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9 Stay-Healthy Tips for the Holidays

Keep the focus on fun, not food

Most holidays are associated with certain foods. Christmas at your house might not be the same without your aunt’s green been casserole, but that doesn’t mean food has to be the main focus. Instead, throw yourself into the other rituals a holiday brings, whether it’s caroling or tree trimming.

Modify your eating times so that they jive with your relatives’.

Do your in-laws’ meal schedules fly in the face of yours? Here’s how to compromise: Say they wake up later than you do and serve a late breakfast at 10:30. Then they skip lunch and serve Christmas ‘dinner’ at 3 p.m. To keep your blood sugar steady without overdoing it on calories, have an early-morning snack (such as a piece of whole-grain toast) before your relatives rise and shine. Their late breakfast will count as your ‘real’ breakfast, plus some of your lunch. Enjoy the 3 p.m. meal – but don’t overdo it! – and have a small snack at around 8 p.m.

Cut down your own Christmas tree.

Rather than buying a tree from a roadside lot where the trees have been drying out for weeks, visit a tree farm that allows you to cut your own. It will be fresher and probably less expensive than they are at the lot. You’ll burn off calories and combat some of the blood-sugar effects of the sugar cookie you snuck by traipsing around the grounds in search of just the right tree. And your family will have one more fond holiday memory to look back on.

Indulge in only the most special holiday treats.

Skip the store-bought cookies at Christmas, but do save some calories in your ‘budget’ to sample treats that are homemade and special to your family, such as your wife’s special Yule log cake. Training yourself what to indulge in and what to skip is much like budgeting your mad money: Do you want to blow it on garbage that you can buy anywhere or on a very special, one-of-a-kind souvenir? Just don’t completely deprive yourself on festive days – your willpower will eventually snap, and you’ll end up overeating.

Christmas_Tree

 

Make the change!

The habit: Staying physically active during the holidays.
The result: Gaining less weight over the years.
The proof: A study conducted by the U.S. government found adults gained, on average, more than a pound of body weight during the winter holidays – and that they were not at all likely to shed that weight the following year. (That may not sound like a lot now, but it means having to buy roomier pants after a few Christmases pass.) The good news is that the people who reported the most physical activity through the holiday season showed the least weight gain. Some even managed to lose weight.

Stock the freezer with healthy meals.

Everyone’s overly busy during the holidays, and most of us want to spend our time shopping, decorating, or seeing friends and family, which leaves less time to cook healthy meals. Take defensive action several weeks ahead of time by cooking meals intended specifically for the freezer. You’ll be thankful later when you can pop one of the meals into the oven or microwave and turn your attention instead to writing out holiday cards with a personal message in each.

Pour the gravy and sauces lightly.

You may not be able to control what’s being served at a holiday meal, but you can make the turkey, roast beef, and even mashed potatoes and stuffing much healthier by foregoing the sauce or gravy or spooning on just a small amount.

Take the focus off food and drinks this holiday season by embracing a project that will have lasting meaning: Organizing your family photos.

What household doesn’t have a mountain of snapshots that need to be sorted? Dispensing with this source of clutter will be stress relief in itself, but you also will get an emotional lift when you glimpse the photos again. (Plus, what better holiday gift to give yourself or someone you love than a gorgeous album filled with family memories?) If you don’t already have a photo organization system, try this: Find a shoebox or another box that’s the right width to accommodate snapshots. Use cardboard rectangles as dividers between categories of photos. (You can also buy photo boxes with these dividers.) Write a category label across the top of each divider (‘Martha,’ ‘Christmas,’ ‘Family,’ and ‘Pets,’ for instance). As you go through each envelope of photos, slide the very best into an album, file other photos you want to keep into the appropriate category in your shoebox, and throw out the rest.

Toast the new year with just one glass of bubbly.

You may be celebrating, but that doesn’t mean that that you should send your meal plan (and your judgment) on holiday. Alcohol can interfere with your blood sugar by slowing the release of glucose into the bloodstream; it also contain a lot of calories – 89 calories per glass of white wine or champagne, 55 calories in a shot of vodka, and 170 calories in a pint of stout beer. What’s more, alcohol breaks down your inhibitions and judgment, which makes you that much less likely to resist the junk foods that you would otherwise be able to pass up.

Brenda Schmerl
source: www.rd.com
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How to Stay Mentally Healthy During the Holidays

Do the holidays stress you out? You’re not alone. It’s a hectic time of year for many people, maybe even most people.

Nothing about our usual daily life goes away. The holidays add a layer of activities and responsibilities, both real and imagined, that take up time, money and emotional energy. Even if we enjoy many aspects of the season, there may well be moments when we wish we could rewind the calendar to somewhere in the middle of August.

I can’t reverse the calendar, but I can remind you of some strategies for maintaining your sanity during this most pressured time of year.

  • Recognize that the people in your life are who they are. It is not new information who will be the Scrooge, who will drink too much, who will have unrealistic expectations or who will be generous to a fault. No one is going to change just because it’s the holidays. Let go of the idea you can change anyone who bugs you. Find constructive ways to minimize their impact on your life. Put your energy and time into those who know how to love and whose presence makes you happy.
  • Give yourself permission to let some things go. Take a moment each morning to gather your thoughts. Make a list of all the things you have to do and want to do. Check off the two or three items that are really important to you. Let yourself entertain the idea of letting go of many of the others — or at least reducing them in some way. Many of us make our own stress by buying into the “have to’s.”
  • Take time every day to enjoy something about the season. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of decorating and shopping and baking and wrapping. But are you enjoying any of it? Stop. Breathe. Take a few minutes to enjoy the decorations on the lampposts or to really look at the lights. Savor one of the cookies. Inhale the warm smells coming from your oven. Wrapping a gift can be just another chore or it can be a way to quietly celebrate what the intended receiver means to you.
  • Take care of yourself. We should do this all the time but it’s especially important to get enough sleep, to eat right, and to get some exercise every day when stressed. Self-care is not an “extra,” even though it may seem to take too much time. Time invested in yourself each day will more than pay off in your general sense of well-being throughout the season.
  • Everything in moderation. Be mindful of your own tipping points when it comes to holiday indulgences. You already know your limits for alcohol and sweets. Listen to your own good sense and you’ll avoid waking up with regret, a hangover or an extra five pounds.
  • Stick to your budget. Forty-five percent of those polled in a recent survey done by Think Finance (a provider of payday loans) said that the financial stress of the holidays makes them wish they could skip the whole thing. This was true across all income levels. Yes, it’s difficult to resist the commercialism, the hype, the buy, buy, buy messages that are everywhere. But it’s important to remind ourselves that overspending is not the only way to express love. Gifts that are made by the giver often are more meaningful and treasured than anything that comes from a store. Spending quality time with someone sometimes is the best present of all.
  • Reach out. Lonely? Being alone, far from family or without one during the holidays is a key source of stress for many people. Connect with friends and plan some activities that celebrate the season — even if it’s just enjoying a peppermint stick in a cup of tea. Attend your house of worship and stay if there is a coffee hour. Get into the holiday spirit by volunteering at a soup kitchen or charity event for needy children. Being in a festive atmosphere with other good people who are doing good work is a great antidote for loneliness.
  • Do random acts of kindness. Get into the season of giving. Let someone else have that parking space near the store. Compliment the harried store clerk. Let the mom who is shopping with kids go ahead of you in line. Be generous with street musicians. Doing good will make you feel good — or at least better.
  • Be grateful. Research has shown that taking the time to be grateful every day has enormous physical and mental health benefits. It helps build our immune systems, keeps us in touch with the positive aspects of life, and connects us with others. So keep a holiday gratitude journal. From now until the New Year take a few minutes every day to write down at least three things you are grateful for. They don’t have to be huge events. Sure. If you win the lottery tomorrow, you can be grateful for that. But short of such a windfall, we can be grateful for having enough food to eat or for getting a phone call from a friend or for the neighbor whose holiday lights make us smile.

christmas

The holiday season may be busy, but it doesn’t have to drive us insane. We do have the ability to bring down the stress and bring up the joy. After all, the best gift we can give ourselves and those around us is our own peace of mind.


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10 Ways To Change Your Holiday Outlook And Fend Off Stress

By drawing on great information available in the latest research, you can change your holiday outlook.

The most wonderful time of the year can become anything but: the pressure to find that perfect gift, financial stress and poor health habits all contribute to why the vast majority of people cite the holidays as a very stressful time. By drawing on great information available in the latest research, you can change your holiday outlook. Even better, you can begin to create habits that transform an entire lifetime. Here are some little changes that can make a big difference in managing holiday stress — a little “New Year’s intention” you can begin before Christmas.

Manage expectations
Expecting that picture-perfect holiday can lead to deep disappointment when reality doesn’t line up. The holidays become an amplified expression of the struggles we face during the rest of the year; the desire to repair a fractured family relationship, a struggle for perfectionism or feeling responsible for others’ happiness can all lead to unreasonable hopes. Instead, work with your holiday mindset and try to see others from a present-time lens. Back away from hot button conversations, and tap into your ability to emotionally roll with whatever challenge happens to show up.

Breathe deeply
It sounds so obvious: “just breathe.” It’s well established that taking deep breaths is the fast track to feeling relaxed and present, but how often do you fully expand your lungs, flushing out all those toxins, activating your relaxation response? Schedule in deep breathing several times per day, well before the holidays become chaotic, to minimize your stress response. How do you know when you’ve hit that therapeutic threshold? Aim for six to eight breathing cycles per minute, depending on what’s comfortable for you.

Focus on experiences, not stuff
While the excitement of opening presents may lead to a surge in the feel-good neurochemical dopamine, research tells us that sharing in new experiences bolsters real happiness long term. The suggestion is that while we can easily tire of objects, memories become internalized, and are a resource we draw on again and again.

Unplug
The more time we spend on social media, the greater the likelihood of low mood or even depression, the latest research suggests. While it may be tempting to check and re-check responses to your posts about your holiday moments, chances are you may be inhibiting happiness. Instead, opt for black out periods throughout the day or putting technology aside altogether. It’s a powerful way to clear the way for authentic connection, real time.

Buy time
The endless gift buying and holiday errands are, for most people, downright stressful. Some researchers would suggest that spending your money on timesaving services might be the answer to becoming stress-free; in fact, participants who did were far happier. But in the age of technology, it isn’t necessary to throw money at the problem. Instead, try purchasing gifts and groceries online, pull back on unreasonable expectations and challenge the perfectionism that can become your holiday mindset.

Lean into your routines and rituals
A review by the American Psychological Association reports that routines and rituals are powerful protective factors, providing a deeply rooted stability to family life. The benefits include stronger marital satisfaction, fewer health problems in children, and increased positive identity in adolescents’, greater academic achievement, and better family relationships overall. Use the routines you’ve already established to maintain a sense of well-being throughout the holidays, and consider the kinds of rituals you’d like to put into practice for years to come.

Exercise
The positive effects of exercise are undeniable; they’re shown to be even more powerful than antidepressants when it comes to the long-term treatment of depression. Fitting in exercise over the holidays will not only counteract holiday blues. It can also provide you with a surge of endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever.

Pay attention to health symptoms
The latest research reveals a worrisome, if not unnerving, holiday fact: the risk of death on Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Years Day increases by a whopping 5 per cent. The good news is there are ways to protect you against this holiday effect.Pay attention to atypical health symptoms, know where the closest medical facility is and don’t hesitate to forego holiday celebrating to put your health at the forefront.

Smile, for real
Smiling is shown to have both physiological and psychological benefits according to a study on it’s effects. The simple act of putting a pencil in one’s mouth is likely to bolster stress recovery and leave you feeling more positive. The study revealed that the pencil in mouth technique was beneficial regardless of whether the participant was asked to smile or not, but there were slight benefits to intentional smiling.

Last, but not least, count your blessings
We’ve all heard about it. Re-connecting to the core intention of the holidays happens seamlessly when you commit to a practice of gratitude. According to studies by the Grandfather of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, the simple practice of writing down three things that went well each day for one week, can lead to greater happiness for up to six months.

So, if you’re looking to make this holiday the most meaningful yet, reflect on and generously share the true “gifts” you’ve been given. Extend the habit beyond the holidays, and it has the potential to change the emotional tone of your life. And that is, truly, a blessing.

 12/21/2017 
 
Michele Kambolis Clinical Therapist, Author, Parenting Expert, Mind-Body Health Specialist and National Columnist
 


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This Year, Consider Giving Presence Instead Of Presents

During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful. The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.

“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.

In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. Oravecz says the findings highlight the psychological benefits that intimate relationships can offer. In fact, study participants ranked human interaction as a more significant expression of love than receiving material items, like presents. Connecting with others was also rated more highly than getting positive feedback on the internet, indicating that people derive the most support from personal human contact. In fact, other studies suggest more time on social media leads to increased feelings of isolation. Yet despite the findings that spending time with friends and family makes us feel good, during hectic times like the holidays, these social interactions can feel burdensome instead of fulfilling. Fatigued from an overload of shopping, spending, and travel, most Americans describe this time of year as stressful instead of magical. In fact, a telephone survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that compared to other times of the year, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men (out of 786 individuals polled) feel more stress during the holidays. In addition, 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men said purchasing and giving gifts added to their distress.

Esther Lui for NPR

Small acts of kindness are what make us feel loved.
 

Any kind of stress can strain relationships and cause us to withdraw from others, but small stressors can be just as trying as larger burdens. A 2015 research study found that daily hassles like working, running errands, and money troubles negatively impact romantic unions, causing people to feel less satisfied and more alone in their relationships. When we’re anxious and fatigued, it can also be more challenging to see someone else’s point of view, which might explain why family feuds seem more likely to arise during the holidays. While prioritizing one’s self-care during the months of November and December may be difficult, adopting a mindset of being present in the moment may help lessen the stress of the season.

“During the holidays, anxiety rises, making it harder to remain present with ourselves and others. However, the power of spending time with another person is a gift we can give at any moment,” says Dr. Carla Naumburg, a mindfulness coach and social worker in Newton, Mass.

While we may associate presence with mindfulness meditation, we don’t need to be Zen masters to create a calmer holiday. Naumburg says we can cultivate presence by cutting back on social media (which helps limit distractions), getting plenty of rest, and taking a pause (and remembering to breathe).

“For everyone, breathing is a small but powerful act that can keep us connected to ourselves by shifting our awareness to the present moment,” she says.

According to The American Institute of Stress, focused breathing elicits the body’s “relaxation response,” slowing one’s heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and helping muscles relax. This physical process aids in repairing an overactive nervous system, helping us to enter a calmer physical and emotional state. Although it can be challenging to forgo doing extra errands during the holidays, Naumburg suggests balancing party planning and online shopping with moments of human connection. Activities like reading to a child, meeting a friend for a walk, or taking a moment to call a family member, are ways to express love and care and can keep us emotionally grounded. While the idea of offering loved ones the gift of our time may pale in comparison to giving them a lavish present, recent empathy research shows shared human experiences can tighten social bonds. Oravecz and her colleagues also found that despite personality differences, most people agree on what makes us feel loved — the presence of our loved ones.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.
December 9, 2017    JULI FRAGA
 
source: www.npr.org


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10 Healthy Holiday Party Tips

By Suz Redfearn   WebMD Feature    Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Move over, Martha Stewart! Ready to cement your status as a legendary host or hostess? Here are 10 surefire ways to have folks vying for an invite to your holiday party.

1. Offer a signature drink with a small amount of alcohol and a lot of low- or no-calorie mixer. Alcohol, the center of many a holiday party, can derail your guests’ efforts to stay healthy. Not only is it packed with empty calories, it can also lower their control, increasing the chances they ditch their diet and overdo it at the buffet table.

You don’t have to go with grog or nog – a low-cal wine spritzer can work just as well, says Bethany Thayer, director of the Henry Ford Health System’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Detroit.

Mix up some wine with club soda or diet citrus soda, add a splash of low-cal juice (think cranberry), and a pretty piece of fruit, like a raspberry. Give it a festive name, and it’s a win for you and your guests.

2. Set out only teeny-tiny plates. That way, your guests can’t possibly load up with piles and piles of food; it’s just not physically possible, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, registered dietitian and president of Nutrition Today with Amy J.

Throwing a dinner party? Go old school. Use 8-inch plates. “The holidays are a great time to use that vintage china, since plates used to be much smaller!” Jamieson-Petonic says.

3. Skip the chips, scale back the dips. Make vegetables – not chips – the star of your tablescape by cutting them into fun shapes or offering them on skewers. “Not only will the water content of the veggies start to make guests feel full, all that chewing will slow them down,” Thayer says. Just make sure you don’t derail healthy effects of eating veggies by providing high-fat, high-calorie dips for appetizers. 

4. Create a food-free zone. If your party isn’t a seated meal, serve food in one room only, leaving the rest of your home free for socializing.

If guests have to stand and stare at the food while they’re talking, they’re much more likely to get seconds, thirds, or more. But if they take one plate and relocate to a distant room, they are apt to get chatty and forget about refilling their plates.


5. Serving protein? Go lean. Consider fish or turkey for your main dish. Both are lean sources of protein that can easily carry a feast. If you opt for turkey, be sure to avoid skin. And choose a low-fat cooking method. Roast it on a rack, Thayer says, and the majority of the fat just drips away.

6. Bring on the beans. Beans are chock-full of fiber and plant protein and can help guests fill up fast, Jamieson-Petonic says. Instead of cooking them with meat, which ups the fat content and drives away vegetarians, Thayer suggests using liquid smoke – look for it in the grocery store near the barbecue sauce – to infuse beans with a deep, almost meaty flavor.

7. Deconstruct that casserole. “Casseroles are the very definition of comfort, but they’re often loaded with things like sodium, heavy cream, butter, and cheese,” Jamieson-Petonic says. Instead of baking a traditional casserole, serve a dish that lets the main ingredient go solo. Broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, sweet peppers, butternut or acorn squash, and Brussels sprouts are just as delicious when prepared a different way. Bake or steam the veggies, then flavor with lemon juice, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or even spices like curry or ginger.

8. Go green. Offer a gorgeous salad filled with spinach rather than plain ol’ lettuce, Jamieson-Petonic says. That way your guests can fill up on a food source rich in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, iron, and calcium.

Make your own simple, low-calorie dressing from olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and lemon juice; then toss with toasted pecans, lighter cheeses (like feta), tangerine slices, apples, pears, and dried fruit. The result: a festive salad that your guests will enjoy and remember. 

9. Shrink the desserts. A holiday party just isn’t right without tempting desserts. So don’t skip the treats, Thayer says – just offer very small portions. That way your guests can taste a little bit of everything.

Consider making many of those desserts fruit-based. “Don’t underestimate fruit and its place at the dessert table,” she says. “Dishes like an apple baked with lots of cinnamon can look great and taste amazing.”

10. Keep ’em movin’. Give your guests something to do, Thayer says. It’s better for circulation, digestion, and calorie-burning than standing – or sitting – around. Consider a game of charades or a scavenger hunt. Clear an area for dancing, or dust off that foosball or pool table. If it’s warm outside, offer bocce ball or horseshoes. Organize guests into teams and stage a competition – anything to keep them off the sofa.