Tis the season to eat plenty, drink until we’re merry and ease off on our usual healthy habits. Sleep – pah! Yet, this breakdown in our usual routines – less sleep, more party foods, stacks of booze, plus the pressure to be the perfect host and gift giver – can create a very real risk of the festive season making us ill, according to new research.
“At Christmas, when we’re trying to do everything, or get everything finished at work before the break, there can be a dip in desirable events and a rise in negative mood, caused by the varying pressures we all find ourselves under, such as financial worries, time constraints and a lack of support from friends or family,” says Dr Anna Phillips, a reader in behavioural medicine at the University of Birmingham.
When these kind of worries build up, Dr Phillips warns they can quite literally make us ill, as the stress affects the balance of the body’s hormones. This is due to a link between stress and a deficiency in secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA), a type of antibody that protects against infections at the mucous membranes of the mouth, airwaves and digestive tract. If we become deficient in this vital antibody, we are at greater risk of infection and generally feeling ugh.
So, what can we do to lower our risk of getting ill over Christmas?
“People need to look after themselves,” says Dr Phillips. “Ensure you have plenty of good quality support from friends and family, and ensure you continue to maintain some healthy behaviours – get some exercise and plenty of sleep. Listen to your body’s slow down signals and obey them. Most of all, make a holiday exactly that; a relaxing break.”
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