The holidays bring abundant gifts, many of which are intangible. Love. Generosity. Faith. Family. But unfortunately, for many of us, poor health is also on that list.
Although it’s an incredibly special time of year, it’s still important to keep track of your physical, emotional and spiritual health. Overindulging, under-exercising and having a jam-packed schedule are common reasons we end up feeling drained and sluggish. Stress, depression, anxiety, weight gain and unhealthy coping mechanisms can dampen what would ordinarily be a season of joy and celebration. Taking some time to check in with yourself can help you avoid unhealthy behaviors and patterns. Understanding potential holiday pitfalls will help you feel your best all season long.
Monitor Your Mental State
Mental health is a chief concern around the holidays. Some people can experience depression as they grieve lost family members, face emotionally challenging anniversaries and have to adjust with changing relationships and routines. Anxiety can also develop if you’re traveling or spending time with friends and family who you aren’t close to or have had difficulty with in the past. The holidays are intended to be a time of peace and love, but if you’re finding you are feeling angry, tearful, unable to enjoy experiences, or are having any thought of self-harm, don’t delay in seeking medical help.
Other trends that should lead you to speak to your physician about your emotional health include:
- Overindulging in any unhealthy food or drink
- Lack of motivation to do things or your hobbies that are normally fun
- Difficulty getting out of bed, falling asleep or staying asleep
Stay Active and Focused on Health Goals
With frequent holiday parties and events, it’s easy for your normal, healthy diet to disappear. From Thanksgiving through to the new year, there are more temptations all around — large portions, desserts, candies and opportunities to overindulge with rich foods you may not normally eat.
Work on setting your boundaries before you head into the buffet line. Here’s how:
- Make a food budget ahead of time, including what and how much you will allow yourself to eat
- Split dessert with a loved one or only put half servings of higher calorie foods on your plate
- Wait 10 minutes between courses; this gives you a period of time to digest and gauge if you really need that second helping
In general, slow down and enjoy your food. Be the last one done with your plate, taking breaks to chat with friends and family instead of eating consistently and rushing to finish.
Don’t Let Bad Weather Drag You Down
Weather changes can affect our psychology and physiology. In certain areas of the country, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common problem. The time change reduces the amount of daylight exposure, which also causes many to be less motivated for physical activity, causing normal exercise routines to fall to the wayside. Develop a workout routine you can do at home, or enlist a trainer to keep you motivated. Consider exercise classes that will keep you comfortably indoors and also socializing with others.
Keep up With Scheduled Preventive Screenings
Many people delay getting their routine screenings, like colonoscopies, pap smears and mammograms, during the busy holiday months. Some wait until the new year for insurance reasons, or because it’s more challenging to get appointments due to scheduling limitations. It’s important to work with your doctor and plan ahead, so you know if your screening can wait or you need to make the appointment and stick to it. If you’re able to get a screening done and off your plate during the holidays, you won’t be stuck worrying about uncertain health concerns and can better enjoy the season. It might also be wise to get your screening before insurance deductibles reset in the new year.
Avoid the Downside of New Year’s Resolution Thinking
If you’re living a healthy lifestyle, it’s easier to maintain it (even during the holidays) than it is to adopt unhealthy diet and exercise behaviors then try to shift back to health. For every misstep today, it takes two steps tomorrow to reverse the damage. It’s tempting to put your goals on hold until January, but healthy habits take time and dedication to form. Working on your approach to eating and exercise now will help set you up for lasting success in the new year.
Remember, The Holidays Are Not a Destination
Consider a shift in perspective: The holidays are not a destination, but a moment in time. If you’ve been working hard to exercise and eat properly, take a second to remember that you don’t want to undo all your effort. Once this season is over, you’ll need to work even harder to recover from all those setbacks.
Whether it’s due to weather changes or busy schedules, exercising less and increasing calorie intake can lead to weight gain and more fat in the body. In turn, triglycerides and LDL (bad cholesterol) can rise, and HDL (good cholesterol) can decrease. With more sweets and simple carbohydrates, blood glucose (sugar) can spike as well. And high emotional stress has additional negative effects on the body, like raising blood pressure and chronic circulating stress hormones. If your “cheat day” is likely to send you into a spiral or entire “cheat month,” it’s best to walk away from the tempting treats.
Health Challenges Over the Holidays Are Normal
Be mindful of the fact that the holiday season may bring physical and emotional changes for a number of reasons. But thinking the holidays are an excusable time to put your health on hold is a mistake; instead, plan ahead, set your boundaries and prioritize your whole health. Ultimately, you’ll feel better and be able to truly take in and enjoy what the holidays are all about.