10 Tips to a Healthy Holiday

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again.  Fall has quickly faded, the malls have put out their holiday décor, and Starbucks has officially changed to their famous holiday cup.  While it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, many would argue that it’s the most stressful time of the year. 

The weather is cold, work is demanding, and flu season is in full swing - leaving many individuals feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  Although all the hustle and bustle can seem overwhelming at times, the holidays don’t have to be stressful.  Consider the following 10 tips to ensure not only a healthy holiday, but a happy one at that. 

Tip 1:  Plan Ahead

You have an office party Thursday night and you have to pick up a present for your Secret Santa.  You forgot that you’re supposed to make three dozen cookies for your child’s holiday party by tomorrow and, to top it off, you haven’t even started shopping for Christmas gifts.  Sound familiar?  All this last minute chaos causes stress levels to rise, potentially leaving you irritable and ready to explode.  Avoid unnecessary stress by prioritizing.  Plan and schedule certain tasks for specific days like shopping, baking, parties, and friends. 

It’s also important to give yourself realistic deadlines to avoid feelings of defeat.  For instance, “I will have all my Christmas shopping complete by December 15”, which is early enough to still have time to relax and enjoy the season.  Lastly, cut yourself some slack.  Realize that not everything is going to be perfect and, although you try to plan ahead, there’s likely going to be last minute things that come up. 

Tip 2:  Exercise

Feeling cranky, stressed out, or overwhelmed? Get up and move!  It’s been clinically proven that the very best way to manage stress is through exercise.  For adults, it’s recommended we get 150 minutes of physical activity every week, which averages about 20 minutes a day.  Studies show that one exercise session generates between a 90-120 minute relaxation response, leaving you feeling calm and giving you more energy throughout the day.  Raking leaves, shoveling snow, or taking a brisk walk are excellent ways to get your 20 minutes of exercise in. 

Tip 3:  Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

The way most Americans celebrate the holidays is surrounded with friends and family, sitting around a table and eating.  Turkey, mashed potatoes, holiday cookies, eggnog, and pies leave you feeling sleepy and uncomfortably full.  In fact, after a big meal our blood sugar spikes and then plummets, leaving our energy levels and moods fluctuating.  Although it seems like we eat our way through the holidays, the average American gains less than one pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, contrary to the popular belief that we gain five pounds. 

Looking for some tips to get you through the holidays without having to go up a pant size? Try these tips:  First, before you go to a holiday party, eat!  Have a salad or light snack prior to the event and avoid showing up starved.  You’re less likely to consume calories and overindulge on dips and other unhealthy party favorites.  Secondly, practice portion control.  Limit yourself to one helping and avoid going up for “seconds”.  Also, using a smaller plate and avoiding stacking your food can help.  Next, limit alcohol consumption.  Alcohol is full of empty calories; in fact, one cup of eggnog has over 400 calories. Try a light beer or glass of wine as a lower calorie option instead.  Lastly, don’t diet.  The holidays are the worst time of year to diet, and you only end up setting yourself up for disappointment.  Wait until the New Year or practice portion control as an alternative to dieting. 

Tip 4:  Take Time to Yourself

Be selfish.  That’s right, even though the holidays are all about giving, it’s important we take time for ourselves.  Take five minutes out of your crazy, hectic day - either first thing in the morning or before you go to bed - to unwind and relax.  Meditate, listen to music, or try a bubble bath.  Allow yourself to reflect and center your mind and body.

Tip 5:  Stick To a Budget

Finances are a top cause of stress for Americans during the holidays.  Many Americans will spend more than they can afford with the “pay it off later” mentality.  Don’t allow yourself to fall into this trap.  Determine a budget for gifts, food, decorations, postage, and stick to it.  Looking for ways to save money this holiday season?  Consider making your own gifts (Pinterest, anyone?) or start a family gift exchange. 

Tip 6:  Be Social

Cold weather, darkness, and lack of energy - it’s no wonder that 10-20% of Americans suffer from what’s known as the “winter blues”.  For many, the holidays cause feelings of sadness and loneliness.   Take advantage of family gathering and social events.  Also, spend time with friends and family that can offer emotional support.

Tip 7:  Get Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep can contribute to health problems, weight gain, and a decrease in immunity, which is why it’s recommended that the average person gets between 6-8 hours of sleep every night.   Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, even it if means skipping out of a party a little earlier.   Also, limit alcohol which is proven to cause disruption in sleep patterns. 

Tip 8:  Wash Your Hands Frequently

On average, one in five people will get the stomach flu this season and even the flu shot doesn’t protect against all strands.  The number one way to prevent sickness is by washing your hands multiple times a day for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water.   If you happen to come down with a virus, consider staying home to avoid spreading germs to others and be sure to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. 

Tip 9:  Reach Out

Despite the bright, cheeriness of the season, it’s important to remember the less fortunate during this time as well.  Look for opportunities to reach out to them.  If you’re looking for ways to give back, consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or make a donation to a local charity.  It’s a great time of the year to count your blessings and be thankful. 

Tip 10:  Have Fun

Most importantly, have fun!   Take time to enjoy the season and take it all in.  Spend time with the ones you love and realize that the little things that cause us stress aren’t really that important.