Tips to Reduce Stress During the Holidays

While it’s often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year, the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Years Day can also be the most stressful time of year as well. Whether you brace for or embrace the holidays, I would encourage you to take some time to de-stress with five tips for a healthier, happier holiday.

1. Take care of your body.

Exercise! Going for a brisk talk, lifting weights, performing yoga or Tai Chi all have been shown to promote the release of hormones that improve your mood and reduce those feelings of anxiety that oftentimes are fueled by the holiday pressure to buy the perfect gift, make the perfect meal and host the perfect party.

In fact, the holiday benefits of exercise are multi-fold: Exercise combats weight gain. It helps you burn more calories and helps you build up muscle to enhance your metabolic rate. An exercise schedule also provides added structure to our day, which helps to keep us on track with our food intake and sleep schedules. It allows you some “me time” and time to be alone with your thoughts.

If you add a little sunshine to your workouts by going outside, those feel-good serotonin levels will give an extra boost to your immune system as well. Exercise helps to build that immune system and that can help you from getting sick. But remember, if you really want to fortify your body’s defenses, you’ll need to get the annual influenza vaccine. The best way to prevent yourself from getting sick with the flu this holiday season is to get a flu shot. Make it the No. 1 thing on your to-do list.

2. Enjoy more, in moderation.

The holidays are highlighted by the many caloric delights that abound. In many ways the dinner table—and the cornucopia of baked, battered, and fried indulgences that decorate it—have become the centerpiece of many of our holiday traditions. Unfortunately, when it comes to the culinary options many of us adapt the “all or none” approach—”I am not going to have any dessert” which turns into “well maybe just one bite” and then “I may as well have it all since I already cheated.”

Instead, what we probably need to do is agree to give in from the beginning, but in moderation. How about if I balance my plate with some of the turkey, a lean protein and a piece of that homemade pumpkin pie cheesecake with the incredible graham cracker crust?

Indeed, there are some simple tricks to help keep you from overeating:

  • Keep up your exercise routine. Exercising in the morning will suppress your appetite and will help get your metabolic rate up.
  • Bulk up your diet. Fill up with vegetables or a salad before getting your taste buds on the high caloric treats.
  • Don’t drink all of your calories. While it’s OK to have a glass of your favorite holiday cheer you may want to avoid drinks that are high in sugar content.
  • Drink water before, during and after. Water will keep you hydrated and feeling full. I like to have a glass of water before and after I have an alcoholic average and between meal courses. It helps suppress my appetite and give me that full feeling and less of a need to have another drink.

3. Make a list.

Making a list and checking it twice is not just for Santa and his elves. Prioritizing the things you need to accomplish during the holidays and scheduling time for exercise, work, holiday shopping and fun will help to keep you in check. Keep in mind that the holidays are the least stressful when we do less and enjoy more. Writing it down just may help you put your overly ambitious plans into perspective and it is oh so satisfying to cross items off the list once they are accomplished!

4. Turn off the technology.

Every time your cell phone bleeps, blips, buzzes, chimes or sends its own personal orchestral tone your body responds with a “fight or flight” response which feeds into your already increased stress levels. Studies show that people with the lowest stress levels actually socialize, not social network, for 6-7 hours per day with family and friends. Less time social networking and more time socializing—how cool is that? This holiday season take some time to unwind, unplug, de-tech, and reconnect with the real world, if only for the dinner hour.

5. Find the meaning in the season

After all, this is the most wonderful time of the year. Remember why it is we celebrate and take the time to connect with the true meaning in the season.

  • Take some time for fellowship and fun with friends. Laughter produces a chemical that has anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects.
  • Lend a helping hand to those in need. One of the surest ways to increase your well-being is to volunteer. Volunteers tend to weigh less, feel healthier, have less stress and a lower chance of suffering a heart attack.  They also score higher on the happiness index.
  • Spend some time in spiritual reflection. Just about every study done on the connection between religion and well-being shows that the two go hand-in-hand. If you attend religious services about once a week, you will live, on average, 14 years longer than if you didn’t.
  • Be thankful. Write down what you are thankful for and share it.  It is in the sharing that we remind ourselves and others “thetrue reason for the season.”

Wishing you many holiday seasons of good health and happiness!

Mark Gloth, DO is the Chief Medical Officer of HCR ManorCare.