Why do I always get ill over Christmas?

The Christmas dinner is planned, all the presents are wrapped and the festive tunes are on but, while coughs and colds are often inevitable over winter, finding ourselves with full-on flu-like symptoms as soon as work finishes can really put a downer on the festivities.

“Some health professionals argue that the increased stress accompanying the party season and gift buying, along with social pressures to see and entertain people, can take its toll on our immune system and weaken it so that even a relatively mild virus/bug can affect us during this time,” says Dr Deepak Ravindran, a specialist in pain management, holistic health and author of The Pain-Free Mindset.

There are different reasons why we might get ill over the Christmas period, but luckily, there are things we can do to help prevent us from missing out on all that festive cheer.

5 reasons we get ill over Christmas

We’ve been socialising indoors

As the weather gets chilly, indoor get-togethers become more of a priority. While this is great for keeping us warm, there’s less air circulation indoors, which can lead to viral illnesses spreading.

“More indoor gatherings and changes in temperature can certainly put us at risk of more exposure to viruses,” says Deepak. “This can activate the immune system, which will mount a robust response to stop us from getting ill.”

Our vitamin D levels are low

“Some people’s internal clocks react differently to the changing weather and the shorter days, reduced sunlight or natural light can impact their mood, contributing to what we recognise as seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” says Deepak.

A study conducted by the Pennsylvania State University found that negative moods can change the way our immune response functions, and increase the risk of inflammation. Low vitamin D levels can also create a weak immune response. Studies show that vitamin D is critical for our immune health, so topping up levels with a supplement in winter can help to prevent illnesses. We particularly like the handy oral sprays from BetterYou for topping up on vitamin D levels – use LIZLOVES for 15% off.

Our stress response is set to high

End-of-year deadlines, rising costs and a full social calendar can make us feel stressed over the Christmas season. Some health professionals believe that it’s this increase in cortisol (the stress hormone) that leads us to fall sick.

“Many people seem to fall ill after they have gone on holiday and this is because high-stress situations can disrupt the delicate balance between our sympathetic system (fight or flight and adrenaline system), our hormone system (cortisol) and our immune system,” says Deepak. “When we do finally take a break, our fight/flight hormones and our adrenaline levels drop. This causes an imbalance, as our cortisol levels are still high and our immune system becomes weakened, so even a run-of-the-mill bug can cause us to become ill.”

While we might not be able to eliminate holiday season stresses, we can reduce them by planning self-care activities that will help our immune and nervous systems. Holistic and natural ways to manage stress include meditation, breathing exercises, journaling and mindful therapies, such as yoga or Pilates.

We’ve changed our diet

When we eat healthily for most of the year, the influx of sweets and processed food over Christmas can dysregulate our bodies. As well as playing havoc on our digestion, which, in turn, impacts our immune health, eating less nutritious food can mean our bodies are less able to produce immune cells and antibodies.

Making sure that we balance out festive indulgences with nutritious-packed food is key to staying healthy during the winter. More sprouts anyone?

Our immune system has taken a hit

Disrupted sleep and an evening tipple can also impact our immune response. According to a study by Alcohol Research, alcohol disrupts immune pathways, which impair the body’s ability to defend itself against infection.

If we find ourselves often getting ill over Christmas, it’s worth opting for non-alcoholic drinks in the run-up to the festive season or swapping a glass of fizz for a healthy kombucha alternative (which is great for gut health too).

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