On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . Stress? Indigestion? An unpleasant social indiscretion?

Christmas can be surprisingly risky for your physical and mental health — follow our guide to the 12 Hazards of Christmas to ensure you survive the season.

12. Dodgy meat on the barbie

Have the snags been cooked all the way through? Did the vegies get chopped on the meat cutting board? And just how long has that blue cheese salad been sitting on the bench? 

Food poisoning is a hard problem to track since many cases are mild, but the Food Safety Information Council estimates that millions of Australians are affected each year. 

The chief causes? Allowing cold food to be stored above 5C or hot food below 60C, not cleaning hands or food properly before preparing, allowing cross-contamination between raw meat and other food and not cooking food at the right temperatures.

 As a rule of thumb, all food — including leftovers — should be cooked until it has an internal temperature above 75C, and cold food should be kept very cold.

 While refrigeration won’t stop bacteria from growing, it slows the process; E. coli bacteria take hours to double in the refrigerator but can double in just 15 minutes at 37C.
Besides watching your cooking, it is worth keeping an eye on the festive fare you buy. Check it is not one of the 50 or so products recalled by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand or local health authorities every year. foodstandards.gov

For the latest food safety warnings, see recalls.gov.au .

11. Kids with great expectations

All they want for Christmas is the entire Toys R Us catalogue, plus an endless list of extras — though this may be our fault as much as theirs.

 Trying to rein in kids’ expectations is hard: they learn early on the social benefits of brands, labels and owning the newest and best.

 But it seems restraining the credit-card holder is almost as difficult, with many children receiving Christmas presents worth hundreds of dollars.

Buy a big present one year and you can feel trapped into spending more each year after that. Go small, though, and you might feel you are letting the mini-materialists down. Some of the push for brands and products appears related both to age and how kids view themselves. 

In 2007, marketing researchers at the University of Illinois and University of Minnesota found a correlation between materialism and self-esteem, with materialism peaking at ages 12 and 13, the same time that self-esteem declines. As self-esteem builds again in the late teens, materialism comes down, although not to the low levels seen in pre-teens.

 Adding to this, the researchers found those kids with the highest self-esteem were the least materialistic, and vice versa.

 Will putting a lid on Christmas spending improve your child’s self-esteem? Probably not. 

But psychologists recommend talking about the reasons behind present giving, encouraging them to buy and receive fewer gifts but for those to be chosen and given with more care, and ensuring time and love are as plentiful as anything stuck in a Santa sack.

10. Fighting family members

Is the do at mum’s this year, or Aunty Sue’s? Or is it your turn to feed the multitude, do the dishes and drive home the stragglers? And what if you are bringing your new partner for the first time, grandma hates her hankies (and says so) and the kids end up fighting over the Wii?
Part of the joy of Christmas — we are endlessly told by TV specials — is the gathering together of family members who might wisely keep their distance for rest of the year. Add alcohol and the pressure of cooking a big meal and you can have a recipe for tension, arguments, or worse.

 Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show incidents of domestic violence-related assault rise by a quarter to a third on Christmas and Boxing days compared with other days in December, and double on New Year’s Day, which is also the worst time of the month for non-domestic violence and sexual offences. Even where violence isn’t involved, it is easy to let family fights get out of hand.

 Lifeline Australia says holidays can heighten feelings of isolation or loneliness and can bring issues with finance, illness, relationships or loss to an intense peak. It recommends people limit alcohol and drugs, as they can fuel arguments or lead to bad behaviour, and avoid stressful situations or plan ahead by thinking of strategies to prepare for those you must attend.

 Lifeline can be contacted on 13 11 14.

 Add alcohol and you can have a recipe for tension, arguments, or worse.

9. Rushing on the roads

Despite the focus each year on the holiday road toll, you don’t face a statistically greater chance of being killed on the roads compared with other times in the year.

 But with three times as many Australians dying in road crashes annually as were killed in the Vietnam war, it is cold comfort to know your chances are neither better nor worse in December.

 In WA, 148 people died in road crashes in 2013. By December 9 2014, the WA road toll had reached 174.  FatalCrashStatistics

Some groups are also more at risk than others: the toll among motorcyclists, for example, is climbing each year.

 What the statistics do show is that certain times are more common for accidents. For young drivers, it is travelling after midnight, while for cyclists and motorbike riders it is riding on weekends.

Whenever you are rushing around this Christmas, avoid the known risks on the road: don’t drive tired, or after drinking; avoid getting distracted; wear a seatbelt; and don’t hit the accelerator.

8. Hazards in the stocking

It isn’t just the toy without batteries which can cause heartache on Christmas Day — there can be all sorts of dangers lurking in the wrapping. 

Counterfeit toys are a growing issue because many contain unsafe levels of lead.

Toys to avoid include any with small parts or made of easily breakable materials that could lead to parts being ingested by young children, missile toys such as bows and arrows, or games with strong magnets, which can be dangerous if swallowed.

 And be wary of activity toys if they are not bought for the right age groups. Trampolines are not recommended for children under six, and skateboards and scooters should not be used by under-fives.

7. Stress and frustration

The people who pipe carols through shopping centres have a lot to answer for.

 You’ve dealt with car park rage, trolley ramming and have been elbowed as someone else grabbed the last box of bonbons. There are six present-free relatives still on your list and the queues are 25 people deep.

 Why on earth are they singing about peace and goodwill to all men?

 Stress and frustration may seem as much part of Christmas as pudding and crackers but when the decorations start appearing in late September, it is possible to lose a quarter of your year to fretting about gifts, parties and decking the halls.

But, oddly, health groups suggest you start feeling festive earlier rather than later to avoid the stress. 

By planning all year for the holidays, you can build a Christmas fund by putting a little away each month and gradually pick up toys and presents as you see them. Having a clear and fixed present list will also keep you from buying too many just-in-case gifts or having to fight the crowds close to the big day. This is particularly important when you consider how many hours can be spent in fruitless shopping.

 Do your blood pressure and heart a favour, and take it easy on the trolley and yourself.

6. Tired and cranky parents

Children and parents can have very different ideas of what constitutes a holiday. Freed from the clutches of classrooms, kids can have enthusiasm and energy to burn, while their parents may be desperate for a quiet lie down on the couch.

 Certainly, we tend to enter the Christmas period over-tired already, then fill what time we have with shopping, partying and visiting.

If you’re already feeling stressed and sleep deprived, make sure you put some holiday time aside to recuperate rather than cramming it with social events and activity.

There is also the risk that depression at Christmas can be confused with tiredness. 

If you experience any other related symptoms, such as moodiness that is out of character, increased irritability, touchiness, loss of interest in food or your favourite activities or thoughts of self-blame and failure, you may be depressed, not just tired. 

In that case, you should talk to your GP or another mental health practitioner or, if things are urgent, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. The national depression initiative, offers a checklist of depression symptoms at beyondblue.org.au

5. Misplaced affection

Mummy might have been spotted kissing Santa Claus but it isn’t really a good idea to lose your inhibitions at the office party drinks.

 A couple of champagnes or ales, the late nights, the promise of days off work, and those ridiculous mistletoe traditions can end up in regret, embarrassment or something more serious. 

Health authorities say spur-of-the-moment sexual liaisons over the holidays can lead to a spike in unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmissible infection.

Before you lock lips with the office clown, find yourself in a compromised position with the boss or enter a romantic entanglement a la Tiger Woods, think about whether it’s worth it and — if it is — do it safely.

4. Feeling sad and lonely

Everything at Christmas is geared towards family but if you are single, separated or far from loved ones, it can be easy to feel isolated.

 An existing sense of loneliness can be heightened at this time of year. 

The feeling is most common among people who have been widowed, are separated or are single.

 And while we think of loneliness as an emotional issue, with it comes an increase in signs of poor health, deteriorating mental wellbeing, reduced exercise and an increased willingness to smoke or drink.

 What’s more, as a person becomes more cut off from their networks, the sense of isolation can spread, with research showing the few contacts of disconnected people experience more loneliness themselves.

 If you are lonely this Christmas, it is worth seeking out new networks that can support you, and making the effort to build new contacts. And if you know someone on the social fringe, it might be to your own benefit to welcome them back to the fold.

3. Toppling after tippling

It’s not the glass of champagne you will raise to salute Christmas Day that’s the problem — it’s all the drinks you have after that. 

In Australia, a dry public holiday is one without rain.

 As a nation, we tend to pop the bubbly, crack a can or tap the keg as soon as we get a chance.

 Since urging people to avoid alcohol is probably a losing battle, health groups are asking for a little responsibility instead.

 The Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation says up to 70 per cent of alcohol in Australia is consumed in a dangerous way, risking physical or mental health problems. 

Binge drinking, drinking then driving, getting rowdy after a few glasses — all can lead to serious harm, such as violence, injury, child neglect, relationship problems or sexual assault, and that’s without taking into account how you might feel in the morning. 

Drinking safely over the holidays means remembering that if you have more than four standard drinks, you raise your risk of alcohol-related injury. 

Have more than two on any given day and you raise your lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease. Make sure you set aside some days over Christmas as non-drinking days.

When you are drinking, alternate alcoholic drinks with water or soft drink and ignore any pressure to drink more than you would like.

 Even if you think you are under the limit, stay off the roads after drinking.

 And don’t go swimming, even in a pool, and be wary of getting on a boat — a quarter of boating deaths are caused by alcohol.

2. Overeating pudding and . . .

One mince pie equals a 90 minute walk — that should be enough to keep you from having seconds.

 Traditional European Christmas fare might have been fine when it was near freezing outside, people walked miles to get anywhere and manual labour was much more common. 

But wolf down some turkey and stuffing (1500kj), a pile of roast vegetables (1000kj), some pork and crackling (1200kj), a generous dollop of gravy (300kj) and wash it down with a couple of glasses of wine (650kj) and you would have to walk about 14km to wear it all off. 

And that’s without touching the pudding and custard (1800kj). 

Doing this once a year won’t hurt too much, but if you let your festive indulgence extend into the weeks before and beyond the Christmas lunch, you will need to increase your exercise if you don’t want to increase your waistline.

 As a rule of thumb, Nutrition Australia says that to lose a kilo of body fat you need to use about 39,000kj more than you consume, or 30,000kj if you are losing mostly fat but some lean body mass as well. 

In distance terms, that’s two weeks of jogging 40-50km each week for a 65kg person to shift just one kilo. Bon appetit!

1. A credit card bill a mile long

If the global financial crisis did anything positive, it was to encourage Australians to be kinder to the credit card.

Researchers have begun to link high debt levels to health problems, with one study of 1036 people in Ohio finding the more people had this kind of debt, the worse their reported health.

Other studies have linked credit-card debt to sleeping problems, stress and depression.

Avoid the post-Christmas credit crisis by finding reliable advice on managing credit cards — and debt — at the Federal Government’s financial advice website MoneySmart .


© The West Australian

More health information at health.thewest.com.au