The winter holidays are supposed to be joyous, full of celebrations with family and friends. Unfortunately, the holidays can sometimes wreak havoc with our health. Stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and increased alcohol consumption can leave you exhausted and reduce your immunity to illness. Women, especially, are susceptible to holiday burnout since they often overextend themselves with holiday preparations.
“It’s far too easy to get caught up in holiday excitement and ignore our health,” says Sharon Meyer, CNC, a certified nutritional consultant at California Pacific Medical Center’s Institute for Health and Healing (IHH)Opens new window. “To avoid wearing yourself out and reducing your resistance to illness, you need to support your body’s immune system by pacing yourself, eating well and staying fit.”
“In winter, all of nature slows down, giving us a good example,” Meyer notes. “Rather than racing around, we need to conserve our energy and reduce the ‘noise’ in our lives. It all comes down to time management, choosing what we can do and finding time to care for ourselves.”
Meyer stresses that the “perfect” holiday exists only in fairy tales. “By keeping your expectations reasonable, you can do a lot to reduce your stress level,” she explains. “Don’t feel you have to accept every holiday invitation. Choose perhaps one or two social events per week, and choose the people you want to see. Don’t feel obligated to spend your holiday time with people you don’t enjoy. A simple, “No, thank you” is all you need to say.”
Other tips for reducing holiday stress include:
“Keep a regular schedule for your meals,” Meyer says. “Don’t eat while standing up, working at your desk or watching TV. Instead, focus on what you’re eating and the people with whom you are sharing a meal. ‘Community’ is actually an integral component of a healthy diet. Cooking and eating a meal together with your family can set the stage for relaxation, which is key to proper digestion. If you don’t digest your food properly, it can affect your overall health.”
Meyer encourages clients to enjoy ”comfort” foods during the winter months. “To my way of thinking, there are three main categories of food: vegetables, vegetables and vegetables,” she says, only half in jest. “So by ‘comfort’ foods, I mean nourishing soups and salads, light casseroles, roasted root vegetables. You can make marvelous, healthy meals in a slow-cooker or crock pot, which also saves time when you’re busy with holiday preparations.”
As for those tantalizing holiday desserts that pack tons of empty calories, Meyer suggests sharing a dessert, rather than eating it all yourself. “With desserts, you really taste just the first few mouthfuls,” she explains. “You only need a small taste to satisfy the craving. Eating the rest of the dessert just becomes a habit. Don’t get confused about what your body needs and what your mind wants.”
Many people reduce or stop their exercise regimens during the holidays, citing lack of time or energy. But exercise is a great stress reducer, so it’s important to keep up your physical activity.
“Exercise is especially important during the holidays,” Meyer says. “If you know you’re going to be eating more, that’s the day you should do more exercise.”
Some suggestions for working physical activities into your holiday schedule when you can’t make it to the gym include:
While some people think that an alcoholic drink might lessen the stress of the holiday season, many studies show that alcohol actually increases the body’s stress response. Plus, alcohol can contribute to depression, which is not uncommon during the holidays and winter months.
“Alcohol is a huge health issue,” Meyer notes. “It is very dehydrating and loaded with sugar. When your blood sugar drops after drinking alcohol, you naturally crave more sugary foods. It also reduces your inhibitions against overeating. Menopausal women and women with breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive cancers should refrain from alcohol because it may raise your estrogen level, which might elevate the cancer risk.”
To help manage alcohol consumption during the holidays, Meyer suggests:
For people who do get sick during the holidays, Meyer advises: “Stay home and take care of yourself. You really need to give your body time to heal and rest. Staying at home also might help you focus on the joys of family and close friends, rather than the frenzy of the holiday social season. Your holidays will be happier – and healthier – if you do.”
Gratitude During the Holidays: Making the Season Sparkle
Eat Healthfully During the Holidays
No More Holiday Burnout
Have a "Greener" Holiday Season
Holiday Tips for New and Expectant Moms
Help for the Holiday Blues
Head Off Holiday Havoc