The holiday season is a special time of the year which many look forward to, but they also can be a time of stress. For many, the holidays bring a lot more traveling, shopping, eating, drinking, parties, but can also be a tough time of year due to colds, flus and other attacks to your immune system.
This year, the holidays may be particularly stressful due to the ongoing worldwide pandemic. Feeling a little worried? Here are 8 tips that can help you stay healthy during the 2020 holiday season.
1. Be mindful of germs when you’re out.
You are more likely to get sick if you are in close contact with unfamiliar groups of people. The holidays usually mean more shopping, errands and meetups. You may be also traveling by air and other modes of public transportation. In all of these situations, make sure you are extra mindful of germs in public spaces. The CDC recommends to wear a mask at all times (except during eating or drinking), to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often and to avoid touching your face.
2. Be mindful of ways to reduce germs in your home.
Disinfect the places that have the most germs in your house – refrigerator doors and handles, bathroom faucets, doorknobs, remote controls, light switches, telephones, dishwasher handles, toilet handles, toys, and of course, your hands! Another idea is to change your hand towels often. Using a common towel may pass germs from one person to another, so a sick person should have their own towel to use.
3. Consider virtual meetings with friends and family.
While the holidays are a time to reconnect with friends and family, this year may be a bit different. Small household gatherings are an important contributor to spreading illness. While virtual meetings cannot completely replace the atmosphere of in-person meetings, you may consider virtual meetings with some friends and family to minimize risk for spreading illness, particularly those with risk factors that may predispose them to severe illness.
4. During large social gatherings, maintain social distancing and consider wearing a mask.
The CDC states that several factors contribute to the risk of getting sick, including location of gathering (indoor versus outdoor), duration of gathering, number and crowding of people, and behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering. For this holiday season, if you plan on hosting or attending large social gatherings, the CDC recommends social distancing, wearing a mask and move social activities outdoors if possible. For a more extensive list of tips, please visit the CDC website on holiday gatherings.
5. Stay hydrated.
There are many simple ways to boost your immune system, including drinking a lot of fluids, especially water. Hydration is a key element for maintaining a healthy immune system. If drinking plain water isn’t your thing, you can hydrate in other ways such as drinking sparkling water, herbal teas, broths or soups, or adding a sugar-free flavor booster to water. Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol, both of which can dehydrate your body!
6. Limit your consumption of sweets.
Pumpkin pies, cranberry tarts, Bundt cakes, peppermint ice creams, holiday logs… tis the season for indulgence. However, research has shown that spikes in sugar consumption suppresses the immune system. If you eat a lot of foods or drink beverages high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, that reduces your body’s ability to fight against infections. It isn’t realistic to recommend avoiding sweets during the holidays but sweets in moderation may be key to staying healthy. You may not realize it but beverages such as peppermint mochas, spiced apple ciders, egg nog, hot chocolate, or holiday punch are all loaded with sugar.
7. Get enough vitamin D.
Many people tend to get more sun during warmer season and not so much during the holiday season. Sunlight is the best way for the body to make vitamin D, which helps keep your bones strong and also supports the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency increases the likelihood of getting sick. The best way to get vitamin D is to spend 10-30 minutes in the sun daily. For many, this may not be realistic, so other ways to get vitamin D is through the diet (seafood, mushrooms, fortified foods like cow’s milk or cereals) or taking a dietary supplement.
8. Be Active!
Feeling under the weather? You may feel better if you take a daily walk or follow a simple exercise routine a few times a week. Regular moderate exercise keeps your body healthy, can be a great stress reliever and also supports the immune system. Some examples of moderate exercise include: daily 20-30 minute walks, doing yoga, bicycling with your children, or jogging a few times a week.
9. Keep a consistent sleep routine.
Your sleep cycle is important for immune system balance. During the holidays, you may find yourself getting to bed later, sleeping in, not getting enough sleep, or drinking alcohol more (which disrupts your sleep quality). All these situations may increase your risk of getting sick. While it may be difficult during the holidays, it is important to be mindful that sleeping regularly is important in staying healthy.
Finally, chronic stress and anxiety can weaken your immune system. During this time, it is important to take some time for yourself and practice relaxation rituals. Consider a massage, as it will help support your lymphatic system. Lymph plays a vital role in your immune response and maintaining fluid balance in your body. Check out specific tips for managing stress here. Stay safe, keep calm and healthy this holiday season!
If you enjoyed this blog, sign up to receive more articles on health and wellness topics from Sundita's newsletter here. When you sign up, you'll also receive a free downloadable Stress Busting Recipes cookbook!
Dr. Linda May-Zhang has over 10 years of research experience in nutrition, chronic diseases and pharmacology. She has published over 20 peer-reviewed academic papers in scientific journals. She is also a science writer with a passion for educating the lay public.