Connect with family and friends during the festivities

Friends Christmas

As Christmas approaches, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging everyone to use the festive period to connect with family and use this time as an opportunity to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Brendan Bonner, Assistant Director for Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement at the PHA, said: “Many of us will be looking forward to Christmas when we can spend more time with our family and friends. It’s also an opportunity to take stock and look at how we may be able to do things differently to help improve our health and wellbeing.

“If you’re going to visit family, try to get physically active while doing so. Leave the car at home and walk, cycle or take public transport and you’ll feel the benefits. You could even make this part of your New Year’s resolution, as being more physically active is not only a fantastic social activity but can also help cut your risk of heart disease and some cancers, as well as reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and joint pain. It also helps to boost mood and reduce depression and anxiety.

“Being a great time of the year to connect, also try involving the family in getting active this Christmas by walking and cycling together and playing with the kids more. Instead of staying cooped up indoors, go to the park to play and have fun.

“However, we recognise too that for some, Christmas can be a difficult time, perhaps because of the expense involved, stress, bereavement, or feelings of isolation or loneliness.

“That’s why we’d ask everyone to look out for each other during the season of good will. Connect with your neighbours, in particular any older neighbours who may not get out of the house much. Call in for a cup of tea and check in to see if they need any shopping. It sounds simple, but for some, who may not have had any visitors for a long time, just stopping by for a chat can really mean a lot.

“Christmas is a great time to relax and meet up with family, friends and work colleagues to celebrate, but it is also very easy to overindulge. It’s the time of year when many people enjoy having a drink, but we want people to look after themselves and drink sensibly if they do choose to take a tipple.

“Drinking to excess can spoil the holiday for not only you but also for your family and friends. We are asking that if you are planning on drinking alcohol over Christmas, set some limits and keep an eye on how many drinks you are having.

“The alcohol guidelines recommend that both men and women drink no more than 14 units per week. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more. You can't ‘save up’ your units for a particular day or a party.

“Also, you don’t have to drink. You can meet up with friends in alcohol-free environments like cafes, or do something fun like take all your families out together and go bowling.  

“Alcohol is a powerful drug and we need to be careful how we use it. Drinking too much can seriously affect our health and wellbeing.

“Being hungover can also make you feel anxious and low. Some people may already feel down over Christmas and drinking can make this worse. It is therefore important that people understand their drinking behaviour and explore their relationship with alcohol, whether it’s a positive or negative one, so that they can enjoy the Christmas holiday.

Here are 10 top tips for managing your drinking and your mental health:

  1. Connect: Make time for family and friends over the Christmas period;
  2. Be active: It may be cold outside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Go for a walk or run, cycle, play a game, garden or dance. Exercising makes you feel good;
  3. Take notice: Stop, pause, or take a moment to look around you;
  4. Keep Learning: Don’t be afraid to try something new, rediscover an old hobby or set yourself a new challenge over the holidays;
  5. Give: Don’t be afraid to give and accept support – being available for others if they need support should encourage them to be there for you too;
  6. Eat before or while drinking and avoid salty snacks, which make you thirsty;
  7. Know your limits and stick to them – don’t be pressured into drinking more than you want or intend to;
  8. Try not to confuse large measures of alcohol with standard measures, eg: a glass of wine served at a party or at home may be much larger than the standard 125ml;
  9. Keep track of your drinks and try alternating alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic drinks. Add plenty of mixer to your drinks to make them last longer;
  10. Avoid rounds, ‘shouts’ and kitties – drink at your own pace, not someone else's.

To find out more about alcohol, or to get help from a professional – either for yourself, or someone you care for or are concerned about – visit

You can also download the 'Know Your Units' app which helps people understand units and how to keep a watch on their drinking. The app features a unit guide and a virtual bar where users can total up their planned or actual drinks for the day/night and check whether they are keeping within the alcohol guidelines.

More information on looking after your mental health and the support which is available across Northern Ireland can be found at    

If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also access the Lifeline website at