well make it dance.” Although this quote could be interpreted in several ways, it’s worth remembering that your skeleton is a reflection of your general health. I believe that you can keep your bones in a healthy condition by following a few simple rules; make exercise part of your daily routine (even if it’s a short walk or cycle), maintain a balanced diet featuring lots of protein and vitamin D and expose yourself (safely) to sunlight. Sujith Konan, Consultant Orthopaedic surgeon

Keep active with a friend

Motivating yourself to exercise is a lot harder in the winter months, but it’s still important to do so, especially after indulging in Christmas treats. I find that when I’m training on my own, it’s always much easier to let things slide. In the absence of communal events like Parkrun, I’d suggest partnering with a friend or family member (within the allowed rules, of course) when exercising. This may be a socially distanced run with a friend, getting the family out for a bike ride or taking part in a zoom class (added benefits of being warm indoors!). Carrie Mattinson, Head of Therapies

Say no to…

While it’s natural to overindulge a bit during the Christmas period, it’s never the wrong time to start living a healthier life. In my line of work, this boils down to four key suggestions. Drink more water to reduce the risk of forming kidney stones. Reduce your animal fat intake to minimise the risk of forming prostate cancer. Say no to table salt, a key factor in the formation of kidney disease and stop smoking! Leye Ajayi, Consultant Urological Surgeon

Take time out to do something you enjoy

We’re all guilty of leading hectic lives, but now more than ever it’s important to put aside time for yourself; it’s absolutely vital for your mental health. There’s nothing I like more than curling up with a good book, watching a favourite movie or going out for a country walk. I’m also looking forward to entertaining family and friends once the restrictions allow. Carol Horsey, Deputy Chief Nursing Officer

Don’t feel pressured

The Christmas period is supposed to be a joyous time, but with the endless to-do lists, financial strains and pressure to make the holiday a good one, it can sometimes get a bit too much. If you struggle with mental health, don’t feel pressured to do more than you feel up to. Remember Christmas is just one day of the year! So whether you’re spending Christmas with others or virtually this year, celebrate who you are. Lilly Smith, HR and Counselling Services

Don’t overcook

I’m often asked for cooking tips in the build-up to Christmas and I always say the same thing – don’t overcook your meat! I’d also suggest experimenting with different methods, like poaching, pot roasting and slow cooking. Make sure you avoid processed food and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Like the meat, don’t overcook them, aim for al dente by steaming your greens. Lee Szukalski, Executive Chef


Breathing is so important, in our day to day lives as we rush around taking short shallow breaths into our upper chest. This activates our sympathetic nervous system which releases cortisol into our body and, in turn, keeps adrenaline levels high, ready to fight or flight. Over time this can make us feel more stressed and anxious. At one or more times during the day, take a moment to focus on one breath. Breathe in, then breathe out. Focus your attention on how it feels, where you notice the air moving, how your chest and abdomen move. Try it now. You’re not looking for a revelation from this experience. Think of it more like a little ‘mental push up’ for your mind. Louise Ward, Recovery Nurse & Yoga Teacher

Get help if you need it

A worrying trend has developed against the backdrop of the pandemic; the general public, concerned by potential exposure to COVID-19 or being a burden, are hesitant to visit their doctor or local hospital to get the care they need. I can’t stress this enough, if you are worried about your health you should seek help. Up and down the country, healthcare facilities have worked tremendously to create safe environments for staff and patients. To speak to someone at our Hospital about arranging a suitable appointment, please call 020 7806 4000 or email The team at HJE

Pay attention to Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has become increasingly common in recent years and is particularly prevalent during the winter and among people with darker skin. With the government advising that regular vitamin D supplementation can improve outcomes in those diagnosed with COVID-19 – it’s been shown that those with adequate levels recover better from the virus than those who don’t – it’s all the more important. You can buy vitamin D supplements over the counter, speak to your pharmacist and they’ll help you find what you need. Frances Sudera, Chief Pharmacist

Follow the latest COVID-19 advice

It’s set to be a Christmas unlike any other. If you are able to mix with another household according to the government guidelines, it’s vitally important that we continue to adhere to the ‘Hands, Face, Space’ advice. Keep washing your hands thoroughly, be sure to wear your face masks and coverings and keep your distance from elderly relatives and those who might be vulnerable. While there’s light at the end of the tunnel, we’re not out of the woods just yet. You can check the rules for whichever of the three tiers your local area has been placed into here. The team at HJE

Stay in touch

Our social health is important and although we can’t spend time with many of our friends and family in the way that we’d like to this year, it’s still important to maintain those bonds until we can. Remind yourself to check in with loved ones as much as you can: via phone, messages, video calls. It’s good to let others know we care about them too at this tricky time of year. Dr Francis O’Hanlon, St John’s Hospice