The holiday season—beginning with Halloween and stretching all the way to the New Year—can be a time for remembrance, thanks, and time spent with friends and loved ones. But it can also be a major source of stress, obligations, financial concerns, and binge-eating and drinking. For many of us, the end of the holidays will leave us feeling far worse in terms of our health.
Instead of doing the “same old” this holiday season, why not try at least one of the tips below for a healthier and happier you? You’ll end up feeling better by January 1, ready to take on the new year with gusto.
Tip #1: Keep COVID-19 in Mind
The unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 will likely continue to be a concern through the end of 2020. This means that in-person gatherings for Thanksgiving or Christmas could pose varying levels of risk for contracting or spreading the virus.
When planning your holiday get-togethers, consider the factors below to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 to you or your loved ones. And remember, the tips below do not replace any state or local safety laws or regulations that are in place with which all gatherings must comply:
- Community levels of COVID-19 – consider the current level of COVID cases in the community where you plan to gather. Consider also the number of COVID cases in communities that your loved ones are coming from. If either is on the rise or is trending high, consider changing plans
- The Get-Together Details – gathering outdoors will generally pose less risk than indoors. Also, gatherings that are shorter will pose less risk than gatherings that run long
- The People Joining – gatherings with fewer people will reduce the chance of accidental spread. Consider also whether the people joining have been practicing good social measures ahead of the event, like wearing masks in public, washing hands frequently, and maintaining at least six feet of distance from others
- The Event Itself – You should implement the same social measures at the gathering itself (mask-wearing, handwashing, and social distancing) to reduce the chance of COVID spreading
To best reduce the chance of COVID-19 spreading to you or your loved ones, consider celebrating this year with only those in your household. You can connect virtually with family members and loved ones to enjoy the holiday while staying safe.
Remaining at home is especially important for anyone who has been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID within the last 14 days of the gathering. Or, anyone who is feeling unwell or awaiting COVID test results. The same goes for anyone who is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. This means those who are immune-compromised or have chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or obesity that can increase the chances of a COVID-19-related complication.
Tip #2: Practice Mindful Eating
One of the best parts of the holidays is the delicious food. Whether you’re a turkey taste tester, a casserole connoisseur, or a mashed potato master, it’s common to indulge in tasty foods that are high in calories.
While it’s okay to occasionally indulge, the holiday season is not an excuse to take a break from healthy eating. To avoid over-eating (or drinking) during your seasonal get-togethers, try mindful eating. Mindful eating means eating slowly and intentionally. Take your time to enjoy the food or drink in front of you, and don’t scarf down what’s on your plate just to get a second helping.
Mindful eating is important because it typically takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that it is full. If you scarf down too much food within that time frame, your stomach hasn’t had a chance to tell your brain to stop! This is in part what causes that bloated and uncomfortable feeling when you know you’ve eaten too much.
Mindful eating also encourages you to fully experience the tastes, smells, and sensations of the food as you eat. This can make the experience of eating even more enjoyable.
Tip #3: Don’t Overdo the Obligations
Between preparing meals, shopping for gifts, and making plans with family, it’s easy to overload your holiday schedule. How often do we feel more exhausted at the end of a holiday weekend than we did entering it?
If you regularly feel overwhelmed at what’s to come this holiday season, take a few moments to reset. Ask yourself: What’s important to me this holiday season? What needs to get done, and what’s something that feels more like an obligation? It’s okay to tell a friend or neighbor that you can’t attend a service or get-together. Skip the office party if you’d rather spend time at home with your loved ones. This is especially true during COVID-19 (see Tip #1)!
We often feel obligated during the holiday season because we have an idealized view of what the season is supposed to look like. Instead of subjecting yourself to that stress, realize that the holidays will never be perfect. There will always be small disappointments, or changes in plans, or things that don’t come together like you thought they would. That’s okay. Instead, take comfort in the small joys that come with catching up with family, eating good food, or simply taking time to rest.
Tip #4: Take Time to Be Thankful
The scene of the happy family sitting around a huge feast and naming what they are thankful for can feel cliched. It can also be difficult if you’re experiencing a lot of stress, discomfort, or illness. But being thankful doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring the problems or concerns in your life.
Everyone has stressors (even that picture-perfect family). But being thankful, even for a few minutes, is a practice that’s well worth trying. Harvard research notes that practicing gratitude can improve relationships, cultivate a better sense of well-being, and promote a sense of optimism moving forward.
It can be gratitude for having a family member or a friend in your life. Or having a roof over your head. Or simply a job that helps to pay the bills. But consider taking a few moments out of your day to reflect on what you’re grateful for. If it’s having someone in your life, consider writing them a thank you note to improve their mood, as well!
Tip #5: Start Exercising Now
With how busy the holiday season is for many of us, exercise habits can be left on the back burner. Or, we might look ahead to the new year to consider a “fresh start” and a new exercise regimen.
But don’t wait! The reality is that the new year (when many of us plan our “resolutions” to eat healthier and move more) ends up being just as busy as the holiday season. If we’re being honest, life is almost always busy.
So, take the time now to start a new exercise habit, if you haven’t already. The benefits of regular exercise are numerous, including weight management, chronic condition support, and improved mental health. Always check with your onsite clinician or doctor before starting a new exercise, but even low-intensity options like a walk around the neighborhood or body weight squats between work tasks can be a healthy start.
Many national health organizations recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. But if you’re just starting out, that amount of exercise might be unrealistic. Instead, it’s important to build up to that amount of exercise slowly and safely. If you start now, you’ll be ahead of all those people who waited until the new year to begin exercising.
Make the Holidays Healthy – and Fun
The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for many people and has resulted in more cases of isolation and loneliness across the world. This means that this year’s holiday season may be even more important for connecting with friends and family. And while catching up with loved ones can provide a major boost to your emotional and mental health, always ensure that you’re abiding by state and local regulations for gathering and doing everything you can to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.
In addition, don’t wait until the new year to start adopting healthier habits. Your body and your brain will thank you for taking care of them during the holidays, and you may realize that the season is even more enjoyable when feeling healthy!
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