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Monday night drinks and mince pies for breakfast: How to survive the social marathon of Christmas

Olivia Petter

’Tis the season for mulled wine, pigs in blankets, and throwing caution to the wind with your bedtime. Christmas is coming, but not before a relentless schedule of parties sends us dashing through the pharmacy for Dioralyte and paracetamol.​

Yes, this time of year is as synonymous with hangovers and exhaustion as it is with getting merry. While it certainly feels good to blow off some steam at the end of the year and celebrate all that you’ve achieved, the pressure to show your face at every party, be the last to leave and look fabulous while doing so can be a bit much to handle. And with a limited number of weekends to work with, diary clashes are an inevitability. How do you decide which work party to prioritise, which drinks to dodge? And when do you just throw in the towel and have a hot bath?

From knowing which invitations to commit to and carving out regular naps, to practising mindfulness and doing squats while brushing your teeth (yes, really), we’ve rounded up some of the best ways to avoid seasonal burnout this year. Take heed.

Marie Kondo your invitations

By now, we’re all familiar with the Japanese tidying guru’s approach to decluttering: if an item you own doesn’t “spark joy” you must get rid of it. The same tactic should be applied to Christmas party invitations, says award-winning therapist Sally Baker.

“If you’re not feeling the potential of joy at this event, use the stuck record technique (a common method to boost assertiveness) by gently but firmly saying, ‘I’d love to, but I just can’t’. If they try to pressure you to comply, just repeat the same sentiment without any further discussion until they give up and let you be.” That way, your schedule will be a little clearer and you will be able to put more energy into the parties that “spark joy” as opposed to those that will have you regurgitating small talk.

Schedule some ‘me-time’

Amid all of the social and logistical planning, it can be easy to forget to set aside those much-needed nights in. You know, the ones where you can go straight home from the office, run a bath, binge watch your latest box set obsession and collapse into bed before 10pm. If that scenario seems beyond the realm of possibility with your schedule, psychologist Emma Kenny suggests taking a quick power nap when you can. “These have been clinically proven to revitalise and re-energise and only require 20 minutes,” she says.

Dr Sheri Jacobson, founder of counselling booking website Harley Therapy, agrees that prioritising self-care at this time of year is crucial. “It can ease the burnout,” she says. “Note the one or two things that ground you and make them sacred each day. It could be doing your favourite exercise, a 10-minute mindfulness practice, or reading a chapter of a book or a magazine.” Anything that doesn’t involve a screen is ideal, too, given that most of us probably spend much of our days in front of one and studies have linked excessive screentime to anxiety and depression.

Exercise when you can to boost energy levels

Come December, far too many of us throw the good habits we’ve spent months finessing, out the window. We trade green juice for prosecco, overnight oats for leftover mince pies, and swear off the gym because our hungover souls simply don’t have the energy. But this way of thinking is flawed – and has been disproven by science – says celebrity trainer Dalton Wong, whose clients include Jennifer Lawrence and Kit Harrington, because even just odd bit of exercise can actually fight fatigue and keep you feeling sprightly all season long.

And it doesn’t have to be in the gym, either. “Squat while brushing your teeth,” Wong suggests, “plank while waiting for the kettle to boil or do a quick workout with a mini resistance band during your favourite Christmas film.” Ben O’Brien, trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp, suggests making the most of the dance floor at your next party. “Dancing can be a fun and easy way to keep the muscles moving,” he says.

If you are well versed in high-intensity workouts and want to keep this up over Christmas, try to do them before a big festive meal or a night out, Wong adds. You’ll (probably) be hangover-free at that point and able to commit to the workout rather than feebly attempting to do so with a raging headache.

Up your vitamin intake

When we’re consuming so many sweet treats, it can leave our vitamin and mineral levels depleted, which can in turn make us feel groggy and contribute to burnout. This depletion, along with the chemical compounds that are released into the body when alcohol is metabolised, can prevent you from sleeping, says Dr Chris Smith, a medical consultant specialising in clinical microbiology and virology at Cambridge University and the founder of the Naked Scientists podcast. “Robbing yourself of restful sleep will compound the burnout problem,” Smith says. “Booze binges also cause immune depression, making you more susceptible to infection, which can really rub salt in the wound.”

If you’re heading to a party but want to reduce the effects of your hangover, try to replenish your body almost as soon as you’ve stopped drinking to prevent any inflammation. Drinking a large glass of water before bed and eating a hearty, vitamin-packed breakfast (think scrambled eggs and avocado), could make a huge difference. Meanwhile, Smith’s research has found there are some foods that can help combat the symptoms of a hangover, including pear, coconut water and sweet lime. When these ingredients were combined in a formula for one of Smith’s studies, it had an effective anti-hangover effect.

Choose your drink wisely

As for what you choose to drink, leading Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert advises limiting your intake of cocktails that look particularly sweet (think pina coladas and mojitos) or creamy (white russians and anything with Baileys). “Save these drinks as treats for Christmas Day,” Lambert says, suggesting a simpler tipple for the rest of the season so as to avoid suffering from a sugar crash.

“Try a shot with a mixer – like a gin and tonic – and when you are out drinking, aim to alternate your drinks with a glass of sparkling or still water.”