IU Health & Wellness: The holiday issue
A prescription for gratitude to treat a case of the holiday blues. The holiday season may arrive for some people with an extra helping of stress this year, with a stock market in the tank, an economy in shambles and many worried about the future of their jobs. Given the state of things, that's not surprising, said Kevin Rand, assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. But people can alter their outlook, with a little work, said Rand, whose research focuses on the influences of hopeful and optimistic thinking on people's behaviors, and mental and physical health.
Here are some of his suggestions:
- Be grateful. The whole point of Thanksgiving, he noted, is something that's gaining more attention in psychological research. Research shows that having people purposefully sit down and think about things in their life that they are grateful for improves their happiness and well-being. That is something many of us forget to do, Rand said.
- Work at being happy. People are wired to notice the bad, rather than the good, Rand said. That makes sense because bad things -- like forgetting to watch for oncoming traffic when crossing a street -- can kill you. In our fantasy world, we want happiness to come naturally, but it doesn't, Rand said. You have to make an effort to be happy. You have to purposefully work at it and think about things that are right in your life.
- Don't just stand there. If you are not feeling great, part of that may be you are not purposefully doing things to feel better. That includes stepping back and thinking the economy may be in shambles and the holidays can be stressful, but these following things are going well. It can be as simple as remembering how wonderful the giggle of a child or grandchild is.
- Take a deep breath. The holidays come at the end of the year, often accompanied by a time crunch as people try to finish projects, particularly those whose who work on a bonus basis. Then there are the extra chores of buying gifts, which can be particularly difficult for those strapped financially. Rand encourages people to remind themselves about the original meaning of the holidays. It's not about the commercial goodies. If you can't afford to purchase gifts, make one, or write a note or a poem. People underestimate how much things like that are appreciated.
One of the secret truths, Rand says, is to do less and enjoy more. Slow down, focus on what you want to do and enjoy it more. Rand says a quote from his grandfather sums it up, "The slower you go, the faster you will get there."
No better time than the holidays to revamp unhealthy eating habits and traditions. Give eating habits and traditions a healthy holiday makeover. Training the brain can be the first step to trimming the waistline, with the fun- and food-filled holidays providing the perfect boot camp. Antonio Williams, a fitness consultant and lecturer at Indiana University, said revamping unhealthy practices and traditions involving food can go a long way in improving eating habits. "The name of the weight-loss game is consuming fewer calories than you expend," Williams said. "But you don' t need to count calories to cut them."
Williams offers 10 traditions and common practices that are prime for tweaking:
- Southern culture manners. Cleaning our plates is considered good manners and a sign of respect in many Southern households. "Culturally we do this, but it's not conducive to a healthy lifestyle," Williams said. "The way to combat this is to not put so much on your plate -- portion control. You can always go back and get more."
- Carbohydrate overload? Divided paper plates to the rescue. At family and holiday dinners, Americans often pile on the carbohydrates -- mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, stuffing -- and then think about adding meat to their plates. "The carbs are actually what we need the least," Williams said. His solution is plate sectioning, using paper plates that are divided into sections. Rather than piling the pasta and potatoes in the largest section, save the largest section for the vegetables. "I've helped people manage their diet by doing nothing but using paper plates and putting their carbs in the smaller portion," Williams said. "If it doesn't fit in that smaller portion, you don't need it."
- Avoid "stacking." Americans often stack complementary foods on top of each other, such as veggies atop rice. This lets diners try a little of everything, Williams said, but the calories can really add up. Rather than stacking foods, place them next to each other. Williams said this can trick diners into thinking they have more food than they really do.
- More Southern culture. Williams said Southern culture encourages diners to drink their beverages after their meal, not during. Drinking before and during meals, however, can help diners feel fuller and control portion sizes.
- Reality check for empty-nesters. Williams suggests parents scale back their cooking to match their smaller household. After the kids leave home, parents often continue preparing the same quantities of food that they cooked for their larger family, thus eating more themselves.
- Taste it first. Americans often season food before they taste it. Williams encourages diners to put their favorite sauces and dressings on the side. "You don't really know if you need it," he said. "Our favorite sauces usually are loaded with hidden sugars."
- Share your food, really. Portion sizes at restaurants often are so large that they encourage overeating. Williams suggests diners ask for a doggie bag to come with the meal so a portion can be put aside early on. Some restaurants allow diners to share meals, which is another option to avoiding oversized portions.
- Slow down. Culturally, Americans eat too fast, Williams said. Eating more slowly lets the body realize when it is full sooner rather than later -- when it's too late.
- Do's and Don'ts of breakfast. Working Americans often skip it or overindulge, resulting in fatigue leading up to lunch. Williams suggests eating a sensible breakfast but also drinking water first thing in the morning to counter the dehydration that occurs overnight. "Some people find this as beneficial as coffee," he said. "When your stomach is growling, it's often really calling for liquid, not food. Drinking water also helps control portion sizes."
- Rethinking lunch. Culturally, dinner is typically the biggest meal of the day with restaurants usually offering smaller meal sizes for lunch. Americans, however, spend most of their energy earlier in the day. Williams suggests arranging to have a larger meal at lunch rather than dinner to help provide fuel for busy days.
Gifts for an active night out (or in). Who says date night needs to be high-cal or costly? Health and wellness experts at Indiana University offer some suggestions for entertaining gift ideas that can rev up the metabolism as well as the romance.
Instead of spending a large amount of money for a gift, try giving valuable time to a loved one. This could include taking evening walks or daytime hikes. It also could include thoughtful gestures such as repairing a partner's bike with the promise of a bike ride the next day, or giving flower seeds and bulbs for their garden in the spring. Give your partner a weekend out-of-town. "What about a romantic stay at a bed and breakfast or a camping trip? A couple could go somewhere scenic, have a picnic, take a walk or hike, and then head to their bedroom for indoor activities."
--Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation
Hit the slopes
Take advantage of cold weather and snow with a day of snow tubing, skiing or snowboarding. Surprising a partner with skiing or snowboarding lessons would also be a fun and active gift. Treat your partner to an outdoor adventure. Try kayaking, hiking or running. These activities are fun and can be inexpensive. "The distinct atmospheres of nature and the outdoors offer an environment where unforgettable memories are made."
--Joel Meier, professor emeritus, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies in the School of HPER
Train and race with your partner
"Sign up yourself and your partner for that 5K, 10K, half-marathon or full marathon you've been talking about wanting to do but never got around to. It is never more real than when you finally see yourself as signed up. This also will allow the two of you to spend time together on a daily basis while you train."
--Andy Fry, assistant director for fitness and wellness at the Division of Campus Recreational Sports in the School of HPER
Take your partner bowling or to the arcade. "Several video games are interactive and require you to stand and maneuver an apparatus."
Don't get burned over the holidays --seriously. For a lot of people, the months of November and December are filled with holiday parties, decorating and cooking. Unfortunately, it can also be a prime time for accidental injuries according to Trent Applegate, lecturer in Indiana University Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. The added stress and activities of the holiday season all have the potential to end in disaster. Applegate summarizes three types of injuries that are more likely to occur during the holiday season:
- Food-related injuries. "It is likely that there are increased cases of food-borne illnesses and allergic reactions during the holiday season," says Applegate. For a large number of people, the months of November and December are filled with family meals, holiday parties or potlucks. Frequently, food is prepared in a rush or left out for long periods of time. According to Applegate, this is a recipe for disaster. "People should be very careful to practice proper food handling techniques. Frequent hand-washing, especially after handling meat, is one of the most important things people can do to prevent food poisoning."
- Stress. "When we are stressed out, we are less aware of our surroundings. This could lead to an increased likelihood of slips, trips or falls," says Applegate. "We are also more physiological susceptible to injury when we are stressed out. If you are already sick, stress can make you even more vulnerable to illness." Applegate recommends exercise, muscle relaxation, relaxation breathing and shoulder shrugs and squeezes as ways to combat stress.
- Burns. According to Applegate, two types of burns are more likely during the holidays: electrical burns caused by electricity entering and exiting the body and thermal burns, caused by contact with an open flame. Decorating with lights and using candles during the holidays are likely culprits of these injuries. "If you find yourself in a situation where someone has been burned, electrically, thermally or otherwise, remember the following: check, call and care," says Applegate. "Check the scene and victim. Safely remove the victim from the source. If he or she is suffering an electrical burn, pull the plug at the wall or shut off the current. Do not touch the victim while they are in contact with the electricity. Second, call for help. All electrical injuries should receive medical attention. Lastly, use first aid practices to care for the burn."
In order to ensure a safe and happy holiday season, Applegate offers the following additional tips to prevent holiday mishaps:
- Stay focused on the task at hand.
- Take short breaks, both mental and physical.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Vary tasks and activities.
- Manage your stress.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Identify hazards such as wet and uneven surfaces, poor lighting, bad weather conditions, having the wrong tools for the job or rushing to get a task completed.
Toning down consumerism in tight economic times. Children have become an attractive marketing niche, which can cause unavoidable stress around the holidays if parents' pocketbooks can't keep up with kids' gift expectations. Parents can take steps to insulate their kids from the commercial hype, says Indiana University family studies expert Maria Schmidt, while making the holidays meaningful, enjoyable and affordable. The key is for parents to understand their financial limits -- and the importance of staying within them -- while managing their children's expectations. "Keep it positive. You don't have to give the kids a dollar amount. But you can say, 'We are going to have a budget this year so we can be financially healthy,'" Schmidt said. "It's important to say you'll give gifts and acknowledge each other but it will look different this year." Families might want to consider starting new holiday traditions, such as limiting the number of gifts or exchanging homemade gifts, Schmidt said. And it always is a good time to discuss value-centered or meaningful gift-giving -- considering what somebody would actually appreciate or helping charities and less fortunate people. One gift precious to many is simply time. "Kids really want the gift of time, not more stuff," she said.
Schmidt offers these suggestions for managing gift expectations during tight financial times:
- Tone down the consumerism by not participating. If parents need the newest, latest model of cell phones or other products, for example, they model this behavior to their kids.
- Turn off the TV. By limiting TV viewing and skipping video previews, parents limit the flood of commercials their children see. "The catalogs we receive in the mail hit the recycling bin before the kids have a chance to go through them," Schmidt said.
- Don't beat around the bush. Parents can be fairly frank about why they will or won't buy a certain item. "Rather than saying, 'I'm never going to buy them this,' try, 'This is why I don't think you'd like this product,' or 'This is why I don't want to spend my money on that.'"
- Talk. Talk about wants versus needs. Discuss commercials and what they try to achieve. Parents can talk about how the act of giving gifts to others over the holidays is more important to them than receiving gifts.
- Avoid unpleasant surprises. If kids are accustomed to extravagance but the family's financial situation has changed, parents should not just surprise them with fewer gifts. They should discuss beforehand that their holiday will look different but will involve as much or more family time together. "That's what kids really, really want, more family time," Schmidt said.
- Tune out peer pressure. Some parents create problems for themselves by thinking they need to buy their kids impressive gifts to help them fit in with their peers. Schmidt says this often reflects how the parents feel, not the kids, with the parents projecting this insecurity onto their kids.
- Empower your kids. "You can say, 'We were smart; we didn't overspend. I received this gift that I really wanted and we're a smart, financially healthy family.'"
Think outside the box about gifts. Gifts can involve activities you know will occur during the year, such as giving kids gift certificates to movie theaters or to restaurants the family likes to patronize. Help them make homemade gifts, such as cookies, breads or other gifts. Many families also devote time as a family to helping a charity or special interest, such as a food pantry or animal shelter.
Schmidt is an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Health Science in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. She can be reached at 812-855-9892 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Top