Indiana University experts offer tips for a healthy and safe holiday season
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Experts from the Indiana University School of Medicine, Healthy IU, the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington and the IU Police Department offer tips on the following topics:
When it comes to the holidays, one of the main objectives for most people is spending time with family.
But deciding what that time looks like, and how that time will be spent, can create tension and stress that counteract even the best intentions.
“There are a lot of expectations people have about how the holidays are supposed to happen,” said Emilee Delbridge, assistant professor of clinical family medicine at the IU School of Medicine and a licensed marriage and family therapist. “There are societal and cultural expectations that the holidays are perfect and always fun. There often isn’t a lot of space allowed for the stress of the holidays. Even if something is really fun, it is often really busy.”
The holidays can also be a lonely time for people who have recently lost a loved one or experienced major life changes. Feelings of loneliness or isolation can become elevated during the holidays.
“For people who are feeling depressed or anxious, when they have the perception that everyone else is happy, joyful and enjoying their lives and they don’t feel that way, it can amplify that feeling for them,” she said. “It can make them feel even more isolated.”
To keep the holidays joyful for yourself and your family, Delbridge offers these tips:
- Prioritize your family’s values: Families should identify two or three values that are important to them over the holiday season and then choose some activities that reflect those values.
- Ask for help: Don’t take all of the holiday planning on yourself. Ask others for help or scale back to allow for time to actually enjoy the holidays. “If you are exhausted and overwhelmed and overworked, it’s hard to enjoy the holidays and it’s counterproductive in terms of the qualities and values of the holidays,” Delbridge said.
- Lend a hand and take a hand: If someone in your family has experienced a recent loss, offer support by acknowledging that this time of year might be difficult for them and by letting them know you are here for them. If you are feeling lonely or depressed, don’t be afraid to reach out to a family member or physician about your feelings.
- Practice gratitude: Create occasions that allow for discussions about what you are grateful for or volunteer for others in need. This is especially helpful for those who are feeling down or overwhelmed, Delbridge said.
- There is no such thing as the perfect holiday: The holiday season should be a time for togetherness, relaxation and gratitude. Try to keep that in mind when getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season.
If there is ever an opportunity to overindulge, the holiday season is it. In fact, it is common for most people to gain one or two pounds during the holiday season.
Although that might not be a lot of weight, it often does not come off after the holidays, according to Steven Lalevich, registered dietitian for Healthy IU. And it can lead to additional weight gain.
“The holiday season is often a time of increased calorie intake and also decreased calorie expenditure due to less physical activity and exercise,” Lalevich said. “Plan ahead and think about the food choices you make. If you want to indulge a little bit at holiday meals, make sure to maintain some good physical activity habits.”
Lalevich offers tips for keeping your calories in check over the holidays:
- Don’t drink your calories: Try to avoid empty calories that come in soda, alcohol, juice or punch. Lalevich suggests sticking to water.
- Say no to that appetizer: Calorie intake before a meal can be as much as the meal itself. Limit the amount of food before meals, and go for the healthier options like vegetable trays, fruit plates and nuts.
- Modify dessert recipes: Desserts and candy can be one of the highlights of the holidays. But they can also be high in calories. Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes, replace oil/butter with applesauce, try to use whole wheat flour in place of or in conjunction with white flour, and offer fruit or fruit-based deserts.
- Plan ahead: Decide ahead of time what strategies you will use to avoid excessive calorie intake, such as drinking water instead of high-calorie beverages (including alcohol), skipping appetizers or choosing a half portion of dessert.
- Refocus: The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of friends and family. Make people the focus of the holidays, not food. Eat slowly to prevent overeating, and steer social interactions away from the table after mealtime.
- Relax: Maintaining a healthy calorie intake doesn’t have to be stressful. By planning ahead and making smart decisions, the holidays can still be a time to enjoy tasty meals and treats without packing on the pounds.
Office parties, gatherings of old friends, family dinners. The days leading up to and surrounding the holidays can be a time of fellowship, joy and, for a lot of people, imbibing.
“People are going to drink more in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's for a number of reasons,” said Carole Nowicke, reference specialist and research associate at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center. “There is simply more alcohol available, they can feel festive and stimulated by all the parties and conviviality, they may feel stressed by expectations to have a 'perfect' holiday, or they may feel sad or depressed because everyone else is having such a good time and they have no one to spend the holidays with.”
But all that holiday cheer can leave some with not only a nasty hangover but a trail of bad decisions, some of which, like drinking and driving, can be deadly.
How do you know when enough is enough? And what can people in recovery do to stay on track during the holiday season? Nowicke provides some tips for having fun while staying safe this holiday season:
- Avoid binge drinking: The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes binge drinking as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in about two hours. Slow consumption by alternating between an alcoholic beverage and water.
- Eat something: Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Having food in your stomach slows the absorption rate of alcohol into the bloodstream.
- Offer non-alcoholic choices at social events such as sparking water, hot cider, coffee, tea or cocoa. Find ways to celebrate that do not include alcohol such as visiting a museum, seeing a movie, going for a walk or playing games with friends and family.
- Have a designated driver. Plan your transportation ahead of time and appoint someone to be the designated driver.
- Keep alcohol out of reach of children and make sure to label foods or drinks that may contain alcohol.
- Plan ahead. People in recovery can avoid activities that involve alcohol and should plan ahead by researching AA meetings or other support groups in areas where they might be traveling.
The holidays can be a time for giving and a time for taking.
“We see a huge increase in burglaries this time of year,” said Capt. Andy Stephenson of the Indiana University Police Department. “Would-be criminals know people are out of town and houses are unoccupied.”
Whether it be a package left on your porch, your shopping wares sitting in the backseat of your car or your unoccupied house, the holiday season can present many opportunities for thieves.
But by using a little precaution and some everyday good practices, people can avoid becoming the victim of a crime over the holidays.
Stephenson provides a few tips for staying safe this holiday season:
- Lock your doors: Make sure to lock all of your doors and windows in both your house and vehicle. If possible, leave a light on so it appears someone is home, and keep your blinds and curtains closed. “Most criminal activity that happens are crimes of opportunities,” Stephenson said.
- Put away your valuables: Do not leave valuables, such as laptops, purses/wallets or change, in your vehicle.
- Edit your social media posts: Be careful how much information you divulge on social media, particularly information about being out of town. “Quite frequently people are victimized by people they are acquainted with,” Stephenson said. “Be discreet about what you post on social media.”
- Be aware of your surroundings: Avoid talking on your phone or listening to music when walking. “In today’s society, nearly everyone you see walking is talking on their cellphone or listening to music,” Stephenson said. “People can be oblivious to what is going on around them.”
- When traveling or shopping, always park in a well-lit area and check in the interior of your car before getting inside. Have your keys ready before you approach your vehicle.