Balancing Your Physical and Emotional Health During the Holidays
The holiday season is a special time when we celebrate various cultural traditions with family and friends. For some, however, the chores of cooking, hosting family gatherings and gift-giving can lead to stress and burnout. Nevertheless, if we stay balanced in mind and body, this can be a season of peace, joy and love. Here are a few strategies to help you stay healthy and balanced during the holiday season.
Attending countless holiday celebrations can lead us to fall out of the healthy eating habits we have cultivated throughout the year, leading to weight gain and worsening medical conditions, such as cholesterol levels and diabetes. There is a way to enjoy our favorite foods and not feel like we are in a constant state of deprivation. Mindful eating allows us to maintain balance. Mindful eating occurs when we pay attention and are present with our food, meaning we are in the moment. Being mindful allows us to slow down, better enjoy food and listen to our bodies’ signals from the brain that tell us when we are full. Unfortunately, eating has become a mindless process, often done hastily and without much thought. This can be problematic since it takes our brain up to 20 minutes to realize we are full. Mindful eating also allows us to utilize our senses better and savor and enjoy each bite of food we eat.
In addition, to stay balanced, make sure your holiday meals include nutritious seasonal vegetables. Some healthy and delicious choices include Brussels sprouts, carrots, pumpkin, winter squash and sweet potatoes. Fueling your body the right way will give you the energy you need to enjoy all the holiday season offers.
Exercise and physical activity are great weapons during the holidays as they allow us to stay energized and maintain a healthy weight when holiday indulgences beckon. Choose aerobic activities, such as walking in the park, dancing, jumping rope with the kids or through an exercise-based video game. It is a great idea to have social support and involve family or friends when staying active. A fun way to do this is by creating a holiday step challenge. Set a fun prize for the winner, and let the challenge begin!
If traveling during the holidays, planning ahead can make all the difference. If staying with family, find a nearby park or trail to walk on. If you are staying in a hotel, choose one that has an exercise room. You can even stay active while watching your favorite TV show by marching in place or doing mini-squats during commercial breaks.
Performing these activities, even for five minutes at a time, can be impactful to your heart health. Staying active over the holidays will allow you to savor delicious meals and enjoy the holidays while keeping your body in balance.
It is essential to listen to our bodies and get the rest we need during the holidays. Sleep is crucial to allow us to recharge, keep our immune system strong, maintain a healthy weight and even stabilize our emotional health. Set time aside to relax each day and ensure you get the recommended hours of sleep, which for most adults, is about seven hours per night. If sleeping soundly is a problem, make sure you are practicing good sleep hygiene: This includes getting off blue-light devices (phones, iPads and television) at least an hour before bedtime. It is also essential to have your bedroom be as dark as possible as this facilitates the release of melatonin, our sleep hormone. Also, try doing something soothing before bedtimes, such as meditation, prayer or a warm bath.
Partaking in self-care
We love the holiday season, but buying gifts, hosting family gatherings, cooking and decorating can also be the most stressful time of the year. That is why it is vital to make time for self-care during the holiday season. While some individuals may view self-care as indulgent, the International Self-Care Foundation defines this concept as “anything people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness.” Even so, many people find it a daunting task to schedule self-care during such a hectic time of year, but that is precisely why we need to prioritize it. Schedule self-care activities so they become more part of your weekly routine. Even 10 minutes daily of focusing on yourself can positively impact your physical and emotional health. Activities such as meditation (there are several free apps out there that offer short, guided meditations), listening to your favorite holiday music, taking a nap, or doing an at-home spa (think candle-lit bubble bath) can help bolster your immune system, refresh you emotionally and even give you more physical energy.
The holidays can be a wonderful yet hectic time of year, and taking time out to stay physically active, prioritize sleep and partake in self-care can be a challenge for all of us. However, even adopting a few quick, healthy habits is enough to make a major difference in our emotional and physical health. By doing so, we can navigate this time of year with improved physical and emotional balance – helping us better handle burnout and stress while also enjoying moments of warmth, love and peace with our family and friends.
Marie Vazquez-Morgan, PT, Ph.D., is assistant vice chancellor for Institutional Wellness at LSU Health Shreveport.