Staying Healthy - Mentally and Physically - This Holiday Season
The holiday season can bring fun celebrations and traditions, but it can also bring higher stress levels while keeping up with day-to-responsibilities plus all of the additional things we feel like we have to do to prepare for the holidays.
We sat down with Megan Walker, Healthy Living Director at Platte County Community Center North, to talk about staying healthy and managing stress during the holiday season.
What is stress?
Stress occurs when we perceive that there is a substantial imbalance between a demand (physical, psychological, social) and our perceived ability to respond to the demand. So we’ve got something that we need to do, and we’re unsure of whether or not we have the capability to do it. Generally, we feel stress when the stakes are high, and we think that failure to meet the demand will have some sort of consequence. For the holidays, that might be prepping food, hosting a large group of people or buying gifts.
How can we manage stress?
In order to manage stress, one of the most important things we can do is to control the controllables. We can build a toolkit of skills and healthy habits ready to implement when we need them. We can develop and maintain healthy routines to lean on that will help us feel a sense of stability and little more control in the situation.
Another thing that is important to understand when it comes to stress management is the fact our stress levels are impacted by our perception of the situation. If we can change the way we think about the situation, that can be one way to help lower our stress level right off the bat. If we feel like we need some more help, we can fall back on our physical activity and eating habits for additional support.
How can you manage stress with physical activity, and what are some examples?
Physical activity can be a great way to manage stress because, in most cases, that is exactly what our body is preparing us for when we go into a stress response. When we get stressed, our nervous system is activated and tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline to prepare us for fight or flight. Exercise and physical activity can help us work those stress hormones out. A quick burst of vigorous activity can help to work through the stress and get us back into balance while also having mood boosting effects.
Something we want to be mindful of is how much stress we have been experiencing and for how long. Some low to moderate stress here and there is one thing, but if we have been under high levels of stress for an extended period of time, we need to listen to our body. If we're feeling drained and tired, maybe we need something that’s more supportive of our nervous system and will help with recovery. Some stretching and flexibility, yoga, or even rest would be more beneficial than adding to the additional load on our system.
What are some examples of ways to manage stress through healthy eating habits?
We want to think about eating foods that are beneficial to the body. We want to try and choose a variety of healthy whole foods. That might look like healthy carbohydrates such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Celebrations this time of year often include food and we don't want to miss out on that and the social connection that comes with those types of gatherings. It’s more about being mindful and enjoying things in moderation. We need to have some compassion for ourselves this time of year and not stress too much about enjoying the treats.
What additional tips do you have for people wanting to stay healthy through the holidays?
- Incorporate physical activity into your activities and traditions with loved ones such as a walk after the family meal, a touch football game or a holiday-themed 5K. Maybe even getting up and going to a group exercise class together at the YMCA the day after a holiday.
- Control what you can. For example, if you have to bring a side dish to a family gathering, bring a healthier dish such as a salad or roasted vegetables.
- Have a plan for parties. When it comes to the buffet or appetizers, know whether you're planning for it to be a meal or a snack, and fill your plate accordingly.
- Be compassionate to yourself. Be aware of the stress you're feeling, and spend time using the tools in your toolkit to manage it. Forgive yourself when you're not sticking to your usual routine.