It’s the most wonderful time of the year

“It’s the hap-happiest season of all…” Christmas carols are an endless source of wonderful, happy feelings.

“From now on, our troubles will be miles away,” says another Christmas carol.

Sensational, indeed, all troubles will vanish when the Christmas feeling starts blowing it all away. It sounds perfect, simple, guaranteed. It is not.

Christmas time can be fun, it is often depicted as a magical time when people reconcile, and dreams come true, but it can also be a source of great stress and this is now much worse as stress levels are already high, all year round, everywhere in this confused and confusing, unhealthy world that the human race is living in. It’s enough to see the news all over the world. It is worrying and even frightening.

Statistics show that, in England, the use of antidepressants rose by more than a quarter in just three years, as more people started suffering from depression due to the economic crisis.

It is in times of difficulties that people show who they really are, as in difficult times things are not easy and what you need does not drop from the sky. Difficulties can bring out the best in the essence of human animals, their best capacity to give the right value to the really important things in life.

Sometimes the happiest people are the ones with practically nothing as unfortunately they do not have much to lose and they learn to value the little things that they manage to achieve. We cannot lose sight of the little things in life that should make us the happiest, as it is the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.

Life is made up of little things, including smiles and kindness. These little big things are the main ingredients in the spirit of Christmas and they are what preserves the heart, secures comfort, prevents stress, keeping people happy and healthy, in body and mind.

“Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”

It is not a “by the book” Christmas song, but it could well be. Like many other Bob Marley songs, they have lyrics that fight depression, worries, and tell us that we can reach genuine happiness if we really pay attention and feel the “little things” that surround us, the warmth of the sun, the coziness of the fireplace when it is raining outside and, most of all, the real importance of companionship, friendship, the positive touch of another human being. And last but not least, do not forget the absolute “must” of putting things into perspective.

Christmas hazards
Christmas is a time when your home is likely to be full of people and it is in the excitement of the season that accidents can easily happen.

It does feel festive dragging a tree, plastic or wooden, into the living room and covering it with electric lights and tiny glass baubles, but it might mean trouble! According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, around 1,000 people visit A&E after calamities with their tree and 350 following problems with Christmas lights.

That line of tea lights flickering on the window’s edge will not seem such a good idea if the curtains are set ablaze. Candles cause more than 1,000 house fires and several deaths every year. Fairy lights, decorations and even Christmas cards are also a fire hazard. You are 50% more likely to die in a house fire at Christmas than any other time.

Every family doctor in the world would be happy to have a quiet, calm, merry Christmas without any health hazards in the community and a few sensible precautions can help prevent this Christmas from being a Christmas to forget.

Well, anyway… this does not mean that there should be no candles and no lights on trees… That could lead to more stress and depression, and more doctors having to prescribe more tablets.

Like anything we do, be careful, be sensible!

Christmas rush
Christmas can be unhappy. The happy scenes of Christmas we see in the movies often do not reflect what is going on at home. Many families get really stressed out at Christmas.

The frenzy of Christmas, office parties, present buying, food preparation, pleasing all the family and financial pressures can lead to frazzled nerves and stop us enjoying what is meant to be a time of closeness with those we love and all the people around us. Nevertheless, depression over the Christmas period is a real danger for many people, with some being affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Family problems are often highlighted by people being too close for long periods and indulging in alcohol can be a catalyst for mood swings that make it all worse.

Exercise is a terrific way to increase mood-enhancing endorphins to help banish the Christmas blues. If you are feeling sluggish, tired and unmotivated, wrap up warm and go out for a brisk half-hour walk. As we know, being outside during daylight also benefits those who feel gloomy in winter.

A very important detail is the Christmas turkey! Boosting levels of the calming brain chemical serotonin can be helped by eating turkey and other seasonal poultry, such as pheasant, which are particularly high in tryptophan from which serotonin is made.

After all, tradition has a reason…

Christmas spirit
This is a very special time of the year, almost a rite of passage that you either love or dread. There is little in between.

It is not just about presents or Santa Claus, not only for children but rather all of us, not about seeing the family and having to cope with the stress of another family dinner, not about sweets and food, not about decorating Christmas trees or stringing up thousands of lights on the outside of the house.

Christmas is a time to take a good look around, find something wonderful about yourself, your life and the people who fill it and make it special, getting to the conclusion that, after all, you have a lot to be thankful for. Despite everything, you are alive, relatively healthy, and you even have a life filled with people that love you, possibly not the way you would like, but they are there, if you only allow it. You may not realise it or even believe it to be true, but it is.

In the Charles Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Carol”, Scrooge, the protagonist, was not really a very nice man but, after having been visited through the night by the ghost of Christmas, awakens on Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart.

If this was possible in real life, maybe doctors would prescribe less medicines… including heart medicines!

“Don’t worry, be happy”
“Let’s get together and
we’ll feel alright”

This is another Bob Marley song and, when the entire world is difficult to understand, confused, dangerous and, in many places, thousands are crying in deep suffering, in tempestuous social and economic environments, I will use it as my Christmas and New Year’s message to all of you!

A merry and healthy…
little Christmas… to you all.

Best healthy wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice

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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve