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November 25, 2009 > Conquering Stress and Food Temptations During the Holidays

Conquering Stress and Food Temptations During the Holidays

Starting with tomorrow's Thanksgiving feast, most of us will plunge headlong into the holiday season, enjoying various celebrations with family and friends. Unfortunately, the busy holiday season can bring more stress to your already busy life, which increases the temptations to overeat, skip your normal exercise routine and consume too much alcohol. You'll enjoy your holidays more fully if you keep those factors under control, rather than letting them control you.

To help you control stress and maintain a healthy diet during the holidays, Washington Hospital is sponsoring a special Health & Wellness seminar on Tuesday, December 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. The seminar will include presentations by family medicine physician Dr. Seema Sharma and registered dietitian Anna Mazzei, RD. The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A & B, in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. For more information, or to register to attend, please call (800) 963-7070.

Reduce Your Stress Level

"The stress of the holidays can really wear you out, lowering your resistance to colds and the flu," says Sharma. "This time of year, it's even more important to pace yourself and avoid becoming overly stressed. You also need to support your body's immune system by eating well and staying fit. Plus, if you haven't already done so, you should consult your physician about getting vaccinations against the H1N1 flu virus and the seasonal flu. Even though it's nearly December, flu shots can still provide valuable protection."

Noting that this year's holiday celebrations may be even more stressful than usual because of current economic conditions, Sharma recommends keeping your expectations reasonable.

"From a financial standpoint, you can lower your stress by doing comparative shopping on the Internet," she explains. "That can help you not only find the best prices without running from store to store, it can also save you time and gas money. You also might start a new 'Secret Santa' tradition at work or with your family, drawing names from a hat and buying a gift for one person, rather than something for everyone. Some people opt to make a donation to charity in honor of people in their extended families, rather than purchase gifts for each other."

When it comes to holiday parties, Sharma again suggests moderation. "You don't have to attend every single party," she says. "Choose the ones that are the most important to you, and spend your holiday time with people you enjoy. If your family and friends are in the habit of hosting multiple parties, consider trying to combine some of the events."

While many people tend to reduce or stop their exercise regimens during the busy holidays, exercise is a great stress reducer. "Exercise is also good therapy for people who are anxious," says Sharma. "It's also valuable for people who are depressed, which is not uncommon during the holidays. A good workout can help you feel energized and more relaxed, plus it will help you sleep better."

Maintain a Healthy Diet

Obviously, those tempting holiday goodies can pose a challenge, but it's not impossible to eat well during the holidays.

"You need to plan ahead for when you know you are going to have a 'holiday splurge' in terms of eating," Mazzei counsels. "You simply can't splurge every day without weight and health consequences. It's also a good idea to keep to a regular meal schedule and not skip meals just because you're going to a big party later in the day."

Mazzei suggests that if you are going to a holiday party, you could offer to bring wholesome, nutritious foods. "At the party, the foods you eat don't all have to be fat-free and low-calorie, but you should choose carefully," she says.

"Most of the foods we eat during the holidays, we actually could get any time of the year," Mazzei adds. "Hershey's Kisses aren't any more special just because they're wrapped in red and green tin foil. Save your appetite and calorie count for something really special - like your grandmother's traditional holiday cake."

People often believe that alcohol may help lessen the stress of the holiday season, but many studies show that alcohol actually increases the body's stress response. Plus, alcohol can lower your resolve to avoid overeating.

"Don't drink alcohol on an empty stomach, because it will go straight to your head," Mazzei cautions. "Don't let people pressure you into consuming alcohol if you'd prefer not to. You can always volunteer to be the 'designated driver' to discourage even the most persistent bartender from pouring you a drink. If you do indulge, try alternating plain water or club soda with alcoholic beverages."

Sharma and Mazzei both encourage people to take time for themselves during the holidays. Focus on the joys of families and friends, rather than jumping into the seasonal frenzy. Consider it your holiday gift to yourself.

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