The hustle and bustle of the holidays is both good news and bad news for most people. In addition to the spiritual element, which should be primary, it’s also a time for families and friends to celebrate wonderful traditions and create timeless memories.
Unfortunately, it can also take its toll on your health. Research suggests patients admitted to the hospital on holidays are significantly more likely to die than those admitted on other days. The reasons are varied and complex, but part of the issue is stress. Not only do we exercise less and eat more, we also worry more. Here are some common, and not so common, tips to keep your holiday happy and healthy.
• Even if it’s chilly, bundle up and go outside. Walking outside provides both sunlight and exercise – both of which help lower stress. Stress is also exacerbated during winter months by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is associated with a lack of sunshine and possible vitamin D deficiency.
• Choose to be with people who make you feel good. Family gatherings can often be a mixed blessing. Some relatives are fun to be around – some are not. For those who bring you down, limit the time you spend with them and try not to take them too seriously – focus your attention on those who lift you up. Small children, in particular, will usually make you smile.
• When the stress of shopping starts to take its toll, change gears while you clear your head and lower your blood pressure. Work on a home project, wash the car, knit, do something relaxing that requires your full attention. Also try shopping online – you can shop from home, take your time and maybe find a bargain.
• Eat happy foods. Turkey, fish, eggs and peanut butter contain tryptophan which boosts serotonin production, helping mood and sleep. In moderation, chocolate can increase endorphins, which also improve your sense of well-being.
• Slow down. Turn off the cell phone and computer for awhile. Email and social media can add to your stress when over used. Also, allow plenty of time for travel and cooking. Unexpected delays and events will happen – allow for them.
• Drink plenty of water. The amount of salt we eat during holidays can lead to mild dehydration which can elevate stress. If you drink alcohol, water will not only slow down the absorption, it will also make you feel fuller and less prone to overeat.
• Enjoy holiday aromas. Pine trees, roasted chestnuts, cloves and cinnamon are all familiar and comforting scents. Studies suggest they can also relax and improve your mood. If you’re feeling stressed, light a scented candle or brew your favorite spiced tea – your nose will do the rest.
• Don’t focus on stuff. A recent study suggests that materialistic individuals often exhibit low levels of self-esteem, which lessens their ability to manage stress over the long term. While so called “retail therapy” may reduce anxiety momentarily, the effect is short lived and expensive.
• Finally, do not skip your regular times of prayer and meditation. Not only will it bring you back to what the season is really about, numerous studies confirm the healing ability of being still and quieting the mind for 20 minutes every day – listening rather than talking. The Psalmist telling us to “be still and know God” is not a traditional holiday scripture – but perhaps it should be.