Healthy Holiday Habits 101

It’s that time of year again.  The holidays are upon us, and while there is a new semblance of normal in most people’s lives, most of us are doing what we can to carry on with holiday preparations, as we should—safely, that is. 

We all know the drill by now:  social distance, wear a mask, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, don’t gather in large groups, etc.  Kindly keep following them.  Hopefully, the recommendations to wear a mask and social distance will someday soon be a thing of the past, but until then, keep it up.  As humans, we are not meant to hide behind a mask, nor are we meant to be so far apart from each other.  But here we are, and here we will be for at least a little while yet.

Staying healthy for the holidays is important every year, but it is of paramount importance this year, and long after the holidays are over, it will remain important to be on our guard, follow the recommendations, and generally take care of ourselves.

That last one is the tough one every year.  With a little determination, a little work and a little information, however, we can make healthy choices that will help keep us healthy. 

Of course, the basics:

  • Get enough sleep.  Our American culture doesn’t value sleep, but you should.  It is the great restorative battery charger, the time when our bodies shut down, clean up, recharge and get ready for another day.  It is the ultimate reset.  Perhaps you have read the recommendations to reduce screen time at least several hours before bed, and this should not be ignored.  When I cheat and cruise the web on my phone while laying in bed, and then I return to the book I was reading, I can feel the strain on my eyes.  They are trying to close up shop for the day, and this makes them work overtime.  Give them the break they need at least an hour before bed.  Read the book instead.
  • Our immune systems need to be supercharged this year.  Imagine yours as an army, and giving the soldiers adequate sleep is important so they can be energized and ready for the battle.

  • Winter air is naturally drier, so a small humidifier in your bedroom is a good idea.  Viruses survive longer in dry air, so this helps to keep them at bay as well. 
  • The lack of sunlight causes very real problems for most of us, whether we realize it or not.  We depend on sunlight for Vitamin D, and for overall good health.  Ask your doctor if a vitamin D supplement is appropriate for you. 
  • Move it or lose it.  Any exercise, no matter how simple, or how little, is a gift to your body—and mind.  Walking is the easiest form for many people, and as long as the windchills aren’t dangerous, and there is no ice, most winter days are suitable for at least a short stroll.  Bundle up, get out there for a few minutes, and you will likely want to stay out for a few more.  Our bodies were meant to move, so whatever way you can is good.  There are multiple videos online—free on Amazon Prime—that can guide you to engage in a workout.  Yoga, Pilates, Zumba, Dancing, Abdominal workouts, weightlifting, even Jane Fonda is available for a small charge!  Before you embark on a strenuous exercise regimen, however, check with your health care provider.
  • Drink enough water!  A good guideline is this:  half of your body weight in ounces daily.  As long as you aren’t on fluid restrictions from your health care provider, this formula is a good one.  It may be a stretch, but adding to your present intake to reach anywhere close to that is a step in the right direction.  Unfortunately, coffee, tea and pop don’t count, they actually put you in debt.  Anything with caffeine or alcohol has a dehydrating effect, and more water needs to be taken in to compensate for that.  That doesn’t mean you can’t drink the drinks you enjoy just be aware that you need to drink more to make up for that. 
  • Breathe!  You may think this is something that requires no attention since you are already doing it anyway, but that’s not true.  Since you are indeed doing it already, simply do it a little deeper, a little longer in both the inhale and exhale.  And imagine you have a balloon in your stomach that you are trying to inflate.  Pushing air down to your lower lobes of your lungs will improve your overall breathing, and when you do it right, your stomach expands. 
  • Exercising willpower is tough when there are multiple treats staring at us.  This year, however, there may be fewer goodies at the office, and our family gatherings may be very limited.  The food may or may not be limited, but as always, moderation is key.  Enjoying these treats is part of the joy of the season, but overdoing it can be a debt to pay in pounds in the New Year.  Filling up first on vegetables or other healthier snacks is a good strategy.  Drinking a glass of water a few minutes before a meal, or when you know you are about to be faced with a snack table may fill you up just long enough to get you through the temptation. 
  • This year has been a strain on most everyone’s soul.  Realizing that tough times don’t last, and there will be somewhat of a return to normal someday soon, we hope, is important.  Keeping this sense of hope alive is important to our mental health, despite the uncertainty that this year continues to heap upon us. 
  • December 21st marks the winter solstice; the shortest day of the year.  Sunlight begins returning after that, even if it only an extra minute or so each day.  The short days of winter can bring many of us down inside.  This won’t last either.  It never does, the promise of spring again has never been broken.
  • Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is actually a sign of strength.  If you are struggling to cope with difficulties in your life, whether or not they are COVID related, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  The holiday season is harder for many people, and no one should feel bad about feeling blue this time of year.  Your health care provider is a good place to start; they can refer you to an appropriate source of help.  If you have a minister, priest or other spiritual leader in your life, they may be able to help as well.  Telehealth has made it possible to connect with all forms of medical and psychological help without leaving your home.  Please don’t suffer in silence.
  • Humans are not meant to be isolated from each other, nor are we meant to communicate through masks.  Tough times, however, call for tough measures, and when we can connect again, it will be even more meaningful.  Don’t hesitate to reach out by phone, text or U.S. mail to someone who may need to hear your message of love and hope.  We all need each other to survive and thrive.