Stress-Free Holiday Challenge:: 10 Ways to Beat Holiday Stress with Fitness and Nutrition


December 15 at 12:00 PM

They’re here: the holidays with their cheer and charm on the one hand and their chaos and crazy on the other.

There are the many tasty but way-too-caloric meals, sweet and overbearing in-laws, high expectations and numerous disappointments, change of pace and lack of structure.

The list of naughty and nice holiday experiences is as long as Santa’s own.

For some people, this is no big deal, a passing state of affairs that soon will be a mere fragment on the collage of holidays past.

But if you, like many, find that holidays have a special place on your list of anxiety and gloom-inducing triggers, then the following fitness and nutrition ideas might just be what you need.

● Eat when you are hungry. A common mistake people make is to skip meals in anticipation of the big buffet. The downside: You feel bad from being too hungry before the meal and overly full after.

“Consider your hunger cues,” says Cheryl Harris, local nutrition coach and owner of Harris Whole Health. “You feel just as bad when you are hungry as when you have eaten too much.”

Bloating, fatigue and crankiness are among symptoms of these extremes on the hunger spectrum. Instead, stick to your routines even on holiday-buffet day.

● Make smart choices and be picky with indulgences. Let’s be honest: Healthy choices don’t really abound during the holidays, but they can be found. Harris suggests looking for chili and vegetable-based soup, as they usually are “reasonably healthy choices,” and whole foods such as clementines. And feel free to indulge in the dishes that are special, not the things (store-bought chips and cookies) that you can have any time of the year. Grandma’s apple pie, on the other hand? Go for it, says Harris. “Have the things that define the holiday for you.”


● Take your time. Take some time to look at the spread before digging in. Socialize with family and friends. Enjoy the sights and sounds. Eventually, home in on the two or three items that look the most delectable. Use moderation. This is probably not your last meal.

● Stay hydrated. Try to aim for your eight glasses of water a day. Dehydration has been shown to affect mood negatively, Harris says. If you are drinking alcohol it’s a good idea to alternate with water. Club soda may be a more festive option than plain water.

Watch the mixed drinks for calories and high sugar content. Eggnog tops the list of the naughties with about 350 calories per cup. Also, be mindful thatalcohol can interact adversely with antidepressants.

● Take a deep breath. Yes, simply speaking, take a deep breath when emotional temperatures starts rising, says Alyson Shade, a local yoga instructor and owner of Realignment Studio.

“I usually recommend dirga pranayama — the three-part breath. That’s really calming,” Shade says.

You can do dirga breathing flat on your back, seated or even while standing in a long retail checkout line, she says.

Here is how: You place one hand on the belly, the other on the chest. As you breathe in, the lower abdomen starts lifting, followed by middle abdomen and then the chest. When you exhale, the chest drops first, followed by the middle abdomen and, last, the lower abdomen. The breath moves like a wave through the torso.

“Usually, people feel really amazing after this one,” Shade says. “It’s my go-to when I start feeling anxious.”

There are other yogic breathing techniques (called pranayama), but Shade recommends this one because it is pretty simple.