The holiday season is supposed to be a festive, happy time, bringing joy and peace. However, for many people, the holidays can also be frantic, chaotic and stressful. There are tips that can help you avoid feeling stressed, overwhelmed or even becoming sick over the holidays, according to Bayhealth primary care physician Shailly Saini.
“It’s important for people to practice self-care and not be afraid to say no from time to time, especially around the holidays” Saini said. “The stress of taking on too much can manifest into physical ailments. Patients won’t necessarily come in because they are overwhelmed or stressed. They will come in complaining of bad headaches, GI issues or trouble sleeping. It is through addressing these issues we begin to see stress may be partially at fault.”
One tip offered by Saini is to not try to do it all. Many people feel as if they are excellent multi-taskers who can do “everything.” As the to-do list gets longer and longer, however, it is easy to lose focus and end up not doing anything at all. Prioritize what is important and don’t take on other tasks.
“Make a list and stick to it,” Saini suggested. “Write everything down and get organized so that you can focus on what needs to be done. Never be afraid to say no and stay home. It is okay to only go to two of the ten parties you are invited to, especially if you will see the same people at each event. Initially, you may feel some guilt, especially with family and friends, but setting healthy boundaries and clearly communicating expectations in advance is better for you.”
One of the biggest stressors at the holiday season is finances. Saini suggests budgeting for gifts, decorations and food to remove some of that stress. It is not difficult to be resourceful with finances, such as donating to a good cause rather than buying the typical holiday gift. Be open to talking to someone if you feel the holiday stress is too much, whether it is a family member, your primary care doctor or a counselor.
Another area where people may fall victim to unhealthy habits is the rich foods that are popular during the holiday season. Nicole Fisher, PA-C, a physician assistant for Thomas P. Barnett, MD, FACS, suggests a few tips that she often shares with surgical weight loss patients in their practice.
“Plan ahead with a quality, pre-event snack or even a small meal, so you aren’t starving when you arrive at a party,” Fisher said. “That way, you won’t head straight to the food table. Plan what you are going to eat before you get there so you dine in moderation. The key to success is moderation, even desserts or other foods that have been off limits. Don’t be too restrictive. Take one or two bites and push away the cake, pie or cookie.”
Exercise is also critical during the holiday season, even if you don’t feel you have time to fit it in.
“Exercise helps burn calories and increase metabolism,” Fisher said. “Moderate exercise is better than no exercise at all. Even in cold or inclement weather, moving around inside is better than sitting on the sofa. Take ten minutes and walk up and down the stairs. Turn on holiday music and dance for ten minutes.”
Holiday beverages can be packed with calories as well, so be sure to drink water in between each holiday beverage like cocktails or eggnog. The most important thing is to not beat yourself up.
“You get to start over with every meal,” Fisher said. “If you made a mistake, move on. Recognize that every meal or snack decision is an opportunity to make good choices. If you make a mistake, behave the next time.”
Finally, with the holidays falling in the middle of cold, flu and virus season, there are precautions you can take to avoid getting sick. Wash your hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This is especially important when preparing food or before touching your face. Try to get at least nine hours of sleep each night. Be sure to get your annual vaccinations as well to help avoid serious illness from flu, RSV or COVID-19. If you are sick, stay home and rest. Be sure to keep hydrated but visit your doctor if your symptoms worsen or are not gone in ten days.
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