You're crammed into a corner of a table set for 14 but built for 10. The pie is warm; your irritable cousin's glare is cold. Your kids are fidgety, and you are exhausted.
As chief of psychiatry liaison services at Hoag Hospital, I can't stop your aunt from inciting an ugly political debate or keep your nephew from flinging mashed potatoes at the cat. But I can offer five tips to enjoying a healthy and truly happy holiday season.
1. Get enough sleep. This is crucial for your health, both physical and mental. If you're not getting enough sleep, it becomes difficult to regulate your emotions and make good decisions.
One way to ensure enough shut-eye is to budget honestly: Before racing off for a long weekend, don't try to cram five days' worth of work into three. Your sleep will suffer, and chances are your work will, too.
2. Eat well. Not only does overeating expand your waistline, it throws off your digestion, blood sugar and metabolism. You become fatigued, irritable and moody – and not just because you can't fit into your jeans.
The trick I use is to pick my treat. If it's pie, it's one normal slice of pie. That's it. Also, remember portion sizes. Just because your 10 family members are gathered around a 10-pound turkey doesn't mean you are obligated to gobble a full pound of bird meat each.
Don't think skipping meals before a big feast gives you license to gorge later. Your body goes through a terrible feast or famine cycle when you skip meals, shutting down non-essential functions, like cognition and mood when you're hungry – and storing more of your food as fat when you eat. My advice: frontload on healthy fiber-rich snacks during the day, and keep holiday meals portion-sized.
Tempting treats are not limited to the holiday table: Pack your lunch at work and keep plenty of healthy snacks in your desk to avoid the office mates who fill the break room with pumpkin bread and homemade fudge.
3. Drink in moderation. If you're normally not a drinker, the holidays are not the time to get significantly intoxicated. Alcohol changes your sleep structure and can increase appetite by decreasing inhibitions.
Alcohol is also a powerful depressant. If you consistently put a depressant on the brain, you're going to become depressed.
4. Exercise. Maybe you have to skip a few Zumba classes, but that doesn't mean you can't get 20 minutes of brisk walking in every day. Do a few fast laps around the mall before hitting the stores. Or walk the perimeter of the supermarket parking lot before picking up the canned cranberries. At the very least, walk the dog. Chances are good he's snagged a few too many table scraps and could use the exercise, too.
5. Carve out "me time." If you're the one traveling, get a hotel room instead of staying with family. Or take your daily exercise walks by yourself. No matter how much you love your friends and family, everyone needs a little alone time to decompress.
I hope following these tips will help keep you relatively happy and healthy this holiday season
If all else fails, remember: January 2 is only a few weeks away!
Dr. Valeh Karimkhani is chief of psychiatry liaison services at Hoag Hospital. Hoag has urgent care, health facilities or hospitals in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Irvine, Tustin, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Orange and Anaheim Hills.
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