A Healthy Holiday Season
By Chelse Benham
“Don’t waste energy trying to change your relatives. Instead, extend your
definition of family to find closeness, connection and community among friends.”
– Natural Health magazine, Dec. 2004
The holiday season, though joyous for many, may bring with it many stressors
and spirit deflating family dynamics. A recent survey by the National Women’s
Health Resource Center (NWHRC) revealed that almost two-thirds of the
respondents had experienced holiday depression.
“The holidays become filled with baggage, old hurts and conflicts,” says Dr.
Norman Epstein, clinical psychologist in the article, “Presence of Mind” in Natural
Health. “These issues are there all the time, but during this season, people are
According to the NWHRC, found at www.healthywomen.org depression can
happen to anyone of any age, race, class or gender. It afflicts almost 19 million
Americans each year, and up to one in five American women will suffer from
clinical depression at some point in her life. Women are two to three times more
likely than men to suffer from depression. Research sponsored by the National
Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggests that depression may be a major risk
factor for osteoporosis.
The good news is that depression is a treatable illness; however, according to a
major study published in the June 18, 2003 issue of the Journal of the American
Medical Association (JAMA), just one in five women with depression ever receive
If you suffer from depression and it is affecting your life and interfering with your
ability to function then perhaps you should seek medical attention. However, if
you’re facing the “holiday blues” Natural Health magazine, December 2004
edition, offers helpful strategies to lift your mood with the following:
• Get outside your own head. Become involved in your community. In a
study of more than 2,500 people published in the Journal of Health and
Social Behavior, researchers found that volunteer work enhanced six
aspects of personal well-being: happiness, life satisfaction, and self
esteem, sense of control, physical health, and depression relief.
• Use essential oils and aromatic scents to lift your spirits. Oils with
citrus properties remind people of warm climates with lots of sunshine.
• Exercise to improve your mood. In one investigation, published in
Comprehensive Psychiatry, researchers found that running was as
effective as psychotherapy at relieving depression.
“If people walked 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon they
would meet the 30 minutes a day recommendation from the Surgeon General.
The University of Texas-Pan American is promoting its own health initiative to
make people aware of their overall health,” said Ruby de la Garza, health
education coordinator at UTPA’s Border Health Office. “We encourage people to
move and get up during their work day because it’s very likely that they are going
to get home and continue to be sedentary. Chances are they are eating
unhealthy food during the day and getting no exercise and then going home and
doing the same thing. It all adds up.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated that
64 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, resulting in 300,000
preventable deaths each year and the numbers are growing. Many people work
long hours stationary at their desks involved in little to no physical activity in or
outside the office. Sometimes, their immediate surroundings are laden with
secret stashes of “comfort foods” such as candy bars, sugared sodas and chips
rich in fat, sugar and weight producing carbohydrates. When those in-between-
snacks aren’t being consumed, lunchtime activities further revolve around eating
out or grabbing lunch on-the-go at fast food restaurants where healthy nutritional
food is the minority.
“I don’t need to convince you that if you’re physically fit, you’re going to come
across better to others,” writes Dr. Tony Alessendra, social psychologist and the
author of “Charisma – Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism that Leads to
Success.” “We’re all attracted to healthy looking people. What you’ll find, over
the intermediate to long term, is that as your body gets used to the greater
demands of exercise, you’ll look better and feel better. You’ll have more energy.
Your self-esteem and self-confidence will also likely improve.”
Alessandra suggests making fitness a lifestyle, not a chore. He offers the
following ideas to get healthier at work:
• Walk up and down the stairs to your office or apartment.
• Meet and discuss business while walking around the office and its
• Drink water often throughout the day to stave off hunger pains and feeling
• If you can walk to a meeting do so, rather than drive.
• Schedule workouts as must-attend meetings.
In the April 2004 edition of Prevention magazine, the article “Fit Execs are More
Successful,” illustrated how physical fitness improves career success. In a Ball
State University survey of 336 entrepreneurs, the physically fit professionals
netted bigger returns. Compared with sedentary business owners, daily
exercisers were 10 percent more likely to feel personal satisfaction at work.
According to Prevention, being overweight actually costs you more. It reported
that of the more than 178,000 people evaluated, the annual cost of health care
for an obese American is $1,500 higher than for a normal-weight person.
Prevention provides helpful tips to alleviate weight gain at the office:
1. Never go hungry. Eat small amounts of high nutritional foods (fruits and
vegetables) throughout the day.
2. Never go thirsty. Dehydration can make you feel tired, light-headed,
headachy, dizzy and confused. Keep water at your desk and drink it
throughout the day.
3. Don’t drink sports drinks and sugared sodas for re-hydration. They contain
glucose or sugar. Avoid fruit juice because of the high fructose or sugar
content as well. These drinks add unnecessary calories and are loaded
with lots of sugar that if unused is stored as fat. Water is always the best
4. Eat plenty of low fat, high protein snacks. This includes low-fat dairy
products, legumes and nuts.
5. Take supplements. Take a multivitamin everyday and get plenty of
6. Eat more fish. Fish is rich in omega-3s that help reduce inflammation and
stress. Baked or broiled, it can be less fatty than other types of meat.
7. Limit Fats. Fat is the last nutrient to leave the stomach and it slows down
8. Set an alarm to go off every hour to remind you to stand up and move
around. Even if you just swing your arms or take a deep breath, you'll feel
9. Use the restroom on another floor and take the stairs.
10. Deliver documents or messages to co-workers in person rather than by e-
11. Pack your lunch rather than eating out.
12. Stock healthy snacks at your desk so that when you get hungry you aren’t
tempted to go to the vending machine. Have healthy snacks handy such
as fruit, baby carrots, pre-cut veggies, individual salad dressing packets,
Cherrios, and, if you have access to a fridge, low-fat yogurt.
13. When seated at your desk, maintain good posture. Common aches and
pains from sitting too long at a desk include headaches, eyestrain,
rounded shoulders and back pain.
14. At the desk, squeeze in your abs; make a muscle in your legs, hold a
couple seconds and relax. Repeat this for several minutes.
When you consider eating at your desk ask yourself why you want to eat. Are
you really hungry or are you stressed, bored or thirsty? Evaluating why you “feel”
hungry may prove insightful. Food can provide immediate feelings of satiation
and fullness that may be misplaced as addressing the deeper issues of feeling
stressed, frustrated or anxious. Food comforts and it is often used as a form of
“self-medicating” to deal with emotional distress.
Holidays provide many opportunities where mind, body and spirit may suffer.
Family dynamics can be the most distressing of all. Expectations run high, old
wounds may surface and opposing personalities may grate the nerves. Family
dysfunction is stressful and debilitating.
You can not pick the family you are born into and emotionally charged situations
can fester during the holiday season bringing upsets in its wake. As an option
and possible substitute for family disharmony create what psychologists are
calling a “chosen family.” These alternative cliques play the role of family by
lending support, companionship and advice.
The idea is to create a tight group of people (co-workers, church members and
friends) who share similar interests, perspectives and attitudes toward life. Tips
on how to grow your own clique are listed in “Presence of Mind” article. It
suggests the following:
• Create weekly events – Coming together for a weekly potluck dinner, book
club or softball game reinforces ties and fosters group bonding.
• Be assertive – If you meet someone you feel drawn to get to know them
by inviting them to the group event.
• Organize yearly rituals – Gather the group together for an annual event or
create a signature holiday tradition.
• Be inclusive, not exclusive – The purpose of a chosen family is to extend
outward and invite others in, rather than to stay sheltered.
• Use technology to build social networks – The Web site friendster.com
connects more than nine million members for the purpose of meeting
others with common interests. The Web site meetup.com connects
members locally based on interests.
Being surrounded by like-minded people and loving friends can help ease the
tension of the holidays. Using holistic strategies to deal with stress can equally
improve your mental state with healthy eating, self-control and exercise. Be easy
on yourself and your expectations of others. Use rationality to guide you and
leave the emotional baggage outside. Your holiday season will be better for it.
“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest,
strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be
applied.” Herophilus, (335 -280 B.C.) a Greek physician