Healthy Holiday Reminders: Leading Integrative Experts Share Wellness Tips

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us! Along with the food, fun and festivities can come a hectic pace that may take a toll on some patients. Throughout the entire year, integrative practitioners are talking to their patients about self-care. That conversation can be even more important this time of year and as we enter the new year.

There is a dichotomy of emotions that can surface during the holidays. For many patients, the holidays can bring an unusual combination of joy and stress. In fact, there is actually stress associated with the pressure to be so happy this time of year! “Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anger can intensify when contrasted with the joy expected of the holidays,” according to the Cleveland Clinic (1).

A 2015 Healthline survey (2) demonstrated that more than 60 percent of all Americans feel stress during the holidays. Leading stressors included food, finance and the flurry of activity. And these stressors can cause most people to jeopardize their healthy lifestyle. In fact, a 2017 Virgin Pulse survey (3) of 1,000 employees in North America found that during the holidays:

  • 71 percent said they eat unhealthy between two and five days a week
  • 51 percent skip exercising between two and five days a week
  • 59 percent sleep poorly between two and five days a week

It appears that there is a double-edged sword that surfaces during the holidays and can linger into the new year: stressful activities increase unhealthy behaviors while healthy behaviors decrease. To combat the negative effects that can come with the holidays, patients may need some health-promoting reminders that can also take them into the coming new year. We’ve reached out to four highly-respected integrative practitioners to glean some additional holiday insight when it comes to diet, lifestyle, and dietary supplements.

Our experts include:

small glass container with fresh fruits and yogurt

“To avoid putting the feedbag on during a party or holiday meal where the choices may not be optimal,” says Dr. Hoffman, “have a nutritious snack before you go.”

Expert advice: diet

We’ll begin with diet because that’s the area that most people struggle with this time of year. Interestingly, a study commissioned by the makers of a heartburn medication found that 85 percent of the 2,000 Americans surveyed admitted to overeating during the holidays and 42 percent admitted they had to unbutton their pants because they were so uncomfortable from overeating. Fortunately, our experts have some great advice when it comes to avoiding overeating this time of year.

“To avoid putting the feedbag on during a party or holiday meal where the choices may not be optimal,” says Dr. Hoffman, “have a nutritious snack before you go.” He says that will take the edge off and help patients make more rational food decisions. Dr. Kaczor couldn’t agree more. She says, “Don’t go to the party hungry! Eating a healthy snack before you go will help avoid that urge to overeat or eating sweets or less than healthy finger foods.”

Dr. Alschuler reminds her patients to slow down and enjoy the foods that they may indulge on during the holidays. Rather than avoid the foods entirely, she says “one way to splurge on foods that you typically avoid is to be mindful of portions. Eat a smaller serving and savor each bite.”

Dr. Schuler also reminds his patients about mindful eating. “Deviations from dietary regimens are inevitable,” he says. “Bringing awareness to which deviations are acceptable and which ones are not, will help establish better boundaries when it comes to holiday eating.” He also heads back to basics by telling his patients to, “Drink water!” Drinking water not only helps patients feel full to avoid overeating, but it also reduces the risk of dehydration, which can place added stress on the body.

woman running outdoors in the winter forrest

When it comes to movement, Dr. Hoffman reminds his patients that consistency is key.

Expert advice: lifestyle

While food is a big issue for many patients during the holidays, it’s not the only issue. This time of year, proactive stress management is paramount. Dr. Schuler says most of his patients recognize that they can become overcommitted during the holidays.
“I remind my patients that it’s ok to say no,” he says. He sometimes encourages his patients to consider declining party invites and/or hosting opportunities.

For Dr. Alschuler, “the most important thing to maintain health over the holidays is to move. Even though it may be tempting to sit around all day, don’t do it!” She recommends taking walks, climbing stairs, or playing a game of family football. “Do whatever it takes to keep yourself active during the holidays.”

When it comes to movement, Dr. Hoffman reminds his patients that consistency is key. “Maintain your routine at the gym as a health ‘anchor’ during the disruptive holidays,” he says. “Your workouts will not only keep you lean, but they’ll also generate endorphins to help bust your holiday stress.”

Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can also be a huge issue for many patients during the hectic holiday season. Dr. Kaczor reminds her patients that sleep is critical because that’s when the body goes into “housekeeping mode.” She says, “This means that you rehydrate tissues and your immune system is more active, which helps reduce the risk of infections. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, increases several aspects of immune function, so missing sleep repeatedly is a recipe to make you more susceptible to whatever is going around this season.”

All of the experts agree that taking time during the holidays to recharge is important advice to give to patients. This will also help encourage better sleep.

“Faced with all the demands of the holidays, we all need a place to retreat,” says Dr. Hoffman. He tells his patients to “create a calm zone where, for a few hours a week, you won’t be preoccupied with shopping, parties, or family obligations. Read a favorite book, listen to music, or enjoy a regular hobby to reboot your brain.”

“Turn off the TV, radio, computer, smartphone, and read in silence. Take a walk outdoors even if the weather isn’t perfect. Paint, draw, sculpt, put together a puzzle or engage in a book of brain games,” recommends Dr. Schuler. “20 to 30 minutes goes a long way!” Dr. Schuler reminds his patients that it’s critical to make time for this “active recovery”, especially during the busy holiday season.

Active recovery is also a great time to practice gratitude according to Dr. Alschuler. “Gratitude is one of the most healing emotions. Feelings of gratitude literally improve the integrity of our DNA!” She says, “the holidays are a great time to reflect on all that you are grateful for.”

raw lavender plant on a table

If lack of sleep is due to anxiety, he may recommend oral lavender softgels.

Expert advice: dietary supplements

As integrative practitioners, all of our experts agree that dietary supplements can play a role during the holidays especially when it comes to stress management, sleep, and other issues.

Both Dr. Kaczor and Dr. Schuler often recommend adaptogenic herbs, in particular, ashwagandha, to help ease that edgy stressful feeling that can surface this time of year. Dr. Kaczor says she may choose Chinese ginseng, another adaptogenic herb, for patients who are feeling especially lethargic and run-down during the holidays.

For sleep, Dr. Schuler recommends the amino acid L-theanine alone or in combination. If lack of sleep is due to anxiety, he may recommend oral lavender softgels. He also says, “Don’t forget a B-complex and magnesium for stress, tension, and basic cellular energy.”

Dr. Hoffman is a big fan of vitamin D, especially during the winter months. “I often have my patients brighten up their holidays with a generous dose of vitamin D, 2,000-5,000 IUs daily,” says Dr. Hoffman. “I always test and monitor D levels in my patients all year long because it’s such a critical nutrient for overall health.”

“It may also be helpful to have digestive enzymes or herbal bitters such as gentian on hand to stimulate and support digestion,” recommends Dr. Alschuler.

Final words of wisdom

While we often focus on the parties, shopping and socializing that comes with the holidays, we sometimes forget that this can be a very lonely time of year for some patients.
“Scientific studies (4) have confirmed that isolation and feelings of loneliness can damage health,” says Dr. Hoffman. During the holidays he reminds his patients to reach out to family members or friends who may have a limited social network. And for patients themselves who are feeling isolated, he says “the holidays are a great time to take part in a volunteer activity or community activities.” He also encourages patients who are feeling isolated this time of year to seek professional counseling to “shake the Holiday Blues.”

Integrative healthcare professionals can play a significant role in helping patients truly experience joy and happiness this holiday season. They can get their patients on the right health-promoting path as they begin the new year.