12 Days of Christmas Summer Survival Tips

From safe sex to sleep deprivation, over eating or drinking and fighting over the Christmas ham, Massey University’s experts have you covered on how to survive this Christmas and New Year period.

Warrick Wood – Assistant Lecturer in Sport Psychology – School of Sport and Exercise

Mr Wood says while the summer break is a wonderful time of year to spend time with loved ones and get away from work, it can also be stressful. “Continuing to exercise or engage in sport can help us maintain a positive mindset, enjoy greater energy levels, and actually be a fun way to relax with friends and family.”

Hot tip: Find fun ways to get your heart rate up – exercise shouldn’t be boring! Play backyard cricket, get out in the garden, head down to the beach with the grandkids! If you do something you enjoy, you’re much more likely to maintain that behaviour throughout the holiday period.

Professor Sally Casswell – Professor of Public Health and Social Research, and Director, Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE)

Professor Casswell thinks it’s about time Kiwis celebrated Christmas without a hangover. “Why do we live in a country where hangovers are so ordinary, even funny. Where radio hosts and companies use them in advertising? Hangovers are a sign that so much alcohol was drunk the neurotransmitters in the brain stopped working normally, the stomach lining was inflamed, blood pressure increased and the body’s ability to fight off infections was reduced for 24 hours. Hot tip: Don’t drink without food and don’t drink too much. It’s the only way to keep hangovers at bay and really enjoy the next day.

And Christmas is a really good time to think about why we have a new law on ‘social supply’ of alcohol in New Zealand. “We now need to have express consent (not just implied) to supply alcohol to anyone who is not our own offspring, and supply needs to be done responsibly. Young New Zealanders get most of their alcohol from social supply rather than buying it themselves and much comes from slightly older friends who often provide large amounts. Research shows this can end up with the young drinker very drunk, arguing, fighting, injured and even dying in an alcohol-related event – not much of a Christmas present.” Hot tip: Even if your older friends supplied you and you were lucky enough not to have problems, don’t take the risk of paying it on.

Dr Toby Mündel – Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science

Dr Mündel says the festive season often requires a better awareness of your body’s level of hydration due to a combination of the warmer summer weather, being more physically active and for some due to the dehydrating effects of celebrating with alcohol. The good news is monitoring hydration can be simple for most. Here are some tips:

–        You should be peeing at least 3-4 times a day and it should be a pale straw or light yellow colour without strong odour – if less frequent, darker colour or too pungent then drink more fluids.

–        Tell-tale signs of needing to drink more fluid are feeling thirsty, a mild headache and feeling fatigued. If you experience these symptoms, up your water intake.

–        Although water is best, all fluids count as do water-rich foods – think salads, raw fruits and veggies.

–        Whilst generally more is better, you can have too much fluid so if your pee is clear then stop drinking.

Hot tip: Drink a large glass of water after you wake, half an hour before each meal you eat, before you go to bed and any time you have alcohol. And remember that children, the elderly and those with conditions requiring medical supervision (e.g. pregnancy, heart problems etc.) are more susceptible to dehydration and so they (or care-givers) should pay special attention.

Dr Carol Wham – Senior Lecturer – School of Food and Nutrition

Dr Wham says it’s important to eat mindfully this Christmas. “Mindfulness has become popular for a good reason. It describes an awareness that emerges through purposely paying attention in the present moment; non-judgmentally. Research indicates automatic eating is common for several reasons; because it’s a break or a mealtime or simply seeing food or having it within arm’s length can automatically increase food intake. Mindful awareness brings the eater’s focus back to what one is eating and deautomatises eating. It also helps with weight regulation. Hot tip: Make sure you’re sitting at a table before you eat.

Miriam Mullard – Dietitian – Nutrition and Dietetic Centre

Miriam Mullard says on average people gain 1 – 2.5kg over the silly season, so making healthy choices could help you avoid the desperate January diets. “Don’t skip meals. Eating a healthy breakfast will see you safely through the morning. Try breakfast cereals, porridge, toast, rolls or bagels. Choosing wholegrain varieties rich in dietary fibre will keep you fuller for longer and mean you are less likely reach for mid-morning snacks. Adding a low fat yoghurt or milk to cereal provides calcium for healthy teeth and bones. Hot tip: Don’t forget your 5+ A Day! Try adding a handful of seasonal fruit to your breakfast bowl or grill some tomatoes and mushrooms for a tasty addition to an omelette or toast.

And it’s easy to overindulge at Christmas, so look out for the little extras. “If possible, keep treats out of sight, and make sure you have healthy options on hand to keep temptation at bay. Try a handful of unsalted nuts, dried fruit, plain popcorn, wholegrain crackers or pretzels. And at dinnertime, try to cover half of your plate with vegetables. As long as they are not slathered in butter or high fat dressings, they will be lower in calories, and contribute to your 5+ A Day. Hot tip: Be a selective eater. Only put foods on your plate if you really want to eat them. This is the time of year to enjoy your favourites, so skip the foods you eat every day.

Professor Steve Flint – Professor of Food Safety and Microbiology and Team Leader Food Bioscience

Professor Flint says keeping cool this summer is more than staying out of the sun, swimming and making sure the beers are on ice. “Spare a thought around food preparation at this time of year, as the warmer temperatures encourage the growth of bacteria that can result in food poisoning. This is not always easy when camping, catering for large family gatherings and being away from home, but is really important to ensure you and your family don’t get sick.” Hot tip: Cook, Chill, Clean – cook thoroughly, chill food for storage and clean food preparation areas and equipment.

Dr Lora Wu – Research Officer – Sleep/Wake Research Centre

Many of us make the most of summer by hitting the road and getting out of town, but Dr Lora Wu says it’s important you get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel. “We tend to be poor at recognising our own impairment from sleep loss. If you can, share the driving, and if you’re feeling sleepy pull over and have a coffee and a quick nap before getting to a more suitable place to get a full night’s rest.” Hot Tip: Don’t travel through the night in a bid to avoid traffic. Driving when we are normally asleep is a bad idea. You’ll be sleepy, slow to react, and more likely to be involved in a fatigue-related accident.

Dr Leigh Signal – Associate Professor – Sleep/Wake Research Centre

Dr Signal says it can be difficult to get children to sleep over summer, but even worse with the excitement of Santa arriving. “Children who go to bed about the same time each night and have the same pattern of activities before bed find it easier to go to sleep and get better sleep. Make bedrooms dark by using black out curtains or pinning up a sheet or blanket over thinner curtains. Try to keep bedrooms about 18 degrees by opening windows or using a fan.” Hot Tip: Create a simple bedtime routine and stick to it. This might include getting your child to have a bath or shower, put on their pyjamas and then read a book or play a quiet game. Avoid active games, playing outside and using technology at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

Dr Collette Bromhead – Senior Lecturer in Molecular Microbiology

Dr Bromhead says not surprisingly, that January to March is the peak time of year to be diagnosed with a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). “It’s not unusual for people to have an accident during the festive season with contraception failure or unprotected sex. So make sure you have a good supply of contraception, and know where to get help if you need it. And watch your alcohol intake. Research has shown when we drink alcohol we are more likely to do something we regret later, and less likely to think about the risks of STIs”. Hot Tip: Always have condoms with you. They are the only form of contraception that protects against both STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

Dr Jeffrey Stangl – Finance senior lecturer and Westpac Massey Financial Education and Research Centre researcher

Dr Stangl says holiday joy can quickly become next year’s pain if you let your gift-spending run amuck. “Create and stick to a reasonable gift-giving budget, avoiding those impulse purchases. Setting budgets is of course easier said than done for most. Give your credit card a well-deserved break and park it until the New Year. As a replacement, preload a visa/debit card with a predetermined amount, to ensure a self-enforced spending budget.” Hot Tip: Set a firm cut-off date for gift purchases. Most gift-giving blowouts occur in the two days before Christmas, when last minute impulse shopping takes place.

Dr Pushpa Wood – Westpac Massey Financial Education and Research Centre director

Dr Wood says good planning is key if you want a financially stress-free Christmas. Here are some tips:

– Make a list of people you need to buy presents for and work out how much money will be needed to cover it. Remember the important thing is the thought behind the presents not the amount that you have spent on it. Try and distinguish between what you ‘want’ to spend, and what you can ‘afford’ to spend.

– If you have young children, encourage them to make presents for family members. There is nothing more special than receiving a gift wrapped in thought, care and love.

– If you are an undisciplined spender, don’t take your credit card when shopping. Withdraw the amount you have budgeted to spend, and shop with cash. Debit cards are other good tool to keep a watchful eye on you.

– Set a challenge among relatives and friends – everyone has to buy a present under $20 or something similar. This will keep things simple and eliminate the competitive side of present giving.

Hot Tip: Once this Christmas is over, set up a Christmas fund where you put aside a set amount each week through automatic payment. Come next Christmas you will be ready financially.

Jan Dickson – Senior Clinical Psychologist – School of Psychology

Jan Dickson says sharing memories and stories about friends or family who are no longer with us, is a way of making the lost loved one part of the Christmas celebration. “It can be painful confronting that first Christmas without them, which is why many people can dread the day, and become sad and withdrawn. They may even believe it would be disrespectful and show they have ‘forgotten’ their loved one, if they allow themselves to have fun. Anniversaries of any kind evoke all kinds of feelings for those who are grieving, and it’s important to allow people time to deal with those emotions.” Hot Tip: Helping serve Christmas dinner for the homeless or those less fortunate can make Christmas seem meaningful for a person who might otherwise be alone, and at the same time provide them with company. And try to provide distractions for those who might be finding the day emotionally distressing. Go for a walk in a beautiful place, or settle in with some good movies.

Ms Virginia Goldblatt – Director University Mediation Service

Ms Goldblatt says people often think leaving difficult colleagues or managers behind us for the Christmas break means they can breathe a sigh of relief, but beware – those at home may be just as troublesome. “We can’t expect professional courtesy from our nearest and dearest. If they show up late or aren’t grateful for the time and trouble taken with the gifts and decorations, use the negotiation and conflict resolution skills used in the workforce. “Prepare well but instead of putting all that preparation into the meal and buying presents, put it instead into relaxing, being tolerant, avoiding sensitive topics and thinking about the good qualities of your family and friends, instead of their deficiencies. It isn’t the burnt turkey or the undercooked potatoes that ruin Christmas, but the harsh things we say to each other because we are stressed and overtired.” Hot Tip: The cheapest gift we can give anyone is taking the time to listen to them. So make it your seasonal resolution to listen first and listen well, and you may be more likely to find peace and love over the next few weeks.

Dr Pamela von Hurst – Co-director of the Massey Vitamin D Research Centre

Dr von Hurst says summer is the time when we build up our vitamin D stores ready for the short, cold days of winter. “Most of us can make adequate amounts of this important compound just from the incidental sun exposure we get during the day. However, whilst it is important to protect our skin from the very strong New Zealand summer sun, people who are completely covered with clothing or sunscreen will make a lot less vitamin D and could possibly remain deficient. Similarly, people with dark skin have their very own built-in sunscreen and need more time in the sun compared to those with European skin tones. Hot Tip: No matter what colour your skin, there is never any justification to sun burn. The Ministry of Health recommends some outdoor activity during the early morning or late afternoon in summer as a way of keeping up both vitamin D levels and your exercise requirements.

Dr Sally Lark – Senior Lecturer, School of Sport and Exercise, and Research Director for Vascular Rehabilitation Clinic Services

According to ACC the accident rate peaks in the summer months – more than doubling in January. Dr Sally Lark says, “Would you believe there were over 2500 accidents at the beach, and 222 BBQ incidences for January alone in 2015. Take safety precautions like keeping a stocked first aid kit handy. Try not to exercise in the hottest part of the day (12-3pm) and keep well hydrated.” Hot Tip: Remember children’s Christmas presents are for the children, so Dad you might want to stay off the skateboard! Older people do not have the balance and quick reactions required for these toys.