Physical and Mental Health Tips for the Holiday Season

By Dubuque Physical Therapy Team

November 10, 2021

Written by Laura Timmerman, PT, DPT, OCS

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year… right? They sure can be! Filled with quality time spent with friends and family, remembering all we are thankful for, and looking forward to what the new year will bring. But the holidays are also known for overeating rich food, trying to pack everything in (seeing every single family member on both sides in the same day?) and a lot more sedentary time to sit around and chat.

Now those last few things don’t have to be a bad thing. I am a firm believer in trying to find balance in your life and the holidays are no exception. I truthfully want everyone to enjoy the holiday season, but without sending your physical and mental health backwards. Here are just a few tips to stay on track with your health over the holidays while still enjoying all that the season has to offer.

BODY HEALTH

Specifically, I want to talk about your musculoskeletal system, or your muscles, bones and joints. The holidays usually involve get togethers with family and friends, and sometimes this involves a lot of sitting around. Now I am all for diving into a great conversation, especially with an elderly person or someone you haven’t seen in a while, but here is your reminder to build in some time to move your body as well.

  • If you know the day is going to involve a lot of sit-down time, sneak in a walk or strength training session before you leave your house.
  • Grab someone else who wants to converse but also move their bodies and take the dog for a walk.
  • Don’t forget about the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning!
  • Go outside and play with the kids! A family flag football game is always fun on Thanksgiving. Or when was the last time you went sledding or had a snowball fight!?
  • Even better, if you can plan to get the whole family together to do something active, you’re helping everyone stay healthier! Plan a trip to the ice-skating rink, go bowling, or go for a hike if it’s nice out (or snowshoe if there is snow. PRO TIP: Swiss Valley in Dubuque rents out snowshoes for free)!

 

MENTAL HEALTH

Remember how I said before it is all about balance? That is how I like to look at mental health. I am definitely no expert, and if you feel like you need an expert, there are some great psychologists in our area who have even more tips and ways to work through the stresses of the holidays.

  • I’m going to start with what I think is the hardest one: IT’S OK TO SAY NO. By saying no to something, you might disappoint someone or make someone angry, but when you say no to one thing you are saying yes to another thing. In this case it might be saying yes to maintaining your mental health. Overwhelming yourself with going to too many places or trying to squeeze it all in might work for some people, but it might not be OK for everyone. Listen to what your brain and body are telling you.
  • There are some great groups in the tri-state area that would love volunteers over the holidays. Bringing joy to others is a great way to bring some joy into your life too. Dubuque Toys for Tots  Salvation Army of Dubuque United Way of Dubuque
  • Find a way to connect with people that decreases the stress or workload for you. If that means spreading out seeing all the people you want to see over a few weekends, great! If that means having one day where every person is invited to your house and then you are done and can check everyone off your list, great! If you usually host the party, but just don’t think that is good for you to do this year, ask another member of your family to host! Find what works for you and your family.
  • When in doubt, if you are feeling overwhelmed, find a quiet place to step away and be alone to take some deep breaths. Preferably “diaphragmatic breaths” which is when you inhale into your belly, letting your diaphragm drop down and fully fill your lungs, rather than breathing in to the top of your chest. Research suggests diaphragmatic breathing decreases your heart rate and blood pressure in the short term and performed regularly can help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.

 

DIGESTIVE HEALTH

Do we really need to talk about this one? We’ve all heard it before, but I just want to give a gentle reminder that you can enjoy the delicious food that comes around more at the holidays without completely falling off the wagon of your healthy lifestyle.

  • It’s all about portion control. Can I have a piece of pie? Absolutely! Can I have 5 pieces of pie? No, that’s probably not the best choice.
  • If you’re worried about healthy options, bring some yourself! There are some delicious recipes for festive salads or roasted veggies that do not involve cream of mushroom soup. So if you bring a side dish or two that you know is healthier, you’ll know there are some yummy options!
  • Drink plenty of water. Even though it is colder outside, you can still get dehydrated especially if you are eating food that has more sodium in it like green bean casserole, ham or bacon wrapped things or if you are drinking more adult beverages. (Speaking of that, please always have a DD as an option! Let’s all stay safe this holiday season!)

So, lets summarize.

Move your body. Take some deep breaths and let yourself say no sometimes. Find some healthy food choices this holiday season, but enjoy your favorites as well. Work towards balance!

I hope you enjoy the upcoming holiday season and can maintain your health at the same time! Cheers!