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10 Ways to Maintain Balance This Holiday Season

As magical and joyful as this time of year can be, there is no doubt that along with the wonder of the season come many opportunities for stress. Extended time with family can be wonderful--and it can be stressful. Ever mounting 'to-do' lists, volunteering, gift-giving, treat-making, holiday parties; even the most enjoyable activities can become stressful when our schedules feel overloaded. On top of this, this is the time of year that we often put self-care and rest aside for the sake of the season. Here are ten ways to keep yourself nourished and healthy this holiday season.

1.) Real food first!

There are foods that increase and decrease our energy. The main foods that can decrease our energy include: caffeine, coffee, soft drinks, alcohol, too much meat or not enough, processed & chemicalized foods, milk, sugar, artificial sweeteners, & trans fats. Stimulants (caffeine, sugar, etc.) may seem to give an energy boost, but they actually deplete our bodies, drawing out minerals and nutrients. These substances are also highly addictive. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which help support your immune system. Antioxidants combat free radicals (chemical by-products known to damage DNA and suppress the immune system). Eat regularly and limit the foods that decrease your energy. Avoid skipping meals. Eat prior to going to a holiday party or event. Going out? Look-up the menu online and plan your meal beforehand. If you are looking forward to a cocktail, perhaps skip dessert. Enjoying a lovely dessert? Perhaps opt out on the wine. Plan for a busy day! When you have healthy options in your car, purse, or crock-pot, you are less likely to reach that point of hunger where you may easily fall prey to the closest fast-food option. Try to avoid pre-packaged, processed foods. Do not over-complicate your meals this time of year--simple, easy, fresh is the way to go!

2.) Get adequate sleep!

We need sleep for many reasons; muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis. Getting a good night’s sleep may help regulate immune function. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. Your immune system releases proteins necessary for fighting infection while you sleep, while other infection-fighting cells are reduced during periods of sleep deprivation.

Here is another reason to catch some z’s! Two hormones, leptin (the hormone that tells you you are full) and grehlin (the hormone that stimulates hunger) are affected by the amount of sleep you get. When you don't get enough sleep, it drives levels of the hormone leptin down, which means you don't feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes levels of the hormone grehlin to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food. The two combined can set the stage for overeating, which, in turn, may lead to weight gain. Are you dog-tired but feeling obligated to make that nth batch of holiday cookies? Staying up late to hand-make each and every holiday card? When these things become stressful they are no longer any fun. Are doing these things because they bring you joy or because you don't want to disappoint anyone? Be honest. Then hit the sack--that extra batch of cookies will not even be missed!

3.) Keep exercising!

Think of exercise as a gift to yourself. Schedule it in as if it were a doctor’s appointment. Think you don’t have time to exercise? Honestly, do you have time to be sick? The mood-boosting and stress–relieving properties of exercise alone are worth it (never mind keeping your heart healthy and your weight in-check)! Take the steps, park further away and employ a friend, if need be, but just keep moving!

4.) Listen to your body!

If you are eating sensibly and mindfully for the majority of the holiday season there is no reason you should not be able to splurge a little. However, plan your events carefully. Don’t eat food just because it is there. Plan for your treats by being selective--do not mindlessly load up on cubes of cheese or other food items that you really do not love. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry. How are you feeling after eating a certain food? If you are full but tempted by the dessert table, find a friend to talk to or keep a glass of water in one hand at all times. Fuel your body with nourishing foods and give your body the rest it deserves!

5.) Stay within your means!

It is easy to get caught up in the spirit of the holidays and give generously to those important people in your life. It is not so easy to get out of debt come January. The amount of stress that comes from “How am I going to pay for this?” can be long-standing. Chronic stress can have a negative impact on immunity. While short-term exposure to stressors can rev up your immune defense, prolonged stress may wear down the immune system and increase your susceptibility to illness. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, not only alters immune system responses but may also increase appetite and play a role in fat storage and weight gain. The most special gifts are usually not the most costly. Framed pictures, a framed poem from a child, a ‘memory’ box to give to parents or siblings; these are the true gems. Organize some sort of ‘swap’ (holiday décor, ornaments, cookies). Get creative (we call it “Free Fun”)! Do something meaningful as a family (sing songs at a retirement home, for example). Although it may seem otherwise in this day and age, you do not have to spend a lot of money to have a spectacular holiday.

6.) Schedule time for yourself!

I can hear the laughter already. What? Time for myself? Unheard of. Here’s where you can get creative. Just met a deadline? How about taking 10 minutes to start that crossword puzzle you love. Have 15 minutes before you have to pick-up the kids? Instead of crossing something else off of your 'to-do' list, flip through a magazine that you have wanted to read. Or read for fun (remember that?). Find activities that restore your energy. Go for that walk, browse through a book store, whatever your pleasure (as long as it doesn’t involve spending more than you have and causing more stress); reward yourself for working hard. Take five minutes for yourself and do one thing you love each day. Remember,” If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy!”

7.) Stay Hydrated!

Your body depends on water for survival. Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to function correctly. For example, your body uses water to maintain its temperature, remove waste, lubricate joints and help metabolize calories efficiently! Water is essential for good health. Tips for staying hydrated:
  • Carry a reusable bottle of water with you during the day. Add a slice of lemon or lime.

  • Make sure to drink water before, during and after your workout.

  • Start and end your day with a glass of water.

  • When you’re feeling hungry, drink water. The sensation of thirst is often confused with hunger. True hunger will not be satisfied by drinking water.

  • Drink on a schedule. If you have trouble remembering to drink water, try to create a schedule. For example, drink water when you wake up; at breakfast, lunch and dinner; and when you go to bed.

8.) Breathe!

Breathing exercises are an ideal way to relieve stress; they’re fast, simple, free, and can be performed by just about anyone, anywhere (and at virtually any time). Here’s how basic controlled breathing works:

  1. Sit or stand in a relaxed position.

  2. Slowly inhale through your nose, counting to five in your head.

  3. Let the air out from your mouth, counting to eight in your head as it leaves your lungs. Repeat several times. That’s it!

9.) Just say no!

You do not have to go to each and every holiday event to which you are invited. When you are feeling stressed by too much merriment, you know it is time to cut back. Breakfast with Santa, train ride with Santa, pictures with Santa, Hannukah festivities seven out of the eight nights, even office 'Secret Santas' and cookie exchanges can be downright depleting if you are trying to 'do it all'. Remember that the season is also one of peace. Trading in the myriad of ‘events’ you have planned for a few special traditions makes them all the more special. Remember, your kids need to decompress and get some good rest as much as you do!

10. Connect!

We all crave connection to one another. Whether you find that connection through an organized religion, volunteering for a special cause, or on a brisk, snowy walk with somebody special, seek out the people and places that make you feel alive and a part of this very special world.

11.) Spend time outside!

I know I said ten, but the benefits of the great outdoors cannot be emphasized enough! Get outside for atleast 15 minutes each day. Fresh air, natural sunlight and being in natural surroundings have all been shown to improve mood and reduce stress!

and finally...

Enjoy your Holidays!

Holiday meals and special events with friends are meant to be enjoyed. Spend time with family, give thanks and celebrate the season. Give yourself permission to enjoy the meals with your family and friends. Nothing is worse than trying to enjoy a ‘once-a-year’ type of meal or treat while at the same time adding up calories, thinking about how you will 'work it off' or downright berating yourself. If you focus on eating healthfully the rest of December, splurging a little on the holidays is okay. Splurging for the entire month, however, is another story! Be aware of using the entire holiday season as an excuse to eat mindlessly. Do you have some strategies that help this time of year? Please share them with us!

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