With the holiday season in full swing, it can be difficult to remain healthy. While Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s are often a time for celebration and togetherness, that “togetherness” can come at a price: taking a toll on our physical and emotional health.
With the winter temperatures leading to more indoor time, you might find yourself in close quarters with under-the-weather travelers, working closely with germy colleagues or hanging out with your extended family members who are just coming down with something during holiday gatherings. Already this year, our LifeCenters are witnessing cases of the common cold and influenza, but we’re also seeing bad cases of gastrointestinal (GI) bugs.
To navigate the pitfalls and help you avoid germs and stay healthy, we’re offering five simple and easy-to-remember tips so you can operate at peak health throughout the holiday season.
#1 Primary Prevention
Primary prevention aims to prevent disease or illness before it ever occurs by preventing exposures to disease or illness and increasing resistance should exposure occur. Examples include immunization against infectious disease, like a flu shot, and education about healthy and safe habits, like eating well, exercising regularly, not smoking, etc.
Colds and the flu are most prevalent in the winter, but you can work to prevent them by sanitizing your hands regularly and urging others to do the same. Proactively working to prevent disease or illness is the most important thing you can do to try to stay healthy throughout the holiday season.
#2 Sanitize Surfaces
Following primary prevention, absolutely the best thing you can do is use hand sanitizer and sanitize surfaces that you might touch or may have come into contact with germs.
If you’re flying, don’t pick up germs left from previous travelers, run disinfecting wipes over armrests, tray tables, air vents, your seatbelt buckle and let these surfaces air dry. In fact, a University of Arizona study revealed that the flu virus — and even the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA — exists on airline tray tables.
Hand sanitizer is better and more convenient than soap and water, and you can keep a small amount in your pocket and apply it frequently. While disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects, this process does not necessarily remove germs. However, by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
#3 Catch some ZZZs
If you run yourself ragged and don't get a solid night of sleep, you risk getting ill just because you've worn down your body's defense mechanisms. Take advantage of the time off work by waking up late, taking naps and enjoying a day of rest and relaxation.
According to a Carnegie Mellon study,people who slept at least eight hours nightly were about three times less likely to catch a cold than those who slept for fewer than seven. When you're feeling under the weather or worn down, it's best to stay home. No one wants to miss the holiday party, but how much fun will you really have if you’re fighting back sniffles, blowing your nose and worrying about your sickness?
#4 Stay Adequately Hydrated and Eat Healthy Foods
While this may seem like common sense, during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s easy to forget to stay hydrated and eat healthily.
During air travel, airplane cabins have low humidity at high altitudes, which makes plane cabin air dry. This dryness makes our airways more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria, but staying well hydrated keeps your mucus membranes moist so they can better keep a virus out of your system. Even if you aren’t going out of town, staying hydrated is important to your health. Same thing goes for not over-indulging in too many adult beverages because that can set you up for infection as well.
You can also bolster your immune system with items found right in your kitchen. The most authentic way to fight a cold or flu is to eat foods that will help you build the healthy cells you need to feel better. Consider the health benefits of eating fish, garlic, leafy greens, citrus fruits and chicken soup. A healthy diet has been shown to boost immune function and help you get better faster. A varied and colorful healthy diet will help your body fight off infections.
#5 Beware of Your Mental Health
With short winter days, less sunlight, colder weather and increasing stress levels during the holidays, it’s important be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and to let somebody know when you’re struggling.
Sometimes when everyone else is celebrating the season and you’re feeling down, depression can expound the typical symptoms and make them worse. Try to anticipate sources of stress and develop a plan to manage those stressors. This may involve going to fewer get-togethers or setting a tighter budget. Spend a little time each day thinking about the people and things you are grateful to have in your life. Better yet, take a moment to let those people know of your gratitude!
The holiday spirit is about helping others, but you also have to make time to take care of yourself and your physical and mental well-being. If you are feeling under the weather, getting plenty of sleep and staying hydrated will help, but regaining health depends on the illness. Watch out for signs and symptoms of more serious infection. If that’s the case, come see your friendly PeakMed doctor. We hope these tips will be useful to you, and that you have a happy — and healthy — holiday season!