Of Turkeys, Santa Claus and Stress

This post was written by Jefferson Women’s Primary Care physician Rosalind Kaplan, MD, FACP. Dr. Kaplan has been in clinical practice for 26 years. She enjoys practicing General Internal Medicine because of the variety of issues she is able to address. She is especially interested in the interaction of physical and psychological health, including the effects of stress on wellness, and in the medical monitoring of patients with eating disorders.                

family eating dinnerThe holidays are already upon us!  It’s hard to believe.  And with the holidays, for most people, comes lots of celebration involving food.  Because of family commitments and travel, many of us will also be getting less exercise. Don’t forget the increased stress that big doses of family and expectations of socializing bring, plus the pressure we may put on ourselves to have a perfectly clean home and a perfectly presented meal.

Stress is unhealthy for us in multiple ways – it can make symptoms we already have – like headaches, irritable bowel  and anxiety – worse.  It also raises the levels of our ‘fight or flight’ hormones cortisol and adrenaline, causing higher blood pressure and pulse, increased blood sugar and inflammation.  Of course these are temporary, and once the stress decreases, so do these consequences.  Unfortunately though, this is a time when lots of folks get off track with healthier eating and exercise and have a lot of trouble getting back on track.

So, here are some ideas to make this time of year healthier:

  1. When there are holiday meals, plan for your intake ahead of time. Visualize normal portions:3-4 ounces of turkey (the size of a woman’s fist), ½ cup of starch, and lots of vegetables (skip the butter).  Don’t go to dinner or a cocktail party hungry.  Eat something healthy first and you won’t overdo. Watch your alcohol intake. You might not think about the calories you’re drinking, but they count!
  2. If you don’t have as much time to exercise, make sure you at least do something simple. Drag some of the family out for an after- dinner walk. If you’re traveling, bring an exercise band and maybe a yoga mat. Stretch and do some arm curls.  If you’re staying somewhere with exercise equipment, take advantage of it – even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time.
  3. Your house doesn’t have to be perfect.  Your guests will appreciate whatever you cook for them.  Just think, they don’t have to do the cooking!  Relax between frantic moments, even if you only have a few minutes.  There are some wonderful relaxation and meditation apps you can get on your phone (look under meditation) that take only minutes a day.  They can help lower those ‘fight or flight’ hormones.
  4. Plan some activities that YOU can enjoy. It’s not only about other people. You count, too.

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