Diet & Lifestyle

21 Ways to Stay Healthy During the Holiday Season: Managing Stress, Eating Well, and More

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21 Ways to Stay Healthy During the Holiday Season: ...

With busy schedules, long to-do lists, and more family and social obligations, staying on top of your health and wellness goals during the holiday season can be challenging. Continue reading for simple and practical tips for staying healthy during the holidays and into the new year.

Holiday season health tips

Stay healthy this holiday season with the following tips

1. Enjoy sensible servings of holiday indulgences.

Food is a cornerstone of the holiday season and is something to be enjoyed. Restricting food intake often has unintended consequences, resulting in preoccupations with food and binge eating. (2) Allow yourself to enjoy sensible servings of your favorite holiday dishes without guilt.

2. Eat mindfully.

When enjoying holiday meals, chew your food slowly and savor the different flavors, textures, and temperatures. Mindful eating can prevent overeating and curb the undesirable consequences of overeating, such as uncomfortable fullness and bloating. (16) It can take approximately 15 minutes for your brain to recognize that you’re full, so take a short break after finishing your meal before getting additional servings. (27)

Christmas dinner meal spread

Don’t be afraid to enjoy healthy portions of your favorite holiday dishes.

3. Stay connected.

For many, the holiday season can be a painful and isolating time. No matter your circumstances, connect with trusted family members, friends, or neighbors. Extensive research has demonstrated the many physical and mental health benefits of social connectedness, including reduced stress, improved self-esteem, and decreased risk of chronic disease. (34)(35) Given current physical distancing recommendations, consider connecting with others outside your household via phone and video calls.

4. Get outdoors.

Weather permitting, try to spend some time outdoors, whether that involves sitting on a park bench, going for a hike, or taking a walk around your neighborhood. Experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of nature has been linked to numerous health benefits, including improved mood and alertness, as well as reduced anxiety and stress. (14) Forest bathing, a type of nature therapy that involves walking, standing, resting, or deep breathing in a forest, has been shown to reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and feelings of anger, depression, and stress. (13)

5. Prioritize “you time”.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by social or family responsibilities, don’t forget to set aside some time for self-care practices. Occasional solitude can help offer temporary relief from daily pressures and may serve as an opportunity to recharge your social battery. (5) Find a self-care activity that you enjoy most, such as taking a bath, going on a solo walk, journaling, or reading.

6. Stay hydrated.

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated beverages, such as herbal tea and fruit-infused water, throughout the day to stay hydrated. Adults are recommended to consume between 91 and 125 ounces (2.5 to 3.5 liters) per day, however water requirements vary depending on your age, sex, and activity level. (31) Due to its diuretic effects, alcohol consumption can provoke mild dehydration in some individuals. (25) When enjoying alcoholic beverages this holiday season, ensure you’re drinking plenty of water and consuming hydrating foods, such as fruits and vegetables. (26) How can you tell if you’re well-hydrated? Monitoring the color of your urine is a simple technique for determining your hydration status.

The color of your urine is a good indicator of hydration status.

7. Practice good hygiene.

Mitigate your risk of getting sick or spreading illness to others this holiday season and beyond by practicing good hygiene. Routinely wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face, and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing and sneezing. (8)

8. Spend time with your (or someone else’s) pet.

Did you know that pet ownership is associated with improved mental and physical health? Pets can be a source of comfort and companionship and may decrease depression and loneliness. (7) Interacting with a pet may also contribute to improved pain management and immune function. Furthermore, several studies have found that petting or playing with a pet can lower blood pressure and temporarily boost oxytocin levels, a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland that promotes calmness, connection, and feelings of love. (3)(32)

Person holding a dog

Playing with a furry friend can boost your mood and decrease feelings of loneliness.

9. Practice meditation.

Meditation is a popular practice for managing stress and anxiety levels that involves mindfulness and focusing techniques for achieving a calm state of mind. (9)(24) If you’re new to meditation, consider following an audio or video guided meditation found online or on a variety of mobile apps.

10. Get crafty.

Picking up a paintbrush or doodling in an adult coloring book may help foster emotional and general well-being. Research shows that engaging in creative activities can improve mood and reduce feelings of stress and anger. (29)

11. Create a weekly meal plan.

Outlining your meals for the week ahead can set you up for success and help keep you on track with your health goals. Research has shown that individuals who plan their meals are more likely to eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, generally consume healthier meals, and are at a lower risk of obesity than those who don’t regularly plan their meals. (12)

Download a weekly meal planner.

12. Eat well to support your immune system.

Certain micronutrient deficiencies, including deficiencies in vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, as well as in the minerals copper, iron, selenium, and zinc, are associated with a dysregulated immune system. (21) Minimize your risk of deficiencies and give your immune system a fighting chance by eating various nutrient-dense foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and lean animal proteins. (30)

13. Create a playlist of your favorite feel-good songs.

Feeling down? Research suggests that listening to music that contradicts your current mood, such as relaxing or upbeat music, can significantly improve your emotional state. (28) Listening to music is an effective strategy for reducing stress and anxiety (15) and has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate. (20)

14. Help someone in need.

Volunteering your time or money, such as volunteering at your local food bank, picking up groceries for an immunocompromised neighbor, or donating supplies to an animal shelter, may also improve your own health. Research has identified a potential connection between volunteering and improved health outcomes. In multiple studies, participants who volunteered reported enhanced mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and overall happiness. (17)(36)

Woman delivering groceries

Helping others can also benefit your health and well-being.

15. Pay someone a compliment.

Not only can paying someone a compliment brighten their day, but one study has found that the simple act of complimenting someone can boost your mood. (6)

16. Set SMART goals.

As we enter the new year, you may be thinking about the goals you’d like to accomplish. Set yourself up for success by establishing goals using the SMART goal guidelines, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-related. (1) Start small, avoid setting too many goals at once, and build upon your goals once you accomplish them.

Download a SMART goals worksheet.

17. Laugh often.

You’ve likely heard that laughter is the best medicine. One study indicated that laughter significantly reduces heart rate and systolic blood pressure and increases serotonin levels, a hormone known for its mood-regulating effects. (37) Laughter may also boost immune function by enhancing natural killer cell activity, a type of immune cell that fights infection, according to one clinical trial. (4)

18. Start your day with a self-affirmation.

Curb negative chatter in your head by writing down or saying aloud a self-affirmation, a positive statement about yourself (e.g., I am capable and smart), each day. Emerging research has noted that self-affirming statements can promote self-compassion and help reduce stress. (10)(19)

19. Practice gratitude.

Expressing appreciation can have lasting benefits on your health and well-being. In one study, participants wrote a daily list of things for which they were grateful. After 14 days of this simple exercise, participants reported increased happiness, improved life satisfaction, and reduced symptoms of depression. (11)

Download a daily gratitude journal.

20. Get enough sleep.

Not getting enough sleep can have harmful effects on your health and may increase your risk of numerous health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. (18) Adequate sleep is also essential for proper immune function. During sleep, your body produces and releases cytokines, a type of protein necessary for combating infection and inflammation. (23) The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should obtain seven to nine hours of sleep per night, and adults over the age of 65 need seven to eight hours per night. (22)

21. Don’t forget to stay active.

The cooler temperatures may tempt you to bundle up on the couch this winter, however, staying active is essential for your health and well-being all year round. Research has shown that routine exercise can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and reduce your risk of developing many chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. (33) Find an activity you enjoy, such as biking, running, yoga, pilates, dancing, or weight lifting.

Download a handout on physical activity guidelines.

The bottom line

This holiday season, prioritize your health and well-being by combating holiday stress, eating well, enjoying the company of friends and loved ones, and practicing the self-care strategies that work best for you.

Download a 28 days of wellness calendar.

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