UAB experts discuss tips for exercising, eating healthy, and avoiding added stressors during the holiday season.
As the holidays approach, many are beginning to feel the inevitable stressors of the expected “merry” holiday season. Between hosting family, exchanging gifts with friends, and the endless list of holiday parties, it can all become overwhelming if not handled properly.
Experts from the University of Alabama at Birmingham offer advice on how to manage physical and mental health while enjoying the holiday season.
Take time to exercise
Finding time to exercise can be tricky this time of year, especially if you’re traveling. When you’re away from home without access to a local gym, find a way out.
“If you’re out of town, look for hiking trails or local parks with access to fitness equipment; it can be a great way to exercise while sightseeing,” said Calvin Spellmon Jr., MD, assistant professor in UAB’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. “If you’re around kids, offer to take them to the park and work on your push-ups and pull-ups on the playground.”
Spending time outdoors could also help reduce some of the stress that can come with the holidays, even if it’s just relaxing. A UAB study suggests that spending 20 minutes in an urban park will make a person happier, whether or not they exercise during the visit.
If the weather gets in the way of enjoying the outdoors, Spellmon suggests turning to the internet to find workouts.
“You can find a wide variety of free flexibility, yoga, and meditation videos online,” Spellmon said. “Or, if that’s not really your training style, get into circuit-style bodyweight training that focuses on higher reps and shorter rests to keep your heart rate up.”
Spellmon recommends including a warm-up to prepare the body before starting and a cool-down to help the body rest.
Incorporating healthy eating into the holiday season
As the festive season is in full swing, many people will be heading to the holiday season circuit. Lavish encounters with delicious treats by the full sled will abound, but that might bloat the size.
Tara Kelly, registered dietitian at UAB, says there are five main things one can do to become a healthy holiday pro:
- Get the big picture: Look around to see what the food options are, then start by filling a plate with healthier options like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains.
- Avoid hanging out at the aperitif table: Prepare a small plate, then move away to avoid consuming too much.
- Fill half your plate with vegetables: Vegetables are packed with nutrients like fiber, which helps people feel full sooner and longer.
- Bring your own dish: not sure what the holiday spread will give you? Why not bring a healthy dish so that there is at least one option that can fill half a plate.
- Feast in good company: The holidays may seem like it’s all about the food, but this time of year is meant to be a time to gather and connect with others. Focus the majority of the time on holiday get-togethers by engaging in conversation with loved ones and those you don’t interact with often instead of at the meal table.
“If you’re having trouble controlling the treats around the holiday season, do your best to maintain your daily healthy eating habits outside of the holidays,” Kelly says. “Maintaining balance during this season as a whole will help you enjoy the events and treats of the season, but without feeling like you’re sacrificing your overall health in doing so.”
Help your mental health by minimizing stressors
“Stress in and of itself isn’t a bad thing,” said Angela Stowe, Ph.D., director of student counseling services at UAB. “It often motivates us and is an indicator of something that is generally important to us. When stress starts to negatively impact your activities, it’s probably time to take a step back and reflect on what’s going on and consider making adjustments.
Stowe says following these best practices can help eliminate additional stressors:
- Plan ahead when budgeting: Financial overstretch is one of the biggest stressors during the holidays. Instead of conjuring up feelings of guilt for not buying extravagant gifts, think outside the box to find ways to provide and help others that aren’t necessarily personal expenses.
- Remember that you have the power to say no: being burdened with a long list of things to do during the holidays can put unwanted pressure on you. If you can’t add more to your plate, remember that you can always say no. It may be uncomfortable at first, but your space and well-being are more important.
- Acknowledge your feelings about grief: Loss is hard on the holidays. Acknowledge your feelings by seeking advice or reaching out to loved ones you trust for emotional support. According to Stowe, honoring your grief and the loss of loved ones is painful and healing at the same time.
- Embrace the Situations You Can’t Control: Avoid holiday disappointment by being realistic in knowing that you can’t worry about the things you can’t change. Be more understanding by not placing high expectations on yourself and those around you.
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