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November 2013

One in five Americans believes holiday stress affects their physical health.

One in five Americans believes holiday stress affects their physical health.

Are you one of them? Learn how to keep common stress culprits at bay for healthier, happier holidays.

Instead of visions of sugar plums, many Americans find themselves facing mounting stress and pressure during the holidays.  According to the American Psychological Association (APA), one in five Americans worry their stress could impact their health. Women seem to feel the most pressure, as they are more likely to take on the additional workload of the season and worry about money for gift purchases. 
"Stress can negatively impact your health, as it's been linked to depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and more," said Lori Phelps, PhD, a psychologist with Monroe Clinic. "While we can't eliminate stress, we can change how we cope with it."

The most common causes of holiday stress include:

Budget Issues
Problem: A poll by the APA found 61% of Americans listed "lack of money" as the top cause of holiday stress followed by the pressures of gift giving, lack of time, and credit card debt. 
Solution:  Consider trimming your Christmas shopping list. This may mean reducing the amount you spend on people, sticking to a budget, removing people from your shopping  list or getting creative with gift-giving rituals:  making gifts or providing assistance with tasks like childcare or housework are some alternatives to buying gifts. Don't be afraid to reach out to friends and relatives about making changes, as they may have similar ideas.

Poor Coping Habits
Problem: To cope with stress, many people turn to unhealthy practices, such as drinking alcohol or over-eating, which ultimately add to their problems.  APA's 2010 "Stress in American" report found 40 percent of adults surveyed admitted to overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress in the past month. 
Solution: Daily exercise is a healthier and more effective stress management tool. In fact research shows that regular exercise can be as good as medication for helping people feel better! Other people find comfort through religious rituals, prayer and other spiritual activities. Getting a massage and doing yoga can also be helpful and relaxing. While it may be tough, try to stick to your normal routine, including bedtimes, family meals and workouts.

Stretched Too Thin
Problem: How many holiday parties are you attending? Hosting? Bringing food to? What other seasonal obligations are adding to your growing "to do" list? These obligations not only fill your calendar, but often require money and preparation, disrupt your routine and take attention away from you and your family's needs.
Solution: Practice saying "No." Prioritize events and opportunities that are important, meaningful and enjoyable for your family.  If you find you're already heavily committed, see what you can take off the calendar and proactively consider turning down future requests that come your way, so you aren't caught off guard.

Pursuit of Perfection
Problem: Many of the above issues are tied to our expectations for what makes a happy holiday season:  grand feasts with recipes from scratch; kids traveling from home to home, party to party, without tiring or misbehaving; spotless homes; amazing gifts.  The pressure can be exhausting...and unachievable.
Solution: Make peace with imperfection, and set realistic expectations. What does that mean for you?  It varies from person to person. It may mean using a premade pie crust instead of scratch or picking up something from the bakery.  It may mean passing on a party that overextends the family's schedule.  It may mean entertaining friends while having a messy kitchen.

And practice gratitude, recognizing and giving thanks for what you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have. Research shows that simply listing a few things you’re grateful for at the end of each day can lead you to feel better.
"By accepting our natural limitations and having realistic expectations, we open ourselves up to the joy of the holiday season, with our focus on important people, relationships and experiences," said Phelps.  "But if you do struggle over the holidays, with anxiety or depression or something else, don't hesitate to reach out and get the help you need."

One source of that help is Behavioral Health at Monroe Clinic. Contact them at 608- 324-2321 for more information.

You would have to run a marathon to burn the calories in a pecan pie.

It’s practically a tradition:
• Indulge in rich foods during the holidays. 
• Crash diet as a New Year’s resolution.

And while extreme calorie counting and crash diets may initially give you fast results, forming healthier, long-term habits is the only way to achieve lasting success. 

This year break tradition and enter the holiday season with a healthier perspective!

While gaining a pound or two over the holidays may not seem like a big deal to some, research shows those who are overweight or obese often gain the most seasonal weight.  This can create a bigger divide between the individual and his or her health goals. Besides, even a modest amount of weight change can impact risk factors like cholesterol and blood pressure.

Whatever your personal fitness and nutrition goals, it is possible to enjoy the holidays while developing or maintaining healthy eating habits. Try these simple tips to enjoy the flavors of the season while avoiding weight gain. 

1) Adjust portions accordingly.
The more food offered at a holiday meal, the smaller your servings need to be.  If you like to have “just a taste” of all the foods at a buffet-sized holiday feast, use one teaspoon as your guide for a “just a taste” serving.  Aim to keep the total amount of buffet food you take equal to what you eat at normal sized meals.   

2) Don't drink your calories.
From cocktails to soda, the calories in your beverage choices can add up.  Before realizing it, you can drink hundreds of extra calories.  When possible, opt for water,  unsweetened tea or other calorie-free beverages.  Your taste buds may not even miss those extra calories.

3) Feast on your favorites. Enjoy the experience.
Most of us have favorite holiday foods we eat just once or twice a year.  Don’t be afraid to skip the pecan pie your cousin makes for every family event in favor of a slice of grandma’s special pumpkin pie. As you eat, chew slowly; savor the smell, texture and flavor of each bite. (If you can leave some of the crust behind, all the better.)

4) Commit to a plan before you go.
Set yourself up for success. Plan to bring a low calorie dish to pass, set a limit on how much you will eat, or eat a light snack at home to take the edge off your hunger while at the event.  Committing to a plan with reasonable goals means you are more likely to succeed. 

5) Stay focused on fitness habits.
The holidays are a busy time, but don’t let that get in the way of being physically active.  Set aside time for physical activity to burn those calories and help reduce stress.  Consider new holiday traditions like family walks or playing active games.
In the end, it's your day-to-day eating and fitness habits that shape your long-term health.  Now is the time to decide if the holidays will increase the distance between you and the achievement of your health goals, or be just a short interruption in the journey. 

"Think of willpower like a muscle. The more you work that muscle, the stronger it gets," shares Colette Wyttenbach, Monroe Clinic dietitian nutritionist. "Train your willpower ‘muscle’ now so you are ready to face tempting holiday foods with confidence.  Healthful eating during the holidays is not about deprivation, it is about finding a balance between your holiday favorites and healthy choices.”