By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for the Havre Daily News
There are decorations to hang. Cookies to bake. Cards to mail. Gifts to select. And, for many people, that's just the beginning of their holiday to-do list.
The pressure to make the holidays a magical time requires extra energy and attention. Yet the U.S. holiday season coincides with winter - when everyone's body runs a little slower. This hibernation tendency is the brain's response to shortened daytime hours. The result is a desire to sleep more and eat more - with a noticeably increased craving for carbohydrates, explains Dr. Milton Anderson, a psychiatrist with the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans.
As bleak as this reality may sound, it is possible to harness the extra energy and attention required to weather the holidays. Consider these tips:
Set realistic expectations for diet and lifestyle during the holiday season. According to the American Heart Association, increased consumption of food, alcohol and salt, changes in the weather and increased stress cause the number of heart-related problems to peak between Thanksgiving and the first of January, with a 33 percent increase in heart-related deaths.
Choose traditions that are easy to revive. If they take much time, space, effort or money, the stress of keeping them going can become too much.
Feel free to decline invitations to holiday events. Exercising control over personal time is especially helpful during the holidays, says Dr. Anderson.
Adeline Rosemire, author of "Christmas Shortcuts," suggests listing everything you want to do for the holidays. Rank those things in order and then knock off the bottom three - or more. Feel the pressure reducing already?
Follow the example of one family that resolved to keep Christmas low-key and holiday meals informal. They bought a bright red wooden sled for their toddler daughter and spent the day pulling her up the hill behind their house. "It was a gift we could share with her," said her mom. "She was rosy-cheeked and thrilled all day."
Maintain usual routines, including regular mealtimes and sleep schedules. This is particularly difficult during the holidays but especially important for children, because they will be easily stressed by the hustle and bustle.
Don't try to lose weight during the holidays. This may be a self-defeating goal. Instead, strive to maintain your weight by balancing party-eating with other meals.
The Utah Department of Health recommends that you "find your treat. Don't deny yourself your favorite dessert. Figure out what you want, and forego lesser indulgences along the way."
Cut back on fat and calories by substituting some of the ingredients in those traditional family recipes with the low-fat, reduced-calorie substitutes on the market, suggests the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Limit alcohol intake. Try sparkling water with a lime twist instead of wine, champagne or a mixed drink.
Exercise is helpful, advises Dr. Anderson. Try to do it during the daylight hours, or in a well-lit place, to give your body a consistent signal that it's not hibernation time.
Set aside time to go caroling, shopping, walking, ice skating or sledding with friends and family. Plan a special hike with the family on a day when you are all together. Or simply take a walk around the block after dinner. Third Age Inc. states that walking around the mall burns 150 calories in 30 minutes. Ice skating consumes 187 calories every half hour. And sledding is good for 237 calories burned in that same amount of time.
However, exercise should not be a penance for the holiday cookies you ate. Make it a personal goal unrelated to holiday revelry, recommends St. John Health. Find some motivation that has nothing to do with guilt.
The Hugs for Health Foundation suggests putting the season in perspective by visiting a senior citizen. Too few elderly people receive regular visitors, and the holidays can be especially lonely for them.
A Healthy Advantage reminds us that young children discovering the world are easily delighted. Take a child for a walk outside to see homes and business decorated with lights. It will be a refreshing experience that won't cost a penny.
Take the edge off your hunger before a party.
Make just one trip to the party buffet and be selective.
Use a smaller plate to control portion sizes.
Move your socializing away from the buffet table. This will eliminate unconscious nibbling.
Do not eat foods just because they are served.
Enjoy dinner conversation. It's calorie-free.
Clean up the house immediately after hosting a party, advise the doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Otherwise, your child could get up in the night and choke on leftover food or drink or consume leftover alcohol or tobacco.
Coping with missing a loved one:
Holidays may prompt increased thoughts of a loved one who is absent or deceased. Dr. Anderson suggests trying to think about positive memories of that person. Then find a way to celebrate and honor the missed person during the holiday, even if it's through a very private gesture.
Peter Carnochan, a San Francisco-based psychologist, proposes giving yourself even more emotional room. "Memories, good and bad, tend to resurface this time of year," he says. "Most people have some sad and negative feelings during the holidays. This is OK. Don't force yourself to be merry."
The HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line is committed to promoting healthy lifestyles for everyone in the community. For more information on this or related topics, call 265-6206.