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Holiday Health Tips: Staying Sane, Keeping Well

The holidays bring a mix of happy and stressful times, filled with joy, anxiety and overindulgence. Find tips for dealing with key holiday health issues.

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

The holidays can be a joyous time, filled with friends and family and wonderful times. But the holidays can also be a stress-filled time, filled with anxiety, loneliness, over-eating, and malaise. Given a choice, most of us would choose the joyous time, of course, but the reality is that the holidays are usually a mix of the good and the bad.

How can you boost the good and reduce the bad? How can you stay on a healthy path over the holidays? How can you stay sane surrounded by the sometimes crazed world of the holidays?

The tips in this article should help you deal with the key holiday health issues: emotional and mental stress, over-eating (and drinking), and over-spending.

Everything in Moderation During the Holidays

Know your emotional, financial, dietary, and drinking limits -- and do not go anywhere near reaching them. Your mantra over the holidays should be "moderation" -- in everything, from gift-buying to holiday partying.

Do not use the holidays as an excuse for excess. Because the holidays fall toward the end of the year, it's easy to justify excesses by convincing yourself that you'll make some new year resolutions to change your ways -- but all you're doing it burying yourself deeper in denial, debt, and destructive behaviors. (By the way, in case you were wondering, studies show that new year resolutions fail for most people.)

Holiday Gifts. Remember that most people do not need more things -- they need to feel remembered and appreciated. A thoughtful gift is more important than an expensive gift. Don't use gifts as emotional tools to overcome your own guilt or force guilt on others.

Holiday Eating. Enjoy some of the special treats that only appear this time of year, but don't eat those things in place of normal meals or healthy snacks. Attending a holiday party? Start with your veggies and fruits first, before you hit the fatty stuff. (And if there is a buffet, remember that you don't need to keep going back just to get your fill.)

Holiday Drinking. Like food, there are special holiday libations that may entice you to drink more than you normally do. Drinking is a personal choice, but, again, if you do choose to drink, do so in moderation and stay off the roads.

Holiday Parties. The holidays are a time to reconnect with people near and far, but there are no rules that state you must attend every single party -- or that you must go overboard at each party you attend. (Going to a holiday office party? Read these Holiday Office Party Do's and Don'ts.)

Make Time for Yourself During the Holidays

Socializing is indeed a big part of the holidays -- and it's good to get out and mingle with people and renew old friendships and family connections, but you also need to make time for yourself.

Carve out time to get off the holiday merry-go-round that can almost smother us with overexposure (including those pesky retailers who start playing Christmas music right after Halloween.)

With everything else swirling around you -- including the pressures and stresses of the holidays -- you should carve out time just for yourself, for your mental health. The holidays are about giving to others, but don't forget about time just for you.

Carve out time daily to have some down time -- whether reading a book or blog, writing in your journal or blog, working out, or watching television. Make the time just for you. Finding time for a period of relaxation is essential for good health -- and even more essential during the holidays.

If you're struggling with time management -- and it only gets worse around the holidays -- now is the time to tame this beast. Set priorities, breakdown larger projects into more manageable tasks, and set (and meet) realistic deadlines.

Treat Yourself During the Holidays

Remember to take care of yourself. Treat yourself to something nice -- perhaps a little gift or holiday treat. Pamper yourself with a long, soothing bath or a nice solitary walk in the country. Go to your favorite yoga class or sit quietly listening to your favorite music.

Too often we get so caught up in doing good deeds for others -- or simply just too caught up in the stresses of the holidays -- that we forget about taking care of ourselves. So take time to treat yourself.

The better we take care of ourselves, the healthier -- both mentally and physically -- we'll be. Life is too short to deny ourselves simple pleasures. (Just remember not to overindulge.)

Keep the Faith During the Holidays

Whatever your faith, the holidays are a time of appreciating all the gifts you have in your life. So remember to pause amidst the flurry of holiday activities and give thanks for the many gifts you have. Even if you are struggling emotionally or financially, you still have gifts of value.

After you have remembered all you have to be thankful for in your life, take a moment to remember that the holidays are also about helping those less fortunate.

It's easy to get a bit cynical when surrounded by the overwhelming commercialism of the holidays, so if you start feeling a bit negative, take a step back and remember what these days are all about.

Do onto others. There are always people more misfortunate than ourselves -- and your spirit will soar when you see the impact even very small gestures can have on people who are struggling with life. Volunteer with a local soup kitchen or other community organization. Make a donation to help needy children or families. Visit an elderly relative or neighbor.

Maintain (or Start) Exercising During the Holidays

The average person gains about 5 pounds during the holidays (many gain more), but you can fight that trend -- at least for yourself -- by keeping to your exercise/workout routine, perhaps even stepping it up a bit to compensate for the extra holiday goodies that everyone snacks on.

Keep putting off exercising? Visit your doctor to get an okay -- and then start tomorrow! You don't need a gym or health club membership. Walking or riding a bike are both fantastic exercise techniques. Then use some small cans or plastic water bottles -- or buy some inexpensive dumbbells -- for use in working on strengthening your muscles and bones.

You can even combine your holiday activities with exercising. Ride your bike to go on small shopping trips. Park your car down the street so that you walk a little further. Do an extra couple laps around the mall before you start your shopping.

Your goal should be at least 30 minutes (ideally 60 minutes) or physical activity every day. (You do not need to do the exercising all at once; you can do smaller chunks throughout the day.)

Find exercise tips and more in the fitness section of this site.

Final Thoughts on Staying Healthy During the Holidays

Don't forget about setting realistic expectations about the holidays. One of the major causes of the holiday blues is the letdown from unrealized and overblown expectations. It's better to have lower expectations and be pleasantly surprised by a better reality than by expecting too much and being bitterly disappointed.

Perhaps the holidays are the hardest for people who have lost a loved one or recently ended a romantic relationship. If you have suffered a loss, let those around you know what you need. Don't isolate yourself during the holidays

Remember that if you are feeling overwhelmed and/or sad or depressed because of the holidays -- or it's been made worse by the holidays -- please seek the help of mental health professionals. (See also these mental health tips.)

What if you have read these tips too late -- and you've already succumb to the holiday overindulgence bug? Admit it and move on -- just don't be too hard on yourself. But do set goals for the new year that involve permanently changing your ways so that you'll be on track for a healthy year ahead -- and a better holiday season next year.

Finally, remember to use the health and wellness tips and resources we have on the pages of this site to help you achieve the holiday health and wellness you seek -- not just for this holiday, but for the rest of your life.

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Avid wellness guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., is an avid bicyclist, adventurist, environmentalist, and student of wellness and photography, with a mission of empowering others to lead great lives. He is Founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites. Dr. Hansen is also the founder and caretaker of this site, EmpoweringRetreat.com, as well as founder of EmpoweringAdvice.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com or reach him by email at CEO(at)empoweringsites.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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