4 Ways to Stay Healthy During the Holidays

Scripps doctors share simple, stress-free tips to enjoy the busy holiday season

As she hugs her son, this woman is thankful to be spending her holidays in good health and with the ones she loves.

Scripps doctors share simple, stress-free tips to enjoy the busy holiday season

No matter how much you look forward to the holidays, family traditions and social activities can add a lot to your proverbial (and actual!) plate.


Try the following tips to make this season merry and meaningful:

1. Sleep it off

Waiting for Santa or getting a jump start on a holiday meal can affect your sleep patterns, but small changes can put an end to sleepless nights. 


Sleep restores energy, boosts mood, lowers blood pressure and produces hormones that build muscle, fight infection and control appetite, says Lon Manson, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo


Ease up on the caffeine, finish your workout three to four hours before bed and put away the phone an hour beforehand. Quiet distractions with a fan, earplugs or white noise.

2. Beat the burn

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, filled with family, food and fun — and for many of us, heartburn.


Heavy meals, decadent deserts and alcohol can all leave you feeling the burn from acid reflux, when acid flows from the stomach up into the esophagus.


“If you overeat, especially if you overeat and lie down, you’re going to overwhelm that little valve that keeps food out of your esophagus,” says Scripps Clinic gastroenterologist Walter Coyle, MD. It’s not only how much you eat; what you eat also plays a role. High-fat and high-protein foods take longer to digest, so there’s more time for stomach acid to wreak havoc on your esophagus.


There are a few ways to prevent heartburn, or at least take the edge off after it hits. Avoid lying down for at least two hours after eating, and if you’re especially stuffed, wait three or four. H2 blockers, such as Pepcid or Zantac, are safe to take either before a big meal or after dessert. They can also be combined with an antacid that provides instant, but short-term, relief. Some over-the-counter medications contain both. A sodium alginate, like Gaviscon, can also help.

 

Herbal remedies are also an option. Dr. Coyle recommends deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), which is essentially licorice minus a molecule that can cause kidney disease in the long term. Also, try ginger, a traditional Chinese remedy for nausea and heartburn.

 

If chronic heartburn or the more severe esophagitis is an issue, there are further solutions. Weight loss is by far the most effective, according to Dr. Coyle. Also, try to avoid triggers like eating at night, overeating, tobacco, alcohol and caffeine.


If all else fails, surgery can correct the problem. Doctors can implant a magnetic band to bolster the valve that separates the stomach from the esophagus, or reinforce it with a swath of stomach tissue.

  

“Not everything is right for one person,” Dr. Coyle says. “You have to figure out what works for you.”

3. Travel tips

For many of us, the holiday season involves travel. Don’t just pack your bags; make the most out of your trip with these tips from Saima Lodhi, MD, internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest.


Prep for air travel by packing medications in your carry-on and wearing slip-on shoes. Reduce jet lag by lowering window shades and setting the time to that of your destination. Newborn? Wait until your baby is at least 3 months old.


Bringing the kids on a road trip? Children under 2 should ride in a rear-facing car seat, then a front-facing car seat or booster is required up to age 8.

 

Deep vein thrombosis is a concern for adults on drives longer than four hours. Stretch often and wear loose clothing, or if your doctor recommends them, compression stockings.

 

Have an emergency contact. And don’t forget, even parts of sunny California get snow, so check travel conditions, and always wear your seat belt!

4. Stress less

There are two kinds of people: those who love the holidays and all the shopping, singing and decorating that come with it, and those who see it as the most stressful time of the year. For the latter, worries about money, travel and family — and the feeling that we have to do it all — can become overwhelming. Holiday-related strife can also lead to a host of physical symptoms, like headaches, insomnia and an upset stomach.

 

“Shopping, baking, parties and taking care of your family can throw you into a dizzying whirl of activity that can wreak havoc on your health and emotional well-being,” says Laura Johnson, DO, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Vista. “However, it doesn’t have to be that way this year. Instead of running yourself ragged, take a deep breath, slow down and try these practical tips to minimize stress and enjoy the fun.”


First, take a step back and consider whether you’ve set the bar impossibly high. Think about what’s most important and remember, the holidays aren’t a competition. You don’t need a Griswold-level lighting display or an entire toy store under the tree.

 

Spend time with the people you care about, if possible, and adjust your expectations to make dealing with those you don’t a bit more bearable. You can’t control a stressful situation, but you can control your reaction to it. Also, feel free to say no to things you don’t want to do or don’t have time for.

 

For some, feelings of sadness, loneliness and isolation tend to creep up around the holidays. Unrealistic expectations, memories of holidays past and missing those who are no longer with us can trigger the blues.

 

Try to stay present and be grateful for what you have. When left unchecked, these negative feelings can lead to depression. Depression is a medical condition, and its symptoms include sadness or irritability, an inability to enjoy activities, low energy, trouble concentrating or making decisions, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you’re experiencing any of these, contact your primary care doctor as soon as possible.

The cover of the December issue of San Diego Health magazine shows a San Diego couple walking on the beach.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.