The holidays. You likely either had a positive reaction to reading that or a negative one.
Although my parents divorced over ten years ago, I used to find myself dreading the holidays as I visited what felt like every extended family member’s house in a matter of 48 hours, a scene that looked like it was taken straight from the movie, “Four Christmases.”
Over the last few years, I have focused on maintaining both my physical and mental health through the holiday season, and this goal has greatly improved how I react when I flip the calendar over to the months of November and December. These strategies have allowed me to feel better and have a more enjoyable holiday season, and I am happy to share them with you so you may have a better holiday season experience, too.
This time of year is infamous for sickness such as respiratory illnesses and the dreaded flu. As a public health professional, I get my flu shot every year, and I get it early in the season.
I avoid going to places where people are sick, including include a family member or friend’s house, schools, or other public places that are breeding grounds for germs. I also totally understand that sometimes visiting these places is unavoidable, so there are other things I do to keep myself from getting sick.
One of the best ways I avoid getting sick is by washing my hands and doing so frequently, with hot, soapy water for at least 30 seconds. I also bump up my consumption of Vitamin C by eating foods high in the vitamin, as that is the preferred method over supplementation.
Because our bodies cannot make Vitamin C, we must get it from our food sources. Research has shown varying impacts of consuming Vitamin C, including reducing the duration of cold symptoms and cutting the risk of getting a cold in half for those who are very active. The key is to consume Vitamin C every day, and not just when you are starting to feel sick or at certain times of the year.
While we immediately think of oranges or orange juice as good sources of Vitamin C, there are other foods that contain the vitamin in large amounts such as strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, broccoli, kale and other citrus fruits like tangerines and grapefruits.
Consuming Nutritious Foods and Beverages
The holidays are NOT the time of year to start a fad diet or new weight loss plan. You might be surprised to read this, but — as a dietitian — I fully believe that the holidays are a time to enjoy the foods we love while spending time with the people we love. It is what we do the other 350+ days of the year in terms of nutrition that really contribute to our health.
Given all the holiday parties and large family meals we will likely attend, I like to keep my eating habits as normal as possible outside of these events. I still consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, at least five per day, and I try to stick to my normal eating schedule.
I incorporate snacks to reduce the likeliness of overeating, and I focus on starting my meals with at least one fruit or vegetable. I drink a lot of water on any given day, but I bump it up a notch around the holidays to ensure I am staying hydrated.
If I know I am going to consume alcoholic beverages, I alternate between drinking water or I mix them with a flavorful sparkling water. Incorporating my normal, healthful eating habits ensures that I am still consuming the nutrients I need to maintain my health.
I find that on the days I am physically active, it boosts both my physical and mental health. We get so busy during the holiday season that our routine trip to the gym or home workout may drop to the bottom of our to-do list. I encourage you to maintain your usual physical activity because it can improve your mental health and may ease symptoms of depression and anxiety that can increase during the holiday season.
If you don’t have a physical activity routine already, use this time to be active when you can. Take a walk with a family member, friend, or the family pet. If you have some extra days off from work, you can use those to try out a new fitness class you’ve been meaning to get to or take advantage of holiday deals for fitness club memberships or home workout equipment. Achieving the recommended amount of physical activity may be challenging during this time of year, but doing some sort of movement as often and as long as you can may help you feel better overall.
One of the best decisions I have made during the holiday season is saying “no.” No, I cannot go to the eighth family member’s lunch after driving six hours. No, I will not rush to a big box store to save $2 on this year’s hottest toy.
I have become more intentional in my gift giving and in the events I attend because, if I don’t, I will quickly burn out. I incorporate activities that are good for my mental health: a good amount of sleep, meditating, focusing on breathing and attending my bi-weekly therapy session.
I make time for the things that are important to me, and I politely decline the things that are not good for my mental health. It has taken me years to get to this point, but I can 100% say that the holiday season is much more enjoyable because of this attitude.
This time of year goes by so quickly. By incorporating these strategies, I have found I am able to fully appreciate the days — and meals — spent with family and friends. This routine also allows me to look forward to the new year and think about how I can incorporate these health promoting tips into my everyday life.
I encourage us all to slow down a bit and think about how we can support all aspects of our health during this time of year because, before we know it, the next holiday season will be upon us.
Bio: Stephanie Hodges (MS, MPH, RDN) is the founder and owner of The Nourished Principles, a public health and nutrition consulting business. She currently works with clients to strengthen nutrition and wellness within school districts, implement strong public health nutrition programs and policies, and engage with consumers on nutrition, and public health topics. Connect with her on Facebook at The Nourished Principles, Twitter at @nourishedprinc, Instagram at @thenourishedprinciples, and LinkedIn at Stephanie Simms Hodges.
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