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Happier Holidays: Managing Mental and Physical Health This Season

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By: Daelene Long, Senior Director, Clinical Operations, BCNEPA
December 11, 2013

The holiday season is upon us, and for many, it’s a time to celebrate with family and friends.  While you are celebrating, keep in mind the health hazards that tend to be more prevalent this time of year – such as weight gain, accidental injuries, stress and depression – and how you can avoid them.

Weight gain is a common problem during the holidays with parties, dinners and co-workers sharing snacks, cookies and other goodies.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), balance and moderation help with maintaining a healthy weight through the holidays. For example, choose fresh fruit as a substitute for candy and cookies. When attending a party or dinner, choose one or two of your favorite foods and pay attention to portion sizes.  Generally, a portion size of one cup is about the size of a baseball, and a portion size of one once is about the size of a golf ball.

Food-related illness can also be a problem this time of the year.  The CDC recommends washing hands and surfaces often when preparing holiday meals, and avoiding cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs (including their juices) away from ready-to-eat foods and eating surfaces. Make sure foods are cooked to the proper temperature and refrigerate leftovers promptly. As a rule, avoid leaving perishable foods out for more than two hours.

It’s also important to stay active during the holiday season, while at the same time avoiding injuries.  Be careful of ice and slippery conditions when out walking, running or shopping.  Play it safe by using a step stool or ladder instead of standing on furniture when hanging decorations, and always make sure that children’s toys are age-appropriate and free of potential choking hazards.

Despite the parties, dinners and other forms of celebration, the holiday season can produce a lot of stress, and in some cases, depression. The Mayo Clinic has developed the following tips to help prevent stress and depression during this time of year:

  • Acknowledge your feelings.It's normal to feel sadness and grief if you can’t be with loved ones during the holidays, and it’s OK to take time to express your feelings.
  • Reach out.If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events that can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  • Be realistic.The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, so do family dynamics and even some traditions.  Cherish the memories you have, and be open to creating new memories as well.
  • Set aside differences.Try to set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion, and be understanding if others get upset or distressed.  Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression too.
  • Stick to a budget.Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend, then stick to your budget.  Donating to a charity in someone's name, giving homemade gifts or starting a family gift exchange can help you stick to your budget.
  • Learn to say no.Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity, which can be overwhelming.
  • Take a breather.Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do.  Take a walk to clear your thoughts, or listen to soothing music.

At Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, our Blue Health Solutions health and wellness program is offered at no extra cost to our members and customers. With Blue Health Solutions, members have access to Health Coaches who can help develop a personalized weight management or stress management program.  Many employers also offer wellness and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that can provide additional help with maintaining weight and managing stress.

Having a plan to manage stress and maintain weight – and seeking help when you need it – can make this holiday season a healthy and happy one.   

Daelene Long is Senior Director of Clinical Operations for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania