Category Archives: Holiday Fun

Embracing Clark Griswald: Battling Depression and Anxiety During the Holidays

The holidays can be a time of great joy and family togetherness.  For many, however, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years can be a time of great stress and even depression.  The holiday season can be very busy and often involves parties, shopping, financial stress and stretching already strained relationships.   In 1985, the New York Times published an article on dealing with holiday stress.  Even though it is a bit dated, much of what is said in this piece rings true today.  Much of the depression seen during holiday times is caused by the creation of unrealistic expectations.  Too many of us strive for the Norman Rockwell painting of the “perfect family Christmas”; however, if you are a fan of Chevy Chase, you may remember the movie Christmas Vacation.  For most of us, our holiday times are more consistent with the Griswald Family Christmas.  Coping with holiday stress is much more manageable if you plan correctly, set limits and realistic expectations.

The Mayo clinic has provided tips for dealing with stress and depression during the holidays.  I have explored those that I think are most important to achieve holiday bliss.

1. Acknowledge your feelings:  Embrace the fact that the holidays are going to be a stressful time.  Admit that family and other guests may be a bit taxing.  Certainly, if you have lost a loved one or friend recently make sure to take time to deal with those feelings.  Take time to cry and grieve –you do not have to be happy just because its Christmas.

2. Reach out:  Feelings of loneliness are common during the holidays.  You do not have to deal with these feelings in isolation.  Seek out friends, family, church groups and others.  Volunteer activities during the holidays can help you feel engaged and less isolated.

3. Be Realistic:  Although traditions and rituals are important, times change as children become adults and families move to different geographic regions.  Pick important traditions and be flexible.  Remember, Cousin Eddie could show up at any time.  There is no such thing as the “perfect Christmas”.  (Reference the Griswalds).

4. Set aside differences:  The holidays are probably not the best time to work through major relationship difficulties.  Save these discussions for a later date.  Make the most of the holiday time together and overlook the things that normally can be upsetting and strain relationships.

5. Stick to a budget:  The worst thing that a family can do is to outspend their budget over the holidays.  The credit card bills will arrive in January and they still have to be paid.  Setting a realistic budget will minimize financial stress.  Alternatives to extravagant gifts include homemade gifts or charitable donations in a person’s name.

6.  Plan ahead:  Understanding what your holiday obligations look like will help with advance planning.  Set aside days for decorating, baking, shopping and cooking.  By creating a calendar of activities, you do not get overwhelmed by a long list of tasks that hit you all at once.

7. Continue Healthy habits:  The holidays should not be an excuse to “let the wheels come off”.  Stick to your normal exercise routine and work to minimize binge eating at parties.
Eat healthy snacks prior to going to holiday parties.

8. Learn to say no:  Although it is often difficult to decline invitations for parties, social activities or service projects during the holidays, you must know your limits.  Over-extending yourself and allowing no time for rest will only worsen anxiety and depression during the holidays.

9. Take time for YOU:  Taking 15 minutes alone during particularly busy holiday times is essential to maintaining your sanity!  5 minute meditation, reading a book in a quiet room or just sitting quietly is important during the hectic holiday season.

10.  Seek Professional Help if needed:  If you have feelings of anxiety or depression that become overwhelming–if you cannot sleep or have feelings of helplessness or thoughts of suicide, seek professional help.  Counselors and therapists can often provide strategies to help you better cope with the stress of the holiday season.

The holidays can be very stressful.  For those with underlying anxiety, depression or stress, the holiday season can exacerbate these emotions.  Remember, there is no such thing as the “perfect family Christmas”.  Just as in the Griswald Family Christmas portrayed in Christmas Vacation, family  holiday gatherings are full of unexpected surprises –everybody has a cousin Eddie.  The key is to have realistic expectations, have strategies to manage stress and conflict and take time to relax.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry AND Exercise: Minimizing The Impact Of The Thanksgiving Day Feast

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  It is a time in the US where we reflect on the blessings we have had in the previous year and gather together to  celebrate family, friends and football.  First declared a holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, Thanksgiving Day tradition centers around food and decadent culinary indulgences.  In 2012, over 280 million turkeys (or about 7 billion pounds) have been sold for Thanksgiving amounting to $3 billion dollars of sales.  91% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving.  The US produced 750 million pounds of cranberries this year and nearly 20% of all cranberries consumed in the US are eaten on Thanksgiving Day.

The average American will consume over 5000 calories in one Thanksgiving meal.  Most Americans will gain 1-5 pounds during the holiday and many are never able to get these pounds back off.  Over the years, this excess weight accumulates and contributes to the obesity epidemic in the US today.  Most diners do not engage in any physical activity either before or after the meal.  A single serving of turkey or stuffing or pie can contain 500 calories each.  Many families celebrate the meal with wine and other alcoholic beverages as well.  In fact, data from the CDC shows that more alcohol is consumed in the US on the night before Thanksgiving than any other holiday (including New Years Eve, St Patrick’s Day or Christmas).  Alcohol contains lots of “empty calories” and can significantly contribute to holiday weight gain.

Biologically, eating a decadent meal such as a typical American Thanksgiving Day feast has been shown to create measurable changes in blood levels of triglycerides (fats) and other hormones.  In addition, indulgent meals have also been shown to increase the stiffness of arteries throughout the body (such as the coronary arteries).  These biologic changes can put patients already at risk for heart attack and stroke at even greater risk for these events.  Luckily, exercise, even modest amounts, has been shown to quickly reverse these detrimental changes.

What strategies can we employ in order to proactively combat the holiday weight gain?  

1. Eat a hearty breakfast.  Many people will avoid eating all day long and focus on one decadent holiday meal.  By eating breakfast, you are able to temper your appetite and avoid overeating at the Thanksgiving meal.  In addition, the chef of the home should begin cooking the meal just after breakfast.  This reduces the nibbling and “sampling” that goes on during the cooking process.

2. Serve the holiday meal in the middle of the day.  By serving the large meal at midday, you are able to promote and create time for physical activity both before and after eating.  Eating later in the day can result in slower metabolism and accumulation of fat.  In addition, by eating earlier in the day, you are less likely to eat multiple large meals in the same day.

3. Portion control and a strategic approach to the buffet.  When approaching a large holiday meal, focus on choosing and eating the healthier foods first.  Fill up with vegetables and other more nutritious items.  Certainly, sample all of the holiday goodies but limit portion sizes when you do.  Avoid seconds–it is better to save the second plate for leftovers the next day.

4. Drink lots of water.  It is important to remain hydrated on Thanksgiving Day.  Drinking lots of water helps with the metabolism of your meal and also gives you a “full” feeling throughout the day so that you do not gorge and “pig out” when the time for the holiday meal arrives.

5. Start a new family tradition.  Incorporate exercise into your Thanksgiving Day.  Take a walk as a family before the meal and consider a second walk after the meal BEFORE sitting down for dessert.  Often, by exercising, we are able to reduce our appetite and curb hunger prior to the meal and dessert.

Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate our good fortune with friends and family.  However, it is also a time that many Americans over-indulge in both food and alcohol.  Holiday related bad habits can lead to obesity and obesity-related illness.  Certainly, it is important to enjoy the wonderful holiday
meal and the company of family and friends.  However, by incorporating healthy eating strategies and a little family exercise into the festivities we can all avoid the unwanted pounds and unneeded calories.

No Nightmares On Your Street: Keeping Kids Safe On Halloween

Halloween is one of the oldest known holidays. Its origins go back thousands of years and has roots in both pagan, Celtic, Roman and Christian roots. It is the Romans Pomona day, the Celtic Samhain, and the Christian All Saints Day (eve). In modern times, Halloween is a celebration for children and retains influences from all its founding traditions. Wearing costumes and going door to door for candy and treats, children enjoy the magic and superstition of the holiday. Halloween is all about fun. But as in any horror movie, danger lurks around every corner….

Tonight is Halloween night. Over 41 million children will embark on trick or treating adventures today between the hours of 4pm and 10pm. Most will be dressed in costumes and excited to venture out into the streets in search of candy and other treats. Halloween is all about fun and fantasy. However, Halloween can present significant risks to children; adults must be aware of these risks and discuss them with their kids in order to promote a safe and happy holiday. On October 31st, between the hours of 4pm and 10pm, there are twice as many traffic accidents involving pediatric pedestrians as compared to the same time on any other night in the year. Streets are busy and often excited children run and quickly dart out into the street. Drivers must use extra care on Halloween and be aware of potential hazards. Parents must accompany children and ensure that they stay on sidewalks, cross at crosswalks and avoid running through yards, unmarked paths and streets.

A recent study of pediatric ER visits demonstrated that the number one holiday for emergencies was in fact Halloween. Finger and hand injuries were the most common type of injuries; 33% were from lacerations and 20% were from broken bones. Burns were also a significant injury seen on Halloween night. Of note, nearly ⅓ of Halloween injuries were seen in children ages 10-14. A Harris Interactive poll in 2011 found that 9 out of 10 parents reported that their children would be participating in Halloween related activities, most commonly trick or treating. Although 79% of parents report talking with their children about Halloween related safety at least once, only 35% of parents admit to having a safety discussion every year. Luckily, 75% of surveyed parents report that they would never let their children trick or treat without adult supervision.

A closer look at Halloween related injuries provide guidance to parents for prevention. Lacerations on Halloween were most often related to carving pumpkins. Pumpkin carving requires special tools and really should be done by adults. Alternatives to pumpkin carving include painting or drawing designs with markers. Burns are most often the result of candles catching costumes on fire. The use of fire retardant costumes that fit well are an important preventative measure. As neighbors, it is important to consider using battery powered candles rather than actual flames. Orthopedic injuries are most often the result of falls or pedestrian-vehicle collisions. Certainly as mentioned earlier, good street safety must be practiced. Crossing at designated crosswalks, close adult supervision and the use of flashlights and brightly colored costumes (even reflective tape) greatly reduce the risk of collisions and falls. Drivers on Halloween must slow down and be extra vigilant. Trick or treaters should avoid wearing masks, and leave costume accessories behind. These contribute to falls and orthopedic injury. As neighbors, it is important to clear lawns of debris and equipment such as garden hoses that could contribute to injuries.

So, Halloween is a favorite holiday of most children. Halloween is all about fun. Taking simple, preventative, common sense steps can prevent Halloween injuries and avoid Halloween nightmares.