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Focusing on What Is Important During the Holidays

November 30, 2010

Learn How To Maintain Your Health At Upcoming Seminar

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Yet for many people, it’s a season filled with emotional and financial stress and too many commitments. Poor diet, lack of exercise and increased alcohol consumption also can sap your energy and jeopardize your health.

"Stress can play a major role in disrupting people’s health and well being, and many people show increased symptoms of stress during the holidays," says Michael Parmley, M.D., F.A.C.P., an internal medicine specialist on the medical staff at Washington Hospital.

To help you decrease your stress and maintain your health during the holidays, Washington Hospital is sponsoring a special Health & Wellness seminar featuring a lecture by Dr. Parmley on Tuesday, December 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. The seminar also will feature presentations by a team of Washington Hospital registered dietitians.

Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

One of the most important things you can do to reduce holiday stress is to lower your expectations," he notes. "Don’t let your ideas of what the holidays ‘should be’ rule your life."

Dr. Parmley offers a number of suggestions for lowering the stress of the holidays:

  • Don’t feel you have to accept every holiday invitation you receive. Too many commitments can take a toll.
  • Spend your holiday time with people you enjoy. Don’t feel obligated to attend Aunt Edna’s annual bash if it always makes you cringe to be around her.
  • Be sure to get enough rest. Don’t let too many activities deprive you of the sleep you need.
  • Keep your gift list and holiday spending within reason to avoid the added strain of financial worries.

"Many people are facing substantial financial pressures these days," he emphasizes. "Overspending and going into debt can only accentuate the financial stress. Instead of breaking the bank, consider making some of your gifts or giving personal ‘gift certificates’ to run errands or baby-sit for your loved ones."

Avoiding Overindulgence

Overeating and drinking in excess are other holiday traps to avoid, according to Dr. Parmley.

"The key to healthy eating is to stick to a healthy menu," he explains. "Holiday goodies certainly can be tempting, and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you indulge in a special holiday dessert. The trick is to eat in moderation. Keep a regular schedule for meals and be sure to include healthy foods like fruits and vegetables along with that occasional treat."

Don’t Forget to Exercise

If you’re tempted to reduce or skip your exercise regimen during the holidays because you’re too busy or too tired, try to work some simple physical activities into your holiday schedule.

"Exercise is great for reducing stress, so it’s important to keep up your physical activity," Dr. Parmley says. "Instead of sitting around watching football, go on a walk with the family. Instead of stressing out about finding a parking spot right in front of the grocery or department store, go to the far end of the lot where it’s easier to park and get some exercise walking to and from the stores."

Dr. Parmley cautions that exercising in cold weather should be done in moderation.

"Overexerting in cold weather – especially early in the morning – may increase the risk of heart attacks," he says. "Even here in the Bay Area, where we’re not out shoveling snow, you should make sure you’re properly warmed up before exercising outdoors. And don’t go wild on the ski slopes if you’re not in good shape and properly warmed up."

Guard Your Physical and Mental Health

Other tips for maintaining your physical health during the holiday season include taking common-sense precautions against catching a cold or the flu:

  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your nose and mouth.
  • Limit your exposure to large crowds and avoid traveling on airplanes if you have a compromised immune system.
  • If you haven’t already done so, get a flu shot. Even though flu season has already started, vaccination can still be beneficial.
  • Stay home and take care of yourself if you do get sick – don’t spread your cold or flu to others.

"People who are planning holiday travel to another country should be sure they have all the recommended vaccinations, in addition to the flu shot," Dr. Parmley adds.

Maintaining your mental health also can be difficult during this sometimes-stressful time of year. "The holidays can be particularly hard for people who have suffered a major loss, whether it’s a loved one or a job or a foreclosed home," Dr. Parmley notes.

"If you’re feeling depressed, it may help to get plenty of exercise and get involved with other people in activities that lift your spirits," he advises. "If you become incapable of functioning normally, consult your doctor right away. While some causes of depression are emotional in nature, there are physical factors that can lead to depression, too, including thyroid problems, anemia, diabetes, kidney problems, and even vitamin deficiencies. It’s better to seek help sooner, rather than later."