Tis the season to be jolly . . . yet, you may be asking, “Why am I not feeling great?” The holiday season is upon us – in full force. Everyone is looking forward to the festivities – and your stress level increases with every passing day The joy factor seems to be elusive.
It is an undeniable fact that stress has an impact on people and their lives. Most people are aware (at least to some degree) that stress can affect you emotionally and physically; but, are you aware that it can also affect your behavior.
Since you may be struggling with heavy stress right now, it would be wise to review the effects that stress can have on you and your life.
There are a variety of ways stress can impact your emotions, but the most common include:
• Increased mood swings
• Easily irritated
• Easily angered
• High anxiety, or worry
• Constantly feeling overwhelmed
Do any of those sound familiar?
When you consider the emotional reactions to stress described above it should be no surprise that stress can cause people to over-react to small issues. This also explains why tempers are short and family dissension is not uncommon during the holiday season.
Physical effects of stress can be immediate and short-lived or develop into chronic conditions if the stress if not alleviated or at least managed.
With seasonal stress the most common effects would be:
- Headaches – These are most commonly referred to as “tension headaches,” or TTH. They are thought to be the result of muscle tension and circulatory fluctuations within the body.
- Digestive Disorders – When stressed out, people often say their stomach is “in knots.” If this goes on for long periods of time it can cause anything from abdominal pain and discomfort – and eventually to much worse with problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.
- Sleep Disruption – This can create ongoing fatigue that contributes to more stress.
Longer term physical effects of chronic stress include:
- Weight Gain – People deal with stress differently and while some people don’t eat when they are stressed, many people tend to eat and eat and eat, which can easily lead to weight gain. The long-term consequence of this is unsightly fat around the abdominal area commonly referred to as “stress fat” that can be difficult to lose.
- Insomnia – Stress can often lead to a lack of sleep, or insomnia, for many people.
- Hair Loss – Believe it or not, chronic stress can lead to hair loss.
- Heart Disease – The body’s heart and circulatory system can easily be disrupted by chronic stress. In extreme cases, it can cause dysfunction and even disease.
- Chronic Pain – In addition to headaches mentioned above, common forms of stress-related chronic pain include: joint pain, back pain, and neck pain.
- Weakened Immune System – Constant stress takes a huge toll on your body. It wears it out and can result in a weakened immune system, leaving you vulnerable to disease and multiple health problems.
Most often, stress causes individuals to act differently, or change their normal behavior. This is true for both children and adults.
The most common changes include:
- Verbal or physical abuse (toward humans and/or animals)
- Excessive anger
- Drinking alcohol
- Increased spending
- Secluding oneself
- Withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed
- Staying up/Sleeping late
Stress is ever-present in our lives and during the holiday season it tends to increase. However, if you pay attention to how you are feeling (emotionally and physically) and how you are behaving, you can manage the effects of stress – if you choose to.
Don’t let it manage you and ruin the holidays for you and your family.
Happy, Healthy Holiday Season for Little Ones
As the holiday season approaches, many of us think about our own need to stay healthy and active. As we think about the parties, the cookies, the candy, the eggnog and all the wonderful food … a small sigh escapes our lips …. There goes the diet!
Adults are not the only ones with sweet treats tempting us to dig in and enjoy. Our kids are also bombarded with goodies all season. From Thanksgiving to Hanukkah and Christmas – all the way through New Year’s, the availability of sweets, treats, and good food in abundance is difficult to resist.
We are celebrating the holidays, and food is certainly a big part of the festivities. As adults we can make some rational choices about our dietary intake (if we choose to), our kids do not have quite the same resolve. It is up to us to make healthy choices easier for them.
Let’s look at a few ideas for holiday fun without all the sweet temptations.
When a child is playing hard, there is little time to think about anything else. If you get your children away from the table, away from the kitchen, and away from the house, they will do what kids do – forget and focus on the here and now.
No matter where you live and what the climate is like, there are things to do outside during the holiday season. Depending on their ages, you may have to do some if not all of the work preparing, but it will be well worth it.
If you have leaves, rake them up and give them free reign to jump and play and scatter the leaves. Get out the sidewalk chalk and decorate for the season. If you have snow, build a fort or a snowman, or have a snowball fight. Your kids will forget that plate of cookies if they get to pelt pop square on the back with a snowball, I guarantee it.
Take a walk through the neighborhood to see the decorations. Sing songs. Window shop. Sit on a park bench and watch the people. Take turns making up stories about who the people are and where they are going. Feed the ducks. Remember – the goal is to take them away from the sweet temptations at home.
It can be more difficult to keep your little ones’ attention away from sweets when they are inside. The trick is to plan games that require some thought and even some action. The game Twister comes to mind for indoor action, but there are many games for all ages that are great for keeping kids busy.
Choose thoughtful games such as charades, drawing games, or word games. Games that make your kids think and give them some good belly-laughs are perfect for keeping their minds off the sweets. Treasure hunts are especially engaging and can be played by all ages, with a little help. Be sure to have the treasure a non-food related treat and something everyone will enjoy.
You can easily play I Spy games indoors, or hide-and-seek, or other easy games with a variety of ages. Card games are versatile, too. There are so many options it is hard to choose sometimes. Challenge your kids to create their own games – in fact, play with them and make up some of your own.
Don’t forget crafts. Get out the bin of odds and ends and let their imagination run wild. Or plan a specific craft to make a product to give as a gift to a relative or friend of the family. Of course, video games are fun and certainly an option for some families. But, remember, they must be engaging for the whole family and keep little fingers and minds busy. I am not an advocate of letting them sit alone and play video games all day under any circumstances.
After a day of fun activities both outdoors and indoors, when it comes time to enjoy a sweet treat, they will enjoy it even more.
Make Your Good Intentions Your Reality This Christmas Season
Christmas Time and good intentions often go hand-in-hand. This is the holiday when we promise ourselves that we will focus on family, but somehow those good intentions get lost in the hustle and bustle of the season. It is busy. It is hectic. There is simply not enough time to get it all done no matter how hard we try.
If this sounds like you, it is time rebel and take back the season and make sure your good intentions become your reality. I promise – it is not impossible. It is not even that hard.
Let’s look at several issues we struggle with during Christmas and see if there may be a solution or two.
This issue makes the top of the list because it often colors the rest of the celebration before you can even get started. Everything seems to flow along smoothly until the money starts to disappear. The good intentions to stay focused on family and having fun begin to fade as the money gets tighter and tighter.
There is only one solution – budget and stick with it. I know – I know – a budget seems like a lot of work; but, it is the only way to keep the focus where it belongs. Yes – you will have to spend time with paper and pencil, and you will have to make some hard choices; but, if you are clear and committed, it will be worth it!
Create a budget that does not simply postpone the pain. Put a limit on ALL spending, including the credit cards. To avoid the January surprises. One good way to do this is to put together some envelopes with spending cash designated for gifts, food, drinks, decorations, donations, and anything else you need for your traditional Christmas celebration.
A budget specifically set for each individual item not only helps control spending, it also helps eliminate that last minute spending spree because you forgot if you took care of X, Y, or Z.
Plan your budget the way you plan your Christmas dinner menu. Be precise in your budgeting and you will find it relieves a lot of stress, and gives you time and energy to focus on what is really important – family and fun.
No, I am not talking about losing weight during Christmas. I am talking about activities that keep you moving for good health in a fun way – enjoy play time every day with your family and friends – even if it is just a short walk, a quick game of Frisbee, or dancing around the living room to happy Christmas music.
Some of the holiday stress comes from the fact that health is put on a back-burner. It is easy to eat many the wrong foods and skipping exercise because you are too busy. Whatever the reason, you should never omit exercise from your daily routine, especially during the holidays!
Don’t worry about making it to the gym or spending an hour on the treadmill, just stay active. Several short walks a day will help clear the mind and get the blood pumping. You will burn a few calories, but most importantly you will lift your spirits. It’s amazing what a little boost in those endorphins, the feel good hormones, will do for you.
And, don’t forget the family – include them! Make your physical activities part of the holiday celebration. If spending more time with your family is part of what Christmas is all about, then a little play goes a long way toward that goal.
Exercise is important to feel your best; but, make it fun by including your kids and grandkids. Before the day gets too busy, go outside and have a game of tag. Shoot some buckets. Get a game of field hockey going. Do somersaults. Rollerblade. Ride your bike. Snowshoe. Build a snowman. Whatever you can do to be active and have some laughs will get you well on the way to your goal of spending time enjoying your family this Christmas.
Now – you have set up your budget and a list of ideas to help you stay active and healthy – it is time to think about the quieter times. Of course, you will be gathered around the table during the Christmas season enjoying delicious meals and sharing stories. This is all wonderful because your goal is to connect with your family, but how you spend other quiet family times is equally important.
Make your moments together count by planning activities that involve the whole family working together on projects. These can be simple crafts like creating handmade gifts or Christmas Cookies to share with friends, to larger scale projects like cooking and serving dinner at a community shelter or church.
If your family is musically inclined, you may want to join a caroling group, church choir, or band. Maybe you would like to help decorate the church. Your town may have a youth group that pitches in and decorates the store windows or city hall.
Give some thought to what you, your family, and your community needs and figure out a way to help get those needs met. Gift trees are popular for collecting gifts for families who can’t afford to buy gifts. Food drives are another easy to organize an event that your family could do. Plan a movie night at your local theatre and ask attendees to bring a new toy to give to kids spending Christmas in a hospital or away from home. There are lots of ways to do good deeds that will also be wonderful entertainment for your family.
Having a happy holiday often means finding a balance between a busy schedule, a tight budget, and family fun. You can do it all, but it takes planning, a few strategies, and lots of love.
It is early in the month of December, so make your days and activities count. Create a Christmas to remember.
Healthy Christmas Work Party
The annual Christmas Party notice is posted on the bulletin board. Your reaction is to cringe. Healthy eating was finally a habit! Your kitchen is stocked with all the foods your diet requires, and now THIS.
Take heart! There are ways you can enjoy a Christmas party and stay on track with your diet. Whether you are on a weight loss program, a heart health program, a diabetes program, or any other healthy nutrition program, there are ways you can enjoy the party. Here are a few ideas to bring that holiday spirit back while staying on track with your diet.
This is probably the single most important way to keep the Christmas party healthy and fun at the same time. Yes, it is extra work for you, but avoiding the problem is even harder work. If you leave the planning to others, you may not have a choice of healthy foods on the table. When you see that sign-up sheet on the bulletin board, put your name down as soon as possible. If you’re early in the planning stages, you may be able to direct the menu.
You will typically find a bar set up for a Christmas party. There may be soft drinks, wine, beer, or liquor for mixed drinks. Perhaps there is a punch bowl. If you are part of the planning committee, be sure to insist on plenty of water, juice, club soda, and sparkling water. Offer to make the punch using fresh juice and sparkling soda or water and skip the alcohol. If you are not on the committee, you will want to prepare yourself. Overindulging at the bar is often caused by thirst, so eliminate the thirst by filling your tummy with good fresh juice and water before and during the party. Alternate any sugary or alcohol drinks you have with large glasses of water.
Trying to stay on a diet is difficult enough, but if you’re watching the clock tick at work, knowing that at a certain time there will be acres of food and drinks laid before you, it’s even harder. That’s why you want to plan to eat before you get to the party. Yes, it’s fun to look forward to all that food, but your empty stomach will make decisions you won’t find so fun in the long run. If your party starts after work, bring a good, big lunch with you that suits your dietary needs. If your party begins at mid-day, eat a hearty healthy breakfast and have a snack just before the party begins. You’re not being a ‘party pooper.’ You’re being smart.
Peruse Then Choose
When you walk into the party, stop and take a look around. Your senses may be overwhelmed at first, but if you slowly peruse the spread, you will begin to see what you need, and what you don’t need. Walk along the tables, go up to the bar, and make a few mental notes. The trouble with an over-loaded plate usually occurs when you start at the beginning of the table and just start scooping up servings. If you don’t know what’s ahead, how can you choose what you want to eat? So, take a look around, then go back and selectively serve up a plate that suits you and your diet.
This is probably the easiest of all the strategies to stay on track with your diet. Most everyone at the party will get to the dessert table and let out a little sigh. They wish they could indulge, but can’t. That’s your cue to choose a ‘dessert buddy’ and divide one of those delicious treats between you. If you were vigilant with the other strategies, you have probably saved yourself some wiggle room for dessert. However, if sugar is forbidden, this table may be off limits. That takes us back to the first strategy – sign up. If you are part of the planning committee, make sure you propose an alternative for the usual sweet dessert.
The average Christmas party is full of dietary obstacles. Getting involved with the planning and taking a few steps to avoid the pitfalls will allow you to not only attend the party, but to enjoy it.