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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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Does Christmas music turn you into the Grinch?

Does Christmas music put you in the spirit of giving or turn your heart two sizes too small?

If you find yourself relating to a hairy, green, holiday-hating beast known as the Grinch when your ears are filled with the sounds of the season, you’re in good company.

A 2011 Consumer Reports poll found that almost 25% of Americans picked seasonal music as one of the most dreaded aspects of the holiday season, ranking just behind “seeing certain relatives.”

A survey this fall of 2,000 people in the US and Britain by Soundtrack Your Brand, a Spotify-backed company that says it’s on a mission “to kill bad background music,” found that 17% of US shoppers and 25% of British shoppers “actively” dislike Christmas music. Bah! Humbug!

Health benefits of music

When it comes to your health, science says music is good for you. Studies show that music can treat insomnia; lessen the experience of pain (even during dental procedures); reduce your heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety; boost your mood and reduce depression; alter brainwaves and reduce stress; help you slow down and eat less during a meal; help your body recover faster; and engage the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, remembering and making predictions. Many studies say the best type of music for health is classical in nature, full of rich, soothing sounds.

With all those positives, what’s the problem with Christmas tunes?

One reason you might find yourself cringing is oversaturation. Due to “Christmas creep,” music and decorations seem to go up earlier each year, much closer to Halloween than Thanksgiving. That gives you ample time to hear Mariah Carey’s hit “All I Want for Christmas is You” for what seems like the googolplex time before you get far on your shopping list.

It makes sense that too much of anything can cause annoyance, even stress, and put a damper on your holiday spirit, much like a certain famous “nasty, wasty skunk”: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch … you have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile … ”

That’s certainly the case for retail workers who are forced to listen to holiday tunes on a seemingly endless loop in the workplace. Soundtrack Your Brand’s survey found that one in six employees believe Christmas music repetition negatively affects “their emotional well-being,” while a full 25% said they felt less festive.

Or … more Grinchy?

Putting aside the auditory attack on holiday retail workers, there’s another way to look at survey statistics: About 75% of us enjoy listening to Christmas music. And it’s not just baby boomer nostalgia that fuels those facts. According to Nielsen’s 2017 Music 360 report, millennials are the biggest holiday music fans (36%), closely followed by Generation X (31%) and then the baby boomers (25%).

Stores use music against you

Retailers are quite aware of those statistics and have learned how best to use our emotions to tap into our wallets.

Studies show that Christmas music, combined with festive scents, can increase the amount of time shoppers spend in stores, as well as their intentions to purchase. It turns out that the tempo of Christmas music plays a role as well.

Faster-paced pieces like “Jingle Bells” will energize shoppers and move them more quickly through a store than retailers might like. That’s why many rely on slower-tempo tunes, like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” to relax shoppers and entice them to spend more time and money.

That makes sense to University of Cambridge music psychologist David Greenberg, who studies the relationship between our cognitive styles and musical preferences. He believes that how you think is an excellent predictor of what music you will like.

According to Greenberg, if you like to analyze rules and patterns in the world, like those that apply to technology, car engines and the weather, you’re probably a “systemizer.” If instead you enjoy focusing on understanding and reacting to the feelings and thoughts of others, you’re likely an “empathizer.”

Want to know your personal thinking/musical style? Take Greenberg’s in-depth quiz 

If you found yourself scoring somewhere in the middle, Greenberg says you’re a “balanced” thinker, and your musical choices will probably contain a mixture of high- and low-energy pieces.

“About a third of us fall into each grouping: systemizer, empathizer and balanced,” Greenberg explained. “But it also depends on gender. Females score higher on empathizing and males on systemizing.”

Just how does that apply to holiday music?

“Empathizers prefer mellow styles of music, soft rock, R&B and soul, music that is slower,” Greenberg said. “It can be sad or nostalgic and certainly has an emotional depth to it. That profile that matches many Christmas songs such as ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,’ songs with features that get you in the Christmas mood.”

A “systemizer,” he says, will like more complex, high-energy music. Examples include hard rock and heavy metal, such as Metallica, The Sex Pistols and Guns N’ Roses. It’s safe to say that most holiday tunes don’t fit into that category.

It’s possible, says Greenberg, that those of us who don’t like Christmas music from the start of the season might fall into the “systemizer” category. Or that you might prefer listening to the more upbeat hits on Billboard’s Holiday 100, such as this year’s No. 2, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee, or No. 4, “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives.

So the next time the sounds and smells of the holiday season start to overwhelm you at your favorite retail store, relax. Understand that it’s all about personal style. Take a tip from the Grinch and let your heart grow – three sizes, perhaps?

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN     Fri December 15, 2017
source: www.cnn.com


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Five Ways Christmas Affects Your Brain

Christmas is a time of year like no other; gifts are exchanged, little-spoken-to relatives are contacted, and appetising treats are consumed with great gusto. Christmas can be both a time of stress and a time of relaxation. But whether you love or hate Christmas it’s pretty difficult to avoid – and so your brain may be altered by the experience one way or another. Here are some of the main facets of the Christmas experience, and how they might affect your brain.

The festive spirit: The joy surrounding Christmas may influence some of the chemicals in your brain (dopamine and serotonin) which affect your happiness levels. Dopamine is known to be involved with reward-driven behaviour and pleasure seeking and serotonin is thought to increase our feelings of worth and belonging. So when people talk about “Christmas cheer” they may be on to something.

In fact, researchers at the University of Copenhagen conducted an imaging study to try and find the “centre” of the Christmas spirit in the human brain. Here, participants were shown Christmas-themed images and, in those participants who actively celebrated Christmas, there was increased brain activation in the sensory motor cortex, the premotor and primary motor cortex, and the parietal lobule. Previously these brain areas have been associated with spirituality, bodily senses and recognising facial emotions. While these results should be interpreted with some caution, it is interesting to note the physical effects that feeling festive can exert on your brain.

christmas

Stress: Not everyone finds Christmas an entirely joyful and festive time – many people find it very stressful. In fact, the burdens of navigating through a busy shopping centre to find the ideal gift for your other half, or of cooking the perfect turkey for a house full of hungry people, is enough to rattle even the calmest person. Stress can exert a physical response in your body, with the automatic release of adrenaline and cortisol. Further, cortisol has been shown to have a profound effect on the hippocampus, which may decrease your memory and ability to multitask.

Giving gifts: The giving and receiving of gifts is an age-old Christmas tradition and there’s no better feeling than seeing your loved one’s eyes light up when you’ve found the perfect gift for them. But why does giving make us feel so good? Generosity has been linked with the reward circuitry of our brain, causing the release of dopamine and endorphins. Researchers have described a “helpers’ high”, which is experienced after giving. The chemicals that cause this high can reduce stress and increase your desire to repeat these acts of kindness. So, while you may resent being out of pocket after buying your great aunt that pair of slippers, your brain at least ensures that you are compensated with a chemical reward.

Bonding with family and friends: The quintessential Christmas experience involves sitting around a table with your loved ones. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine the festive period without thinking of your family and friends. The bond between you and those special to you can result in the release of a hormone called oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin – sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” – drives maternal behaviour, trust, and social attachment. As such, this hormone may help towards explaining that warm, fuzzy feeling you get at Christmas when surrounded by those you love and trust.

Overindulging: Indulging in our favourite food and drinks is all part of the Christmas experience – but overeating can affect your brain. It has been shown to activate a pathway linking the hypothalamus in the brain to the immune system. This leads to an immune response and low-grade inflammation, which may explain why you can feel unwell after eating too much. Of course, this doesn’t do much harm to your body after one extravagant Christmas meal – but, when overeating becomes a long-term issue, this inflammation can become chronic, and contribute to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But for now, don’t worry too much if you’ve got Christmas on the brain, you’ll soon be back to your usual self come January.

December 21, 2016     Kira Shaw    Postdoctoral Researcher in Neuroscience, University of Sussex
 


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5 Holiday Spices That Could Help Boost Health

The holidays are here, and we are all getting ready to head into the kitchen to make that favorite meal. Most of us associate holiday food with overindulgence and sneaking in ingredients that we would not normally eat. Thankfully, some holiday dishes are actually loaded with healthy ingredients. Many of the spices used around the holidays have unknown health benefits and should be enjoyed this holiday season. Use this list of holiday spices in your favorite dishes this season.

Cinnamon

Pumpkin pie, sweet potato soufflé and many other holiday desserts are home to this aromatic spice. Cinnamon is best known for its warming smell and helps us identify the arrival of the holiday season. Cinnamon has a number of health benefits, many of them stemming from compounds in cinnamon oil. There are two types of cinnamon, Cassia cinnamon which is more widely available, and Ceylon or Chinese cinnamon.

Derived from the bark of the cinnamon tree, cinnamon has been found to contain a high level of manganese, a mineral important in blood sugar regulation. In fact, cinnamon has been shown to lower glucose and lipid levels in diabetics. Cinnamon also has antimicrobial and anti fungal properties, with some studies showing that it is effective against candida. Finally, cinnamon may play a role in Alzheimer’s prevention. (1,2)

While the doses of cinnamon needed to exert a therapeutic effect can range from 6-10 grams, an amount tough to get in your favorite recipes, adding cinnamon through your favorite dishes can help to build that “healthy” factor in your holiday recipes.

Nutmeg

Originating in Indonesia, nutmeg is derived from a tree now found in the Caribbean and South India. Nutmeg is a high mineral spice, containing magnesium, potassium and zinc. It has been used as a brain booster, since two compounds derived from nutmeg, myristicin and macelignan, have been found to balance neural pathways and may be able to improve focus. The rich magnesium content of nutmeg has also been found to help with relaxation and sleep. (3)

There are many other home remedies associated with nutmeg, including using the spice as a pain reliever or for indigestion. Mixing nutmeg with some honey has been used to heal acne, while mixing with chick pea flour is thought to remove blackheads. Too many holiday sweets? Try using the essential oil to help boost focus.

spicerack

Ginger

One of the best known digestive aids, ginger contains the active compound gingerol, which has been shown to help indigestion, nausea and vomiting. This same compound also has anti-inflammatory properties, assisting in relief of joint pain and inflammation. (4)

Fresh ginger contains more active gingerol than dried ginger and can be kept in the fridge for up to three weeks or in the freezer for as long as six months. Add grated or sliced fresh ginger to your teas, sweets and stews to lower your inflammatory load this holiday season.

Star Anise

An original Chinese spice, star anise comes from the fruit of a tree in China. Chinese star anise is thought to have health benefits, while Japanese star anise is poisonous. The health benefits of star anise are traced back to the compound shikimic acid, which resembles the drug ostelmavir, used to fight the flu. Star anise has anti fungal and anti-candida properties as well.

Star anise is often used to flavor teas and desserts, while the essential oil is used in many perfumes. Consider adding this aromatic spice to your favorite holiday dishes to balance your sugar load and risk for Candida, a yeast that naturally occurs in our microbiome, but can get out of balance with overindulgence!

Cardamom

Both a digestive aid and an antiseptic, the essential oil of cardamom is one of the few spices that has high amounts of iron and manganese. The oil of cardamom can be used topically to heal infections and as an anesthetic. In many countries, the entire pod of cardamom was boiled with ginger and other spices to relieve digestive discomfort after dinner. (5)

Today, cardamom is used in many desserts, drinks and rice dishes throughout the Middle East. Add this spice to your kitchen cabinet and add the essential oil to your first aid kit.

Enjoy this holiday season and experiment with spices from around the world. These spices can help navigate the continuum between health and holiday excess, helping us all to have a healthy holiday season.

sources:
1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26560460
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26475130

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25917324
4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26403321
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25593391

Posted: 12/03/2015    Tasneem Bhatia, M.D. 

Dr. Taz MD, Back to the Heart of Medicine. Best selling Author, Integrative Health Expert, Prevention/Wellness


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7 Ways to Fend Off Holiday Stress (and Stay Grateful!)

By: Jordyn Cormier     November 30, 2015

The holidays are the most joyous time of the year, right? Well for some of us, what should be a pleasant season filled with laughter and mirth turns into a 90 day stress marathon. But do the holidays really have to be strangled by a glittering tinsel of stress? Absolutely not. Here are 7 tactics to fend off holiday stress and truly embrace the holidays.

Eat mindfully. Instead of stuffing your face — which is absurdly easy to do — really work on tasting your holiday treats. The holidays aren’t just about eating. Slow down, connect with your loved ones, make memories. Sure, food is a part of the equation, but that doesn’t mean you have to be constantly eating. Enjoy yourself mindfully and in moderation to skip the guilt that tends to accompany overindulging.

Make room for yourself. Everyone needs something during the holidays, and you may especially feel the pressure to give even more of yourself than usual. However, if giving your friend a ride to an appointment is going to throw off the rest of your day and flood your constricting vessels with stress, it’s best to practice saying ‘no’. Helping out loved ones is lovely, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your own well being to accommodate others. Treat yourself well, and then you’ll be able to treat your loved ones well. If you burn out, you’ve done a disservice to both yourself and those who rely on you. Make room for ‘you time’: take a bubble bath, go to yoga, see a concert, indulge in a trashy novel. Enjoy the season without spreading yourself too thin.

Stop worrying about money. If you’re a little low on spare cash this year, it can be easy to get swept up in the dismay of not being able to afford gifts for your loved ones. Don’t get sucked into the commercialism of the holidays. If you can afford nice gifts, great. If you cannot, use your ingenuity. Buy a book from a thrift store, make a piece of jewelry out of found items, craft a collage, write a song — explore your own creativity! Money isn’t everything, so stop stressing about it. It really is the thought that counts.

How to Stay Healthy at Christmas

Stay positive. Money, work, deadlines, relationships, crowded shopping centers, chores, bills, that incessant holiday music that’s been playing since Halloween — there are plenty of things that can get you irritated or down over the holidays. But, negativity is a vicious cycle and will only serve to increase your stress. Try to work on some self-affirmations or emotional resetting exercises. Your mind is a powerful tool that has the complete control to stop a cycle of negative thinking. Know this — you are good enough, your problems are not insurmountable, and holiday joy is all around you just waiting to be enjoyed. Use whatever works for you to get your outlook back on track. If imagining Ryan Gosling standing in front of you in a Santa cap is what keeps you with a positive outlook, hey, no one’s judging…

Stay humble. Feelings of humility and gratefulness have actually been shown to drastically improve your well being. Those who focus on their blessings rather than their obstacles are better equipped to handle stress. “…to the extent that gratitude, like other positive emotions, broadens the scope of cognition and enables flexible and creative thinking, it also facilitates coping with stress and adversity.” (source) Be regularly thankful for all that you have, and the world will seem a whole lot brighter and more manageable.

Be accepting of others. Everyone is different and beautifully unique. The holidays are a time to embrace these differences and celebrate them. Try to take a step back from disagreements and arguments and attempt to understand the other person’s perspective. Instead of getting bogged down by minor disputes, turn down your ego and try to come to a peaceful compromise. We are all very human and so very flawed. Let’s accept and celebrate that.

Accept yourself. Most of our stress and negativity comes from within. We may project it upon others, but we are much more capable of handling outside stress when we are happy with ourselves. This is a lifelong journey, but the sooner you learn to love the person you are, the happier and more peaceful your life will be. Let your true, positive self shine this holiday season and good vibes will bounce back.

Stress can be a difficult obstacle to acknowledge, and an even more difficult one to overcome. But don’t let it thwart the joy of the holidays! By practicing mindful techniques and focusing on the positive, you can be a glowing entity of holiday cheer rather than a furry little grinch. Feel the joy and enjoy the fruits of the holidays!


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Drink More Safely This Holiday Season

Many of us will imbibe over the holidays,
but we can avoid needless suffering with some common sense advice.

By Chrisanne Grise      Substance.com    December 9, 2014

Let the fun begin! December is a month full of parties—and for many people, booze. Great. But if you are going out, it’s important to be smart about your drinking. There’s nothing merry about a hangover, after all, especially if you did something you regret…whether or not you remember it the next day. So how can we celebrate the season with alcohol, if that’s our choice, and still stay safe?

“There is nothing wrong with enjoying yourself and cutting loose a bit during the holidays,” points out Kenneth Anderson. He’s the founder and executive director of the HAMS harm reduction for alcohol network, the author of How to Change Your Drinking and a regular Substance.com contributor—in other words, the perfect person to ask about safer drinking.

While Anderson has no desire to dampen festive spirits, he’s also very aware of how dangerous drinking-gone-wrong can be. “Always plan for safety above all,” he says. “Death is always worse than a hangover.” Well, that’s for sure. So I asked him, along with a few moderate or not-so-moderate young drinkers, for some safer drinking suggestions.

Plan ahead

Figure out your transportation plans before you leave the house, so you won’t have any issues returning home, even if you’re inebriated. And if possible, always travel with friends, so you can look out for each other.

A spontaneous night of drinking with friends is fine—they’re sometimes the best kind. But if you’re going out frequently during the holidays, you’ll do better to arrange your schedule so you avoid alcohol-based socializing multiple days in a row. It may sound nerdy, but your body will thank you for it.

Keep listening to your body, too; make sure you get plenty of sleep in advance, so that you head out feeling well-rested, rather than fatigued. And some prior awareness of how much alcohol your body can handle is also invaluable.

“The major thing that’s helped me feel better is being realistic about how much I can drink now,” says 24-year-old Allison from New York City. “I can’t down eight beers a night like I did in college and feel fine the next morning.” These days, she knows and accepts that four drinks are her absolute limit—and she sticks to that. Once you’ve found out (hopefully not the hard way) how many drinks your body can withstand, it’s well worth making a similar rule.

If you think you may have trouble sticking to your self-defined limits, Anderson recommends writing out a plan for each situation you might encounter to keep your consumption at your chosen level. If a friend insists on drinking a shot with you, for example, you could sip yours slowly over half an hour even if he pounds his down. If Mom insists that everyone have wine with dinner, you can make one glass last the whole meal by drinking water too. And if you think you’ll need a reminder of your plan in the moment, write it down and carry the paper in your pocket. Luckily, the kind of situations you’ll encounter aren’t too hard to predict, which makes preparation a whole lot easier.

Eat and hydrate well

Speaking of preparation, what better form could it take than hearty eating? Drinking on an empty stomach is a bad move, because the alcohol will hit your bloodstream—and get you drunker—faster. Instead, help yourself to some fatty food first—fattier foods slow alcohol absorption most effectively, Anderson says. Make sure you drink lots of water before and during your night out too, because alcohol will dehydrate you, and you’ll drink more booze if you’re thirsty.

“I’ve gotten dehydrated from drinking to the point where I’ve passed out days later because I never replenished those electrolytes,” says 27-year-old Brooke, who also lives in New York. Staying well hydrated will ensure that you stay safer and feel better—both while you’re out and while you’re recovering the next day.

cheers

Choose your drink carefully

In theory, all alcohol is the same—whatever the drink that contains it—and if everyone drank it at the same rate, it would have the same effect. But as most of us know, it doesn’t always work that way in practice.

“People tend to drink different kinds of alcohol at very different rates,” Anderson says. “This is why people barhopping and switching from beer to whiskey to gin tend to wind up with puking blackouts.”

You may well find it easier (and safer) to stick with beer or wine instead of doing shots with buddies. And if you usually drink vodka too fast but find you can maintain a steady pace with bourbon, take advantage of that habit. It all comes back to knowing what works for you.

“Generally, the lower the alcohol content and the stronger the flavor, the slower people will drink,” says Anderson. “A careful plan of a pre-dinner cocktail, a wine with dinner, and two standard after-dinner drinks will be fine. Chugging a bottle of wine, a six-pack of beer and a pint of gin will leave you with the blind staggers.”

That said, if you choose a mixed drink, Anderson warns that carbonated drinks are absorbed more quickly by the body. What’s more, drinks made with diet soda result in higher blood alcohol content levels than those made with regular soda. So if you’re ordering a beverage with soda in it, be sure to take it slow.

Finally, choosing your drink wisely doesn’t just apply to which type of alcohol you pick: Never let a stranger pour your drink.

Pace yourself

There’s just no need to chug your beer, no matter what the rest of your buddies are up to.

“Sometimes when I start a drink, I give myself a minimum amount of time that needs to go by before I can finish it,” says 30-year-old Robert from Los Angeles. “I feel better that way, but I also figure I’ll enjoy the beverage more if I go slow than if I down it all at once.”

As well as the enjoyment factor, this is also a pretty good strategy to keep yourself from blacking out—so much so that Anderson also recommends using a watch to measure the pace of your consumption if necessary. Be sure to stick to a pace that works for you, and don’t let anyone pressure you to speed up. Alternating between booze and non-alcoholic drinks throughout the night can be a good way to handle this.

Skip the aspirin—and just about every other drug

You may have heard rumors that taking aspirin before a night of heavy drinking can prevent a hangover. But this is actually a terrible idea. “If you take aspirin before drinking, you will get much drunker on the same amount of alcohol,” Andersen explains. This apparently tends to affect men more than women, but is ultimately dangerous for both sexes.

However, it is generally safe to take an aspirin at the end of the night, as long as you have no tendency to stomach ulcers. (Take it with a big glass of water to help prevent dehydration the next day.)

Mixing alcohol with other drugs can be just asking for trouble. Drug/alcohol combos that are particularly dangerous, as rates of ER visits and overdose can attest, include opioids, benzos and cocaine—but that’s by no means an exhaustive list. Even excessive amounts of something as innocuous-seeming as caffeine can be risky, by encouraging you to keep drinking for much longer than you normally would.

If you’re in any doubt about whether the drug you’re taking is safe with alcohol, by far the safest thing to do is avoid booze entirely, at least until you can check with a medical practitioner.

Deal with your hangover safely

If you ignore all this wise advice and end up with a horrible hangover after all, the best thing to do is rehydrate and eat some food. Chocolate milk, tomatoes, bananas, and herbal teas are all good options. (Here’s an in-depth list of hangover cures—and here’s the ultra-expensive alternative, if you’re in NYC.)

But don’t just chug vast quantities of water, as that can lead to water intoxication, warns Anderson. In addition, mild exercise like yoga or walking may help you feel better.

Ignore the haters

Drinking should always be a choice—not something you feel pressured into, no matter what the occasion. If your family or friends give you a hard time about abstaining from alcohol on New Year’s Eve, Anderson suggests telling them you’re on antibiotics. Or you can quietly drink near-beer, grape juice, or soda and they will likely not even notice a difference.

Whatever your choice, the holidays can be fun with or without booze. “If you don’t want to drink at all, that is your right too,” Anderson says. “You will find nowadays that more and more people respect that.”