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Healthy Holidays: 6 Tips to Protect Your Physical & Mental Health

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, yet for many, the holiday enjoyment can do a number on the body. In those 5-6 short weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas it’s possible to cause physical and mental health issues that can take months or longer to reverse. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

With some awareness and planning, you can maintain your health during this festive time. Read on to learn six tips to help make his season as healthy and enjoyable as possible.

Keep an eye on what you eat

Diet plays a role in your health year-round, but during the holidays we tend to forgo our normal routines and eat and drink things that we normally wouldn’t. Just because you’re eating different things, it doesn’t mean you can’t still make choices that are better for your brain and heart.

For instance, eating a high-protein snack before attending a gathering can potentially help you resist the temptation to overeat. And if you’re attending potluck gatherings, bring something healthy so you know there will be at least one thing you can have guilt-free.

Knowing your triggers and staying mindful are also important during this time. Having an accountability partner, like a friend or a family member, who is also interested in staying healthy during the holidays is a great way to stay motivated and can provide some emotional support to help keep the stress (and overeating!) at bay. 

Be aware of stress & and plan ahead to reduce it

Between extra spending, activities, travel, and social time, it’s not uncommon to feel stressed around the holiday season. Chronic stress creates a hormonal imbalance that alters how neurons in the brain connect with each other. This can cause changes in cognitive function, including learning and memory ability. Planning ahead is a good strategy to manage the additional responsibilities and commitments during this time. Developing a budget and setting aside specific funds for gifts, travel, and other expenses you’ll incur will help keep you on track financially. 

When it comes to travel and social time, be sure not to overbook yourself, and to set aside time for rest and relaxation to help keep the stress at bay. Keeping an eye on your diet and alcohol consumption and staying active during this time will also help manage stress. Remember that the holidays are meant to be a time of joy and fellowship with friends and family. If you’re feeling stressed, take a time-out to reflect and make adjustments to ensure you get the most out of this special time.

Don’t take on too much

Speaking of overbooking yourself… your schedule may be a bit busier during the holidays than other times of the year. It can be fun to go to gatherings and visit with friends and family and doing so can help reduce your stress levels. But there is a point when a jam-packed schedule can do more harm than good. 

Overbooking yourself can lead to feeling tired, stressed, and sometimes even a little resentful. This holiday season, schedule some downtime and don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to say no to something or have to cancel. Listen to your body and understand that taking care of yourself is the first priority. 

Watch your alcohol intake

It’s no surprise that alcohol consumption increases during the holidays. But if you’re not careful about controlling the amount you drink, your heart and brain can suffer. Binge drinking can result in heart palpitations, lightheadedness, and difficulty breathing, a condition called “holiday heart” (via a UC San Diego study). 

Alcohol can also impair your judgment (which can lead to overeating and other risky behaviors) and is associated with shrinkage in areas of the brain involved in cognition and learning. If you want to indulge in alcohol during the holidays, set a limit for yourself and then switch to a “mocktail” or a sparkling water. Agreeing to be the designated driver is also a good excuse to respectfully pass on the drinking and a great way to ensure everyone gets home safe. And lastly, drinking plenty of water is great for your brain and will also help keep you hydrated if you are drinking alcohol.

Stay active physically

According to cardiologist Dr. Anne Thorson, the average person gains five pounds over the holidays, which is hard on the heart. Overindulgence is common during the holiday season, and exercise is usually not the first priority on the list. But it’s actually more important than ever during the holidays.

Exercise can reduce stress and help counteract the impact of overdoing it on treats and alcohol. It’s also an excellent opportunity to meet a friend and get in some social interaction at the same time. Schedule a time to take a class, play a round of golf or tennis, or just meet up for a walk. Be sure to talk with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise.

Stay active socially

The holidays can be the most joyous time of the year, but for many, it can also be the loneliest. Some of us have calendars filled with events and activities (which has its own challenges!), but others have the opposite issue. For those who don’t have family nearby, are unable to travel, or are not feeling their best, it can feel very isolating not being able to participate in the festivities. (Check out this article to learn more about how important social interaction is for your health).

For those who tend to feel down during the holidays, it’s important to stay involved in social activities. There are usually many local events happening around the holidays. Check the schedules of your community center, senior center, or church, or try searching for local events on Facebook. Volunteering is also another great way to both help others in a time of need and keep you socially interactive. 

Want to stay busy and create handmade gifts? The holidays are a great time to pick up a new hobby at a class or a club – especially ones like painting, crafts, or woodworking. Pursuing a hobby has been shown to have health benefits of its own, so you’ll be saving money and improving your health on two fronts!

Conclusion:

The holidays can be a wonderful time, but it’s important not to fall into habits and behaviors that are going to set you back once the new year rolls around. Be mindful and follow these tips to make it fun and healthy this year!

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