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Top Wellness Influencers On How They Got Through The Weirdest Year Yet

Whether you’ve been directly affected by COVID, worried about loved ones, missed loved ones during lockdown, struggled through financial woes or just generally felt new levels of anxiety, it’s been a tough 12 months.

And with even more lockdown measures in place, rules changing on the reg, most of 2021, will continue to be tough for many.

We spoke to some of the UK’s top wellness experts and influencers to find out how they have and continue to navigate these strange times, from global yoga star Cat Meffan to nutritional therapist Madeleine Shaw and psychotherapist, Ruairí Stewart.

Madeleine Shaw, Nutritional Therapist & Author

I’ve tried to focus on the positives and in terms of work, I think it’s made me be re-energized, more excited and more passionate, and I’m so thankful that I’m able to work from home very easily.

This virus has definitely made me realise that the simple things in life are best, and actually you don’t need a lot to be happy.

I’ve also been able to work on an incredible launch and partnership with Bill’s – we have together created a bespoke vegetarian menu made of simple and seasonal ingredients – and it really embodies this idea, so I really hope people get inspired by it.

Madeleine’s Top Tips

  • Try to take the positives from the situation. For me, spending so much time with my family and having that really close-knit time of it being just us three at home was really really special.  
  • Appreciate your relationships. I’ve done a lot of work on focussing on how I can strengthen them and what I can do to be better – listening is my main one. 
  • Try to find joy in a time that feels quite joyless. Write a list of the five things that make you happy or the five things that bring you joy – it could be walking in nature, phoning a friend, cooking a meal, going to get some fresh flowers to put in your house, making a really warm bubble bath or reading a great book.  
  • Stay healthy – it is important to do so now more than ever. Nutrition is the key to a healthy immune system so make sure you’re filling up on lots of veggies, balancing your plate, having lots of healthy fats, making sure you’re sleeping well and exercising regularly. 


Ruairí Stewart, Psychotherapist & Founder of The Happy Whole Coach

One massive negative of this year was seeing the detrimental impact lockdown had on the mental health of many people; many clients were isolated from their loved ones, some were stuck living abroad and not coping well, but many were also stuck in isolation in unsafe and unhealthy environments in their homes.

Ruairí’s Tips

  • Be compassionate with yourself, you couldn’t have expected 2020 to be this way. Communicate how you feel with someone you trust, leverage your support network and reach out for connection. 
  • Try not to isolate yourself or bottle everything up – it’s ok to feel how you feel, you don’t have to pretend to be ok if you’re not. 
  • The pandemic and the pace of life slowing down has meant past traumas being surfaced and these need to be dealt with. Many of my clients decided to start their healing journey because of this and that’s always a positive in my eyes. 
  • Talk to one another. I was and still am working with clients virtually all over the world during this ongoing situation and work has become a lot busier. I’ve been getting a lot more word of mouth referrals being sent to me which shows that people are starting to talk to each other more about having support, which is great.  
  • If you usually avoid how you feel or distract yourself with certain habits or self medicating behaviours now is the time to learn other healthier strategies which can help you to cope long term. Be gentle on yourself, remember it won’t always be this way and you can and will overcome the challenges. When you feel overwhelmed, find hope by looking forward and focusing on the small daily choices within your control.


Sarah Bradden, Cosmetic Acupuncturist and Founder of The Bradden Method

What an interesting year, it’s definitely been a rollercoaster for sure. The highs and lows really varied.

I loved the fact that life slowed down and both my children were at home. We were able to have dinner together, dog walks in the amazing weather that we had in the summer.

For me, the negatives (apart from the obvious financial one!) was how hard I found it not seeing my family and friends. I missed people, the interactions, the hugs! I’m a very tactile person and not having that human contact was hard.

Sarah’s Tips

  • Lockdown has been a time that made us face up to stuff, stuff  you might have been putting off for ages in the house; paperwork, sorting cupboards, etc… Even conversations that maybe you’ve had the excuse of not having the time to have face to face. Covid has meant that there has been nowhere to hide for anyone, if there were cracks in anything they only got bigger in lockdown and now is the time to face up to things, the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself, it’s important to create a structure to the day. Talk to your friends and family on good days and bad days – it’s so important to stay in touch. 
  • Remember you can’t please everyone. When it comes to my relationships, this time has made me realise that I’ve definitely been a people pleaser. I’ve learnt that I can’t please everyone and that’s not my role too either. Having the time to sit back will make you realise and reaffirm a daily practise of making sure you operate from the heart and not the head.
  • Trust the unknown and stay positive – this time has really put my beliefs into practice. 
  • Don’t watch the news all the time. Make your health a priority, choose good things to put into your system like good food and lovely juices. 
  • Do lots of facial massage on yourself, it helps calm the parasympathetic nervous system down and gives you glowing skin. There are lots of tutorials on my IG
  • Even if you don’t feel like exercising, do something gentle, go out for a walk or follow some great classes online. I start each day with meditation and Qigong, and add some exercise into the week with either walking the dog or online sessions. 


Luke Worthington, Elite Personal Trainer

The period of enforced isolation caused us all to be much more purposeful in our interactions and connections with others.  Incidental interactions were no more, so we had to reach out with intent to connect.

Luke’s Tips

  • Take ownership of your health and fitness. It’s one of the few things that we have direct control over in an uncertain world, and is our main line of defence against COVID-19, should we come into contact with it. 
  • Restructure the way you work. Since being allowed back to work in July, I have restructured my week to limit client work to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving Tuesdays and Thursdays to focus on online work, writing, studying, and anything that I consider to be working ON my business, rather than just IN it.
  • Reach out to people. Everyone I know has had some form of challenge as a result of the situation this year. So I feel we’re probably all in a much more empathetic position than ever before. Everyone ‘gets it’ and is ready to listen.
  • If you’re finding things easier than others, take the time to call someone who may not be – you could be the thing that makes the difference to them today.


Cat Meffan, Yoga Instructor, Influencer & Founder of Soul Sanctuary

Idefinitely feel more comfortable and accepting of a slower paced life, which I think is a huge positive. We live in such a fast-paced world, so being more present and slowing down to be grateful for the small things is special.

Cat’s Tips

  • It’s crucial to have a separate work and living space. Even if it’s a case of going out for a walk before and after work to set your headspace for a productive day.
  • Lean into a place of acceptance and understand that though some things are extremely frustrating, they are out of our control. 
  • Remind yourself often that you’re not alone even if it feels that way. We’re in this weirdness together, and your emotions are normal. Allow yourself to feel however you need to, talk to friends, exercise, practice mindfulness in any way that serves you. Be gentle with yourself and try to let go of the constant expectations we put on ourselves to be doing more.


Louise Parker, Founder of The Louise Parker Method 

It’s safe to say that 2020 is a year that none of us will ever forget. But in the midst of it all, what I have most been struck by is the fortitude and resilience of the human spirit. 

What I feel has most come to the forefront, is the sense of global community and togetherness that has connected us all throughout these difficult times.

The sheer dedication of our NHS key workers on the frontline – all of whom are doing an extraordinary job – has been inspiring. We have learnt to be stronger together, but we have also learnt to be vulnerable and authentic with one another about our struggles as we navigate through this unprecedented period. 

Louise’s Tips

  • Be creative about how you keep in touch with your loved ones.  It isn’t easy, but we are all in this together and there’s almost a sense of solace that you find in that.
  • Make a separation between work and home life. Though it can often feel easier said than done,  I try to make a point of being truly present in each moment. 
  • Remember: none of us are superhuman. Managing the complexity of emotions and feelings that have arisen this year has been nothing short of challenging.
  • It’s important to acknowledge that it’s ok to reach out for support when you need it. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or vulnerable, try not to go it alone.  It can be daunting sharing how we are feeling with others, but in doing so we can find a great deal of comfort and connection.  
  • Keep some form of rhythm in your day to keep yourself grounded. Design your day in a way that makes looking after yourself a priority. Define your simple pleasures and weave them throughout your week so that you have little pops of joy to look forward to, whether that’s connecting with an old friend on a phone call, learning a new skill, revisiting former passions or hobbies or simply making time for rest.
  • I find that focusing on what I can control helps me to remain on an even keel. If you find yourself worrying, choosing to think about the day you’re in, rather than thinking too far ahead into the week or month can really help to keep things in perspective. 
  • Go into each day with a clearly defined purpose to stay positive and hopeful. Each night I do a digital detox where I switch off from my electronic devices and give myself a window of an hour, screen-free before my head hits the pillow. I love to call this time my ‘bedtime sanctuary’. I find that nurturing a good night’s sleep really helps me to lift the ‘brain-fog’ I feel when I’m lacking rest and helps me to feel more inclined to think positively during the day. 
  • Limit your intake of social media to help prevent information overload and stick to just the formal updates and recommendations. 
  • Eat in a well-balanced way. I like to base my meals and snacks on vegetables, fruits, lean sources of protein including legumes, beans, pulses and including heart healthy fats helps me to feel well. I love to present my meals and snacks in a way that look as delicious as they taste – it takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it as it helps me to be more mindful when I eat. 
  • Exercise and moving your body is an important part of self-care. Get your 10,000 steps in daily as a baseline and step it up with structured workouts across the week to help keep things interesting.


Comparison culture: as we head out of lockdown, we need to embrace the Japanese concept of “oubaitori”

Worrying you need to look and feel a certain way by the end of lockdown? Then it’s time to embrace the Japanese concept of “oubaitori.”

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson shared his goal to effectively end lockdown on 21 June.

As the fourth stage of the government’s “road map” plan, the prime minister made it abundantly clear that this date is subject to review, as he is being driven by “data not dates.”

Despite this caveat, though, many have taken this idea of a social distancing-free world to heart, flooding Twitter and Instagram with jubilant quotes, their plans for summer 2021, and, of course, a flurry of memes

A common theme among these posts? The idea that 21 June is now being used as a date for many to work towards, with an aim of bettering themselves before the UK gets back to normal (or as close to normal as it can).

I know how they feel, of course; I’ve been in lockdown for a year, and it feels – when I look at other people’s experiences via their social media feeds, at least – as if I’ve nothing to show for it.

I haven’t started running, learned a new language, or improved my baking skills. I haven’t been meditating, or mastered the five-minute plank, or improved my skincare routine. I haven’t even been taking lunchbreaks or going to bed at a decent time every night. 

Worst of all these realisations, though? The fact that I’ve been given just four months to rectify all of this and get myself to the same level as everyone else. 

Comparison, as ever, has proven itself to be the thief of joy; I should be over the moon that lockdown is ending, not worrying about my seeming lack of accomplishment over the past year.

It’s for this reason, then, that I’ve decided to embrace the Japanese concept of oubaitori wholeheartedly, in the hope that I’ll feel happier and more comfortable in my own skin as a result. 

What is oubaitori?

As per Yamato, oubaitori (pronounced oh-buy-toe-ree) is “a Japanese idiom that comes from the kanji for the four trees that bloom in spring: cherry, plum, apricot and peach.”

“Each flower blooms in its own time and it’s a reminder that everyone is on their own journey through life.”

Essentially, then, this Japanese idiom means that people shouldn’t live their lives comparing themselves to others, but instead value their own unique traits and focus on their own growth. 

Why is it important to embrace oubaitori?

“When you compare yourself to others you are only seeing things from your lens of experience, your perspective,” says psychotherapist Ruairi Stewart (aka The Happy Whole Coach).  

“You don’t have the full picture of the other person’s journey or the reality of their situation.”

He adds: “This is one reason social media can be such a trigger. People choose to share with others what they want to be seen, so it’s important not to judge yourself harshly when looking sideways at others, because you don’t have all the information.” 

How can we practise the art of oubaitori for ourselves?

It can be hard to think of practical ways to apply an idiom or lifestyle concept to your life. However, Stewart has broken the art of oubaitori down into six easy steps.

1) Be aware of your self-talk and be kind to yourself

“Look at the types of thoughts that come up when you feel yourself going to that place of comparison,” he says.

“They aren’t serving you, they are usually self-critical and disempowering. You need to challenge these thoughts as soon as they creep up. Think about how you would challenge your best friend or loved one’s beliefs if they told you they were comparing themselves harshly to others.

“You would remind them of their strengths, so do this for yourself.” 

2) Stop talking negatively about yourself to others.

“Big yourself up!” insists Stewart.

“Take stock of your strengths and wins regularly, focus on cultivating kind self-talk and if you must compare anything, compare yourself now to a younger version of yourself who had yet to achieve all that you’ve now accomplished. Take pride in your growth and how far you’ve come and own your journey.”

When I take a moment to do this myself, it’s a wee while before my blank notebook begins to fill up with what I consider to be my ‘lockdown achievements’.

Once I get started, though, I soon realise that, by constantly comparing myself to others, I’ve ignored many of my accomplishments over the past year. Seriously, how on earth did I manage to forget the fact that I managed to pick up a red belt (and two new fringes) in Kung Fu during the social distancing phase of lockdown last year?

3) Filter your social media

“Mute or unfollow the accounts that bring up a lot of comparison-driven thoughts or feelings within you,” urges Stewart.

“Being mindful of the media you consume is one way you can stop yourself falling into this comparison trap, especially given that social media is often an exaggerated form of reality.” 

4) Remind yourself you don’t have the full picture

“You’re probably not fully aware of a person’s journey, nor do you know if they are happy or fulfilled yet you judge yourself as a result of the conclusions you’ve come to,” says Stewart.

“You can’t compare your chapter five to someone else’s chapter 40. Comparison in this context is disempowering. People curate their lives on social media, they share what they want you to see – don’t let this define how you see yourself or measure your self-worth against it.” 

5) Establish a gratitude practice

“Daily gratitude is a powerful way to shift your perspective from lacking to abundance, to be fully thankful for the positive things in your life,” promises Stewart.

“This helps shift your focus back onto you and what is going well, as opposed to looking at others and feeling you’re lacking, being judgmental or feeling inadequate. You’ll find there’s a lot to be thankful for in life if you stop and take note of it.”

Starting a gratitude journal is an excellent way to reflect on the big and small moments in your life that bring you joy. And studies have proven that they really do work; indeed, people who regularly practise gratitude have better physical and mental healthsleep better, and have higher levels of self-esteem, too. 

6) Use the success of others as motivation

“If they can do it, then why can’t you?” reasons Stewart. “Naturally there may be barriers, hurdles and challenges to make things happen, but it doesn’t hurt to believe in yourself and have the motivation to strive for more.

“Use the achievements of others as motivation to spur yourself on, to believe in yourself, to strive for more, to work on yourself and your own personal development.

This is a good cue for you to focus on the things that really matter: making an impact, helping people, focusing on the kind of person you want to be and the lasting impression you want to make on people.

“Shift your perspective and find something you admire in others, be it their kindness, their work ethic, or their generosity, and focus on building this within yourself. These are all things that you can control. Where your attention goes, your energy flows, so try and use it for something positive and resourceful.” 

Why This Blue Monday We’re More Likely To Feel Overwhelmed Than Ever Before

We thought 2020 was a year like no other but we’re not even a month into 2021 and we’re already over it.

Having barely taken the Christmas decorations down, PM Boris Johnson announced earlier this month that England was going into a third national lockdown.

Sure we’ve been here before, twice before to be precise, but this time round our previously positive “we can do this” resolve seems to have dwindled.

From having to tackle round two of the work/life/homeschool juggle, to anxiety over the rising numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths, and all without a hug from our family and friends, it’s little wonder so many of us are feeling somewhat overwhelmed.

As if we haven’t got enough to contend with, January also brings us Blue Monday, which is considered the most depressing day of the year.

Read more: How to look after your mental health this January

Falling on the third Monday of the year, the term was coined by psychologist Cliff Arnall, who came up with a “formula” for the height of the January blues after he was asked to do so by travel firm Sky Travel.

While this was a marketing stunt, it is widely thought that January is a month when many of us struggle.

And this year, with everything going on, Monday 18 January, 2021, looks set to be the bluest of all Blue Mondays.

“As the festive season has come to an end, lockdown continues to keep us shut up in our houses and the cold, wet and dark winter weather rages on, some of us will experience feeling a little blue,” explains Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of mental health and self-development platform Remente.

Though Eék is not a believer in the day itself, he believes the winter months, and January in particular, can leave us all feeling a little more blue than the rest of the year.

Why are we feeling more overwhelmed this third lockdown? (Posed by model, Getty Images)

This year, lockdown will no doubt play a role in this being one of the toughest Blue Mondays in memory for some.

During the third national lockdown, “many people across the UK may be finding that they feel more stressed, anxious and overwhelmed than ever,” Eék explains.

“When confronted with difficult feelings, it can be challenging to think and act rationally, and even function in a way that is normal to us. This is a completely natural response to an ever-changing and uncertain situation.”

Eék says feeling overwhelmed is the brain’s reaction to an overload in thoughts and emotions.

“It is a signal telling you to ‘stop, pause, step back and take a minute’,” he explains.

So what’s different about this lockdown and why is it making us feel so overwhelmed?

According to Eék, the pandemic has inevitably caused a lot of uncertainty for all of us and, for those who regularly suffer from anxiety, or have suffered particularly this year, the darker months, cold and wet weather, paired with a third lockdown may be exacerbating those already prevalent feelings.

“Additionally, because we are now in a cycle of entering and exiting lockdown, it can feel as though returning to ‘normal’ is less and less attainable, and the uncertainty around when we may be able to leave lockdown, or if a fourth lockdown will follow, can become a point of concern and fixation, leading to increased anxiety and negative feelings,” he adds.

Pamela Roberts, psychotherapist at the Priory’s Woking Hospital, believes we’re currently experiencing a sense of collective trauma, which is contributing to feelings of overwhelm right now.

“We aren’t brilliant at processing complex emotions; our culture doesn’t help us, as news and social media is ‘drip fed’ to us,” she explains.

Read more: Healthier You: 5 Top Tips To Boost Your Mental Health

While we adjusted to previous lockdowns, Roberts says many of us were left with lingering feelings of anxiety.

“Lockdown 3.0 may therefore be triggering all sorts of negative emotions from the other lockdowns, and exacerbating them,” she explains.

“So we are being ‘re-triggered’, having thought we might have found a platform of safety, mentally speaking. It can be exhausting, and draining.”

Watch: Why winter could be the worst season for mental health


What happens to your body when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

According to psychotherapist Ruairi Stewart, aka The Happy Whole Coach, being constantly overwhelmed can activate the body’s fight or flight response.

“On a physical level this mobilising your body to take some sort of action can leave you hyper vigilant, keyed up, irritable, fatigued, prone to mood swings and manifesting itself as a low tolerance for stress,” he explains.

“This is also likely to take a toll on your relationships with others impacting on your ability to stay calm and present, with so much going on internally with negative ruminative thoughts, it won’t take much for a person to feel overwhelmed and as if the pandemic is sending them over the edge.”

Stewart says the longer people stay in this headspace, can have a negative impact on physical wellbeing.

“It can also have a negative impact on relationships with all the added pressure and being forced to adapt to so much restriction, he explains.

“Parents are having to take on homeschooling roles as well as maintaining a household and possibly work from home – it’s a lot to process.”

The good news is, there is something we can do about it.

If you are finding yourself feeling overwhelmed, there are a number of small actions you can take and changes you can make to ease those feelings and gear up for a more positive Blue Monday and beyond.

Read more: How to learn from failure, according to a psychologist

Lockdown 3.0 is contributing to feelings of overwhelm. (Posed by models, Getty Images)

How to tackle feelings of overwhelm and feel more positive

Take a tech break

As we are finding ourselves spending more time at home, Eék says we should be wary of too much screen time.

Research has shown that digital overload can contribute to feelings of anxiety, as getting constant notifications throughout the day causes our bodies to produce more of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which can cause nervousness, anxiety and eventually leave us feeling overwhelmed,” he explains.

The barrage of news about the pandemic that we get through our devices can also cause or worsen feelings of anxiety.

“To help avoid overstimulation, you may want to set aside some time where you put your phone away or avoid screens entirely to help your brain recover from the stresses of the day.”

Reframe your mindset

Acknowledge that you cannot control the current situation, only your reaction to it.

“Mindfulness and goal-setting can help manage how we react to the world around us and, in turn, put us more at ease,” Eék explains.

Tune into your feelings

Learn to pay attention to your thoughts and challenge the narrative if it’s mainly fear based.

“What would you say to your best friend to give them reassurance? Look for the positives in this experience and recognise how resilient you have already been, adapting to the first two lockdowns,” suggests Stewart.

“What did you do well first time round and what will you do differently this time that would help you cope better?”

Pause and take a deep breath

Eék suggests starting the day with meditation or breathing exercises. “These simple but effective exercises may help you to centre yourself, preparing you to face the rest of the day,” he explains.

One such technique is to breathe in slowly through your nose, whilst counting to ten. Then exhale through your mouth, again counting to ten slowly whilst consciously dropping your shoulders and relaxing your body.

“You can repeat this until you feel calm and relaxed enough to get moving again,” he adds. “Practising these exercises at different times throughout the day, or in the moments you find yourself feeling really overwhelmed, can help to alleviate negative feelings and help you to calm your mind.”

Practice being in the present

If you start to notice yourself feeling overwhelmed, try to recognise what led you to this feeling and practice being “in the now”.

“Stop and listen to what you can hear, and ‘stretch’ your hearing beyond that, to things you can’t hear,” suggests Roberts. “Can you hear things like birds for example? Do the same with temperatures and textures. What can you feel around you that is hot, warm or cold, or soft or ruffled.

“Imagine opening a book, and feeling the pages and noticing the smell of the book. Imagine sand running between your toes. Does it remind you of another time or place? These sorts of exercises can change the pattern of your thinking and stop you going into ‘auto-pilot’ with negative thoughts.”

Distract yourself

Roberts suggests doing a distraction activity for 10 minutes to avoid ‘excessive’ thinking. “It can be as simple as taking a shower, or getting a hot water bottle and wrapping yourself in a blanket,” she says. “Do something calming and soothing, and be compassionate to yourself.”

Read more: How our lifestyles became less healthy in first lockdown

Seek help

If you are feeling overwhelmed or struggling to cope, always seek help from your local GP. “Maintaining good mental health is as important as maintaining good physical health,” Eék says.

“Just as you would seek help from your doctor if you were injured, your GP is there to listen, to talk to you, and can direct and/or refer you to a mental health specialist if needed.”

You can also look to mental health charities that are there to help, such as Anxiety UKMind or Rethink Mental Illness for additional resources.

For further help

The Samaritans charity offers emotional support to people in distress and those who are struggling to cope. You can call them from any phone for free on 116 123. You can email jo@samaritans.org and a Samaritans volunteer will respond.

Mind is one of the UK’s leading charities. For support you can call their Infoline on 0300 123 3393, email info@mind.org.uk or text 86463.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has a helpline number which is 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

Watch: Holly Willoughby urges viewers to seek help during lockdown.

Feeling The December Dread: Therapists Have These Tips For You

It’s not uncommon to feel dread come December. Sure, some people will look forward to the festive pile-up of cooking, eating, entertaining, socialising and decorating that’s part and parcel of the season. “But, very often Christmas can be a very tricky time of year, when the reality doesn’t live up to the Christmas fantasy and all it holds with it,” says accredited psychotherapist Lucy Fuller.

The impending sense of doom may be amplified if a person is grieving, already struggling with their mental health, or lonely. And with Covid-19 in the mix, many might be feeling panic at the changes to the “holly, jolly season” – particularly if they live to socialise. December dread affects extroverts as much as introverts.

A new survey by the Samaritans reveals being separated from family and friends ones over the Christmas period is one of the biggest concerns facing callers.

The survey of 1,400 of the charity’s volunteers found that, over the past three months, around a quarter (27%) have spoken to callers who were feeling concerned about their own wellbeing over the winter and festive period.

The most common two worries were being separated from loved ones – and how to cope with being lonely or alone this Christmas.


December dread is “much more common this year because of lockdown,” says Gregori Savva, a psychotherapist who runs Counselling Twickenham.

The winter months can seem to stretch on forever, and be dark and cold, with little opportunity to exercise and make the most of the limited daylight – all of these things, in addition to poor diet, can contribute to us feeling low, he says.

“Obviously December and Christmas are a time for many people to build a sense of dread,” he says. “The nervous system has been dulled by the cold, wet days of winter. And like all mammals we are preparing for the dark days ahead.

“The lack of light limits the production of melanin and Vitamin D, which regulate how much sleep we get, the efficiency of our metabolism and digestive system. A lack of vitamin D also lowers our immune system and makes us more susceptible to winter respiratory diseases.”

All in all, not conducive to us feeling great.

What can you do to fight December dread?

Make plans and stick to them. “My advice would be to plan ahead in terms of making social contact over Christmas,” says Fuller. “If you let your low mood take over, in anticipation of a having a miserable time over the Christmas period, then the Christmas holiday will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

She urges people to arrange to meet friends or loved ones for a walk or to exercise somewhere away from home – and to have wider family Zoom sessions together involving games and quizzes you can all participate in online.

“Plan your Christmas day and Boxing day with your favourite food, films and activities,” she adds. And don’t forget to turn off your phone, too – use this period to have a few ‘me’ days. You could treat yourself to an at-home spa day, sort your wardrobe out, or plan what you’d like to do next year.

“2020 has been dire, but 2021 has to be better, as the vaccine is rolled out and society will slowly creep back to how it ‘should’ be,” Fuller adds.

If money is fuelling your feelings of dread, it’s best to be honest with those close to you about your financial situation. Lots of people will be in the same boat this year, says Ruairí Stewart, a psychotherapist known as the Happy-Whole Coach.

“The pandemic has not been financially kind to many of us, meaning pressures around spending money could feel even more distressing this year,” he says.

“If this is the case for you, communicate your fears to those around you and express that, though you would buy them the world if you could, this year will have to be toned down. Try to own your experience and alleviate any feelings of shame – you never know, someone unexpected might be feeling the same.”

Instead of buying presents, you could agree to a gift swap, where you swap something you own and love with something they own and love – a favourite jumper, for examples, or a throw or ornament. You could make them a gift instead of buying something, bake them an edible present (some cookies, mince pies, or a cake), or just agree to meet up and spend time together.

Mindfulness exercises which focus on ‘observing’ your physical sensations through meditative exercises could also help alleviate feelings of dread, suggests Savva. “This is not about achieving perfect calm and equilibrium, but acknowledging and accepting the physical sensation in your body and the emotional ebbs and flows they create.”

You might want to try some slow, deep breathing; stretching out the tense muscles in your neck, shoulders and back; or more rigorous exercises to increase your breathing and heart rate, he suggests.

Getting outside in daylight (try a lunchtime walk each day), eating three balanced meals a day and exercising can also help lift your spirits.

When to seek professional help

It’s best to seek help before the feelings of dread become overwhelming, says Savva. This might be when you notice that you are feeling hyper-vigilant (nervy irritable and on edge) for much of your day, or if you often find yourself in numb, dissociative states, cut off from your emotions and disconnected from others.

“Counsellors and psychotherapists can help you develop sensory awareness of physical sensations, emotions and behavioural strategies to get you through these difficult times,” he says.

You can access a limited number of therapy sessions for free via the NHS’s IAPT service or find private therapists through sites such as Counselling Directory and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

If you find yourself getting to the point where you are completely unable to motivate yourself and you’re experiencing very low mood, you need to seek emergency help, says Fuller, who recommends the NHS’s Emergency Mental Health Helpline (dial 111 or find a local helpline number here) or to call Samaritans on 116123.

Between December 1 last year and January 1 this year, Samaritans responded to more than a quarter of a million calls for help – over 10,000 calls for help were made on Christmas Day alone.

Jason, 50, from Reading, recalls how his whole world fell apart one Christmas after struggling with his mum’s death, breaking up with the mother of his son and losing his job.

“The hardship faced by people trying to cope with the pandemic reminds me how overwhelming everything became for me at Christmas, to the point that I didn’t feel or see there was a benefit to being here,” he says. ”Thankfully my ex-wife noticed my struggles and convinced me to pick up the phone to Samaritans.

“Although it was one of the hardest things I have done – that phone call changed my life and put me on a new path. I had completely lost my way in life before the call. Samaritans gave me hope and helped me to find my purpose again. For me, it was the smallest thing with the greatest outcome.”

He concludes: “Our own self-care this Christmas and beyond is so important. Take each day as it comes, have strength to reach out for support in times of need; for me that would be the best gift anyone could give themselves.”

Covid-19 is more than a news story – it has changed every aspect of life in the UK. We are following how Britain is experiencing this crisis, the different stages of collective emotion, reaction and resilience. You can tell us how you are feeling and find further advice and resources here.

Useful websites and helplines

Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI – this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.

Do You Struggle At Christmas? Here’s How To Look After Your Mental Health If You Find This Time Of Year Difficult

Though it’s supposed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, many of us find Christmas tough on our mental health. In fact, a quarter of the population finds Christmas more challenging than the rest of the year, while about one in four of us have struggled with anxiety or depression over the festive season, according to a YouGov survey.

“This time of year can be overwhelming,” says psychotherapist Ruairí Stewart aka ‘The Happy Whole Coach‘. “The Christmas period comes with the expectation that we should be happy, carefree, merry, spending time with friends and family, but for many, it brings peak stress levels as we attempt to juggle responsibilities, meet expectations and cope with feelings of depression and anxiety.”

Ruairí explains that it’s common to feel tired, sad and disconnected at this time of year – particularly after a year of uncertainty.


Locked down and lonely? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one…


Here are his top tips if you are struggling at this time of year…

Ease financial worry by spending within your means

The pandemic has not been financially kind to many of us, meaning pressures around spending money might feel even more intense this year. If this is the case for you, communicate with those around you and express that although you would buy them the world if you could, this year will have to be toned down. Banish any feelings of guilt or shame and remember, most people are probably feeling the exact same and might be relieved to know the reciprocal pressure has been lifted. You could even suggest that instead of giving gifts this year – you will be donating to charity, and would love it if people could do the same for you.

Make a plan of action

Try to get your shopping done as early as possible and order online ahead of time to allow for any delivery hiccups. We all know that leaving things to the last minute causes unnecessary stress, so do your future self a favour and get organised early! Make a list of everyone you need to buy for and jot down some ideas of what they might like. Avoid blindly searching google/wondering round shops without a plan of action.


WFH for the foreseeable? These are the subtle warning signs you’re heading for burnout right now (and how to fix it)


Let go of unrealistic expectations

Everyone has their own version of Christmas and an idea of what the experience should be. For a lot of people, this means living up to certain expectations and that can be a lot to take on. If this year has taught us anything, it’s to focus on what’s really important in our lives. It might not be possible to host the whole family on Christmas Day, or to host your annual NYE party, but try not to focus on what can’t do, and focus on the things you can. Connect with the people around you, put some extra decorations up at home, try a new turkey recipe! Accept that this year might look a little different, and try to embrace it.

Schedule in time for self-care

December marks the end of a challenging and confusing year, so you might be in need of some self-care and alone time during your Christmas break – allow yourself time to unwind and chill out. If you’ve spent the best part of this year on a never-ending Zoom call with your work colleagues followed by virtual drinks with friends, communicate to those close to you that what you really need is a little breathing space to recoup. Burnout will be affecting a lot of people this year, especially those who have been working towards this end of year break.


How to throw a virtual Christmas party that you and your mates will actually enjoy


Connect with others

If you’re feeling isolated – perhaps you live alone or have been shielding this year – stay connected to friends and family using apps like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype. This is for your benefit as much as it others, so reach out to those you know will be finding Christmas difficult or spending this time on their own. You could even volunteer with organisations to help those most in need. Shaking things up and doing Christmas a little differently can bring feelings of joy and content.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask a friend or loved one to help with some of your responsibilities. You don’t have to take everything on yourself – it’s important to feel supported but you will have to ask for this support in order to receive it – there is no shame in asking for help, it’s actually a sign of strength. If you don’t feel you have anyone you can turn to, there are lots of amazing organisations you can contact such as MIND and CALM.

Seven Ways To Work On Your Relationship Whilst Dealing With Wedding Stress

This year has been challenging for everyone, and even if you’re the most loved up couple that you know, it’s likely 2020 has presented you with a few trying moments.

Whether you struggled being cooped up 24/7 in lockdown, or you’re dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing whether your wedding will go ahead, it can be hard to stay calm and patient all the time. We asked psychotherapist Ruairi Stewart, aka The Happy Whole Coach, for his top tips on managing your relationship during a stressful time.

Photo credit: James Rudland

“Right now, it can feel as though life as we know it is at a standstill. There is so much uncertainty around when things might return to some form of normality,” says Ruairi, “With so many having to cancel or drastically restrict their weddings for the foreseeable future, here are some things you can do to help manage your relationship during this difficult time.”

Show Yourself Kindness and Compassion

This means really allowing yourself to feel what you feel and to not judge yourself for how you are experiencing this unexpected loss. You might feel a mixed range of emotions such as sadness, guilt, anger, frustration, and disappointment – this is all perfectly normal and to be expected.

This is a form of grief you are experiencing and it’s important that you allow your feelings in. You don’t need to feel guilty for being sad or upset. This also includes not engaging in any negative self-talk or berating yourself for things you ‘could or should’ have done differently.

Read more: A beginner’s guide to yoga for your wedding

Be Open and Communicate

Don’t assume your partner is a mind reader. Communicate with them, tell them how you are feeling and what you would like from them. Begin by saying “I feel…. stressed and overwhelmed” and “I need… some quality time spent with you, a hug and some reassurance”.

If your partner opens up to you about how they feel, sit with them, listen, and empathise with them. Validate their experience and tell them you are there for them. Please don’t try to fix things or fall into the trap of giving advice, sometimes people just need to feel heard, understood and know that support is there for them.

Read more: Perfect gift choices for the bride

Use Your Support Network

Reach out to those around you – friends or family who help lift your spirits and you can be totally yourself around. Speaking to these people in your life can help shift your perspective and keep you feeling grounded with so much uncertainty going on around you.

You might even have friends or family in your network who are in similar circumstances so you can support each other and find creative solutions based on what worked for them or helped them out.

Read more: Hen party ideas that are COVID-19 friendly

Find a Creative Focus Point

This could be anything from playing an instrument to taking up a new hobby or reconnecting with an old passion. It could be redecorating a room, or something that helps occupy your time and energy away from wedding related talk or planning. The time will pass regardless, so you may as well do something you enjoy to help you destress and unwind.

Acknowledge the Bigger Picture

The circumstances may not be ideal, but you and your partner are alive and healthy, you love each other and want to be together. You have the rest of your lives together and this is just a challenge for you to face.

Things might not have gone to plan, but that’s okay because there is so much to look forward to in your future and you will be able to celebrate your big day when things settle. Gratitude for what you have can be a powerful way to shift your perspective and help you see the big picture if you get overwhelmed.

Read more: Coronavirus cancelled my wedding and here’s what I learned

Celebrate Your Original Wedding Day

Make a point of marking the day and doing something to celebrate if it feels right. Dress up, have drinks, have a nice meal, or celebrate with friends and family over Zoom. Whatever happens make sure you take time to mark the original wedding day in some way.

Read more: Beautiful ways to celebrate your cancelled wedding date

Focus on the Future

Ask yourself what you want to be able to tell your future kids/relatives/friends about how you both coped during this time with so much uncertainty. What will you say about how you worked together, how you adapted, how there was so much adversity and yet you both came through things together stronger than ever? Hold this thought in your mind, think about your long-term future and realise that this will pass and that you are both strong and resilient.

Feeling inspired? Make sure you read our guide to managing stress whilst wedding planning.