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IU Health & Wellness: The holiday issue

Research and insights from Indiana University

Oct. 28, 2009

IU Health and Wellness for October discusses the following topics:

Big changes may lead to big mistakes
H1N1: Caution this holiday season concerning familiar greetings
The holidays: No excuse for slacking off on exercise
A gift guide from thrifty graduate students


Bernardo Carducci

Bernardo Carducci

Print-Quality Photo

Make your New Year's resoutions in February, September. The winter holidays can be emotionally and financially stressful during good times. Add a recession and flu fears to the mix and we have a bad time for making major changes -- just as retailers begin ramping up advertising and Americans start considering the annual exercise of New Year's resolutions. In times of uncertainty, says Bernardo J. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, it's common for people to look to others for answers rather than trusting what they know, making them more vulnerable to bad decisions and to advertising and marketing efforts that encourage changes or spending. When decisions are made under duress, he says, they are more likely to be mistakes. "We know people are anxious and stressed, lonely and depressed," he said. "The rush and density of the season intensifies all of this. We say, 'Stop.' Instead of making a lot of changes, make none, or make ones that play to your strengths. The worst time to make resolutions is at the holidays because there's so much going on. You don't make a New Year's resolution in January; you make it in February, in September." Carducci said people are more likely to spend money to feel good when they are anxious, but he said there is no evidence that this produces a long-term, enduring positive effect. "The things we know that have enduring effects are expressing gratitude, giving forgiveness, because these remind you of the kinds of strengths and benefits that you have," he said. "Focusing on aspirational stuff, what other people have or what the ads say you need, focuses on what you don't have."

Carducci offers these suggestions when considering major changes:

  • Small changes. If you're going to make drastic changes, consider small changes that go to your strengths. Anxiety can be helpful involving tasks or issues that are familiar or simple, but it can get in the way and cause mistakes involving complicated affairs.
  • Give the gift of time. "Volunteering is great -- you don't have to be an expert. You can do what you know, and it's always appreciated," Carducci said. "It's also a low stress activity. What you're doing is focusing on something you can already do so you'll be a success and help others."
  • Alcohol gets in the way of change. Carducci says the influence of alcohol can make change more difficult, rather than facilitate it, because it suppresses the ability to think and make decisions. It can have an immediate effect of making you feel good, but does very little to change the actual behavior. It also is a depressant.
  • Look inward. Recognize that advertisements are not accurate reflections of life as we know it and can involve fear to motive change. Carducci encourages people to focus on their own values and what is important to them, not others.
  • Jump off the bandwagon. Carducci says research involving conformity and social dynamics indicates it takes little effort to break conformity. "It takes one person to say, 'This is ridiculous; I'm not going to do this'" Carducci said. "When you go to a party, be the person who says, 'I'm not going to drink.'"
  • Community counts. Build a sense of community by bringing people together to do something you enjoy -- such as starting a book club or hiking group.

Carducci, a professor of psychology, can be reached at 812-941-2295 and To learn more about the Shyness Research Institute, visit Top

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"Back to basics" approach to familiar greetings. The pandemic nature of H1N1 and regular seasonal flu makes this fall and winter holiday seasons different than previous years. "With profound love and friendship comes responsibilities and openness," said Mohammad Torabi, chair of the Department of Applied Health Science in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "It is best to be on the safe side and protect yourself and others."

Torabi recommends the following "back to basics" approach when it comes to personal hygiene for protecting oneself and others:

  • Minimize social gatherings if possible
  • If you have any signs or symptoms of flu, you should decline social event invitations
  • If you attend holiday and social gatherings, it is best to avoid hand shaking, hugging, kissing, sharing utensils, or sharing the same plate or glass
  • Avoid cross-contamination by not using your utensils for serving yourself from serving dishes
  • Wash hands, do not share towels, cover your mouth and nose while sneezing
  • Educate members of your family and friends as to basic personal hygiene practices
  • Advocate for vaccinations for both H1N1 and seasonal flu
  • Trust the judgment of your health care provider

Torabi can be reached at 812-855-4808 and Top

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Keep your gear nearby.

Print-Quality Photo

Holidays and exercise: the best of both worlds. Why is it that, "I'll carve the turkey" never falls in the same sentence as, "Just one more lap to go." Holidays bring good cheer to the heart and mind, but the importance of exercising should not be lost in the season's hustle and bustle. Andy Fry, fitness expert at Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, offers some general exercise tips for staying active this time of the year.

  • Plan ahead. Because you will be out of your normal exercise routine, Fry cannot stress this tip enough. During holiday seasons, people often are preoccupied with visiting relatives and thus have limited time to exercise; or are out of town and thus away from familiar gyms. The best way around this is to have your days planned out before the hectic holiday season arrives. If you know that you will be in a different city, plan your exercise routines around the gyms and workout facilities they have to offer.
  • Exercise in the mornings. This is the most opportune time to exercise because the majority of your guests or hosts will likely still be asleep. Although it is the holiday and time for relaxation, waking up early in the mornings to exercise will be well worth it.
  • Be active with family. What better way to spend the holidays then to spend time with family? Get your loved ones involved in family activities that both exercises the limbs and increases family together time. One activity can be walking through the park, or through the neighborhood to see holiday lights. If the weather does not permit, an activity like indoor rock climbing can be just as fun.
  • Park further away. Holiday shopping is a common practice that can be used as a good way to stay active. Outdoor malls and large shopping centers promote lots of walking, which is done in between shops and stores. Parking farther away from the desired destination enables you to walk greater distances.
  • Pack what you need. "There have been plenty of times that I intended to exercise," said Fry, "only to find out that I had forgotten my running shoes. It's important to pack plenty of gear and have the correct exercise tools you may need." If you don't pack the necessities, he said, you will not be able to exercise.
  • Check gym membership benefits. If you are a member at a gym, look to see if the member benefits are transferrable to gyms located throughout your holiday travels. Also, check to see if you have access to any guest passes. These can be used to bring a family member to exercise with you, while you both are in town for the holidays.

Fry is assistant director for fitness and wellness at the School of HPER's Division of Campus Recreational Sports. He can be reached at 812-855-9653 or Top

Gift ideas from thrifty graduate students. It's better to give than to receive -- but what if your wallet restricts the giving? This is a common problem for graduate students at Indiana University and elsewhere.

Scrapbook image

Photo by Barb Watson

Tight budget? Pictures and scrapbooks can make great gifts for friends and family.

Some students from IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation offer ideas for overcoming the constraint of one's pocketbook while embracing one's creativity:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Julie Hagmeier, a graduate student in the School of HPER's Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies, suggested taking or finding a picture of yourself and friends and putting it in an inexpensive picture frame. She also suggested compiling a picture collage of the recipient's favorite things. You can find pictures from newspapers and old magazines, which can be collected for free from libraries, friends, neighbors or family members. Anne Petre, another graduate student in the RPTS department, plans on making scrapbooks this year for her family members. She will use photos, magazine cutouts and family letters and certificates.
  • Hooks and needles are all you need. A thrifty and oh-so-functional gift involves knitting, sewing or crocheting. Hats and scarves can keep family and friends warm during the cold winter months.
  • Lend a helping hand. Adrienne Garcia, a graduate student in the School of HPER's Department of Applied Health Science, said a helping hand is always meaningful during the holidays. This can be something as simple as helping a friend with a chore, helping parents cook dinner or assisting them with any activity they're doing.
  • Keep it cheap. Dan Canfield, another graduate student in the AHS department, said athletic equipment, like a basketball, soccer ball or bike pump, are great gifts that are not too costly. Christopher Fogle, a graduate student in the same department, has a motto when it comes to inexpensive gifts: One should buy only the necessities. He says he would be happy if someone bought him laundry detergent, toilet paper or even paper towels. However, two of his friends in the same department, Hannah Laughlin and Joy Hohimer-Hirsch, said even the "necessities" can be made more personal by buying nail polish, makeup, gift cards to Target, a Simon mall or restaurants.
  • Gift exchange adjusted to low price range. Darleesa Gates, also a graduate student in the AHS department, said she enjoys gift exchanges, which reduce the number of gifts people need to buy. In her family, a name is picked out of a hat to designate who people will provide gifts for. Depending on the set price range, the gifts can be as simple as a pair of gloves, socks or even a key ring.
  • Creativity makes it more personable. Ashley Davidson, a graduate student in the AHS department, suggested doing something original and one of a kind, such as writing a poem that describes the recipient's personality, painting or drawing a picture of them, writing a short story with the recipient as the main character or even creating a slideshow consisting of pictures of you and them together. The possibilities are endless. Top

For additional assistance with these tips, contact Tracy James, University Communications, at 812-855-0084 or