Here’s To A Healthy Holiday Season—Mind, Body And Spirit

December 2, 2021

By Sandra Millon Underwood, RN, PhD, FAAN
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

For some, the holidays are a stressful time of the year. Family gatherings, office parties and other social events can cause stress. That stress can manifest itself by overeating, inactivity, and not taking care of yourself— mind, body, and spirit. And, while the holidays can be a bustle of activity, it may also be a lonely time, especially for those who are sick or grieving. But, in this season of hope, there are some ways to stay healthy and hopeful, while avoiding overeating and eliminating stress.

If you are feeling anxious, alone, or overwhelmed, research suggests that staying active helps. Try walking, dancing, cycling, or running to uplift your spirits and help you feel a state of calmness. It doesn’t really matter what you do; any type of exercise is better than none but do it regularly to experience the impact.

Valley Hollins

Valley Hollins, a member and facilitator with a group called Healthy Eating and Active Living Milwaukee (HEAL Milwaukee) made lifestyle changes more than 30 years ago. She also teaches exercise classes. Hollins suggests that walking is a great way to get the physical activity needed to obtain health benefits. Walking does not require any special skills, a gym membership or expensive equipment. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve sleep, memory, and the ability to think and learn. It also reduces anxiety symptoms.

“Walking is a great way to stay active. If you can’t get outside, walk through your house or apartment building. And, if you have internet, there are all kinds of free exercises on the internet,” said Hollins.

In addition to exercise, maintaining good eating habits during the holidays is also important. We all know that the holidays come with the delicious smells of the season, but some of those holiday-favorite recipes may leave you feeling weighted down and add a few unwanted pounds. If you attend family gatherings or other social events, plan ahead. And, even if you will be alone, be thoughtful about your meals. Instead of loading up on high caloric dishes like macaroni and cheese or desserts, load up your plate with leafy green vegetables and fresh fruits. This does not mean that you have to deny yourself, but rather, make a concerted effort to control your portion size.

Chef Marvin Jones

Chef Marvin Jones offers this tip to help guide you through those delicious holiday meals.

“Instead of substituting high calorie ingredients in your favorite holiday recipes to reduce the calorie count, go ahead and eat what you enjoy—but do so sparingly. A good rule of thumb is to make sure all those high caloric dishes fit within the size of the palm of your hand. Eat small portions and fill up on healthier options such as vegetables—salads, carrots, even collard greens (without meats like pork that make them unhealthy),” said Chef Marvin.

And, if you don’t trust yourself to maintain the suggested portion control tip, by all means go head and try making healthier dishes. Take a look at Chef Marvin’s healthier mac ‘n cheese dish that has received rave reviews. You can prepare, eat a larger portion, and not feel guilty about it.

Finally, gratitude and giving are great remedies to help overcome feelings of loneliness or grief. What’s more, you can give to others without breaking the bank. Offer to babysit for a neighbor or relative, make a favorite dish and take it to a friend, shovel someone’s sidewalk, or spend time with a relative or friend.

“If you know someone who is alone during the holidays, take a few minutes out of your day to call them. Let them know they are not forgotten, and that they are loved. It may seem like a little thing, but your call just may make the difference between them having a mental health crisis day and a day filled with smiles, gratitude, and thankfulness,” said Hollins.

Happy holidays and remember to take care of yourself—mind, body, and spirit!