From germs on planes (which are only slightly better than snakes on planes) to overwhelming to-do lists, the holidays can be hard on your health. Barb Dehn, RN, a women's health nurse practitioner in Silicon Valley, Calif., weighed in on six ways to stay healthy so you can enjoy the best parts of the season -- no cough drops required.
1. Don't stress! As SELF reported in the November 2011 issue, a recent study in Epidemiology shows that feeling stressed can increase your chances of getting a cold. "A lot of social anxiety masquerades as stress," says Dehn -- whether it's fretting about what to wear on New Year's Eve or what to buy your co-workers for the annual office Secret Santa. It can be easier said than done, but just taking a few moments out of your day to focus on your breath and all the positive things in your life, says Dehn, can really alleviate some of your stress and anxiety.
Of course, cutting back on your to-do list is also a major stress-reliever, which brings us to our next point...
2. Multi-task. Yes, that's right, multi-task! But not in the sense of "try to do 8 million things at once." Rather, scale back a bit by combining two activities in one: gift-giving and feeding yourself nourishing, healthy food.
"A good mantra for all of us this year is 'less is more'" says Dehn, noting that it's easy to forget that it really is the thought that counts. Instead of spending time rushing around the mall, overspending and stressing, cook yourself up a big batch of healthy soup and give away containers of it to your friends and neighbors.
3. Get your sleep, Beauty. "We know that lack of sleep can contribute to all kinds of ailments," Dehn says. "As hard as it is this time of year, now is the time to make sure you get at least seven to eight hours of sleep to rejuvenate." Don't fall into the trap of using a couple of lattes or an energy drink to power through, she warns -- when you're tired, rest, so you can be energized to get more done tomorrow.
4. Travel safe. Long flights aren't just a (literal) pain in the butt, they can be hazardous to your health because of the increased risk of blood clots. Dehn stresses this is especially true if you're on a hormonal contraceptive (the pill, the patch or the ring) and/or if you smoke -- at all. "A lot of women don't consider themselves smokers if they 'socially smoke,'" Dehn says, but she warns that even weekend smoking increases your risk of dangerous blood clots.
"If the flight is longer than three hours, make a point of getting up and stretching," advises Dehn. Do some toe-pointing exercises right in your seat as well, and try not to cram so much under the seat in front of you so you can have room to stretch your legs out a bit.
5. Germs, germs everywhere. From the mall to the post office to public transportation, pay extra attention to washing your hands. And if you can't get to a bathroom (where Dehn recommends singing a refrain of "Jingle Bells" to make sure you wash your hands for the full 20 seconds required to make it effective), a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer is your next best bet.
6. Drink up! Water, that is. Dehydration can not only bring on headaches and make you grumpy and irritable, says Dehn, it can mimic food poisoning symptoms (NO FUN). Dehn recommends getting your fluids in different way, like skipping the coffee and going for peppermint tea during the day. Drinking a big mug of tea before you head to a holiday party is also a great way to get a hydration boost, but ensure you'll be less likely to overindulge on treats and drinks once you're there. Then, drink a glass of seltzer or water for every alcoholic drink you have -- this will keep you hydrated and decrease your chances of ending up under the mistletoe with Mr. Wrong -- or winding up with a nasty hangover.