Posts Tagged ‘Holiday Stress’
You’ve had your flu shot, you wash your hands more often, you avoid crowded areas, and still there is no guarantee that you will escape the common cold or worse this year or any other. One reason why there is no ironclad protection against the cold is that over 200 different viruses can cause cold symptoms, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH). Most of these are relatively harmless in terms of lasting health effects, but some can lead to serious respiratory infections, especially among the elderly and the very young. Complications include bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections.
Over one billion colds are counted in the United States every year, meaning that most Americans get hit more than once throughout the season. Children are particularly prone to spreading cold viruses in schools, playgrounds and homes. But office spaces, shopping malls, restaurants, and public transportation means can be equally as hazardous.
Most common are the so-called Rhinoviruses (from the Greek word rhin, meaning “nose”), which are responsible for up to half of all colds. Over 100 different types of this strand have been identified so far, and more seem to emerge every year. Researchers believe that between 20 and 30 percent of all causes of colds remain unidentified.
The reason why there is such a thing as a cold season is not necessarily a drop in temperatures but rather human behavior. When the weather turns nasty outside, people tend to spend more time indoors and in closer proximity to one another, which gives the viruses a better chance to spread from person to person. Breathing dry, cold air may also play a role since this dries out the inside lining of the nose, making it more vulnerable to viral infections. Paradoxically, fewer people who stay physically active outdoors in the wintery weather seem to get sick than their hibernating counterparts, perhaps because exercising helps strengthen their immune system.
Boosting your natural defenses may be the most effective way to fend off cold threats. Eating lots of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources will help, as will managing stress, getting enough rest, and abstaining from smoking and alcohol/drug abuse.
If it’s already too late and you’ve come down with a cold, it is important to get you back on your feet as quickly as possible. For this, you should stay in bed and drink lots of fluids, not only to keep hydrated but also to thin mucus and ease congestion.
Warm liquids can soothe a sore throat and help you get some sleep. Fruit juices may sound right because of their vitamin C content, but be careful not to put too much sugar into your system because excessively high sugar levels can hinder white blood cells from fighting infections. Soups and stews are also a good provider of fluids. When made from scratch, a vegetable soup is a nutritional powerhouse, and it goes down more easily than solid foods.
If you take cold medications, make sure you follow instructions and don’t overdose in an attempt to speed things up. Don’t drive or operate machinery while under the influence, and don’t mix with alcohol.
Besides following these recommendations, getting enough rest and letting your body do its job is the most important measure you can take. Patience is a necessary part of the healing process and should not be overlooked.
Best of luck for this year’s season.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).
In all likelihood, many Americans will gain some weight over the holidays. It may only come to a few pounds, but statistics show that even small nudges on the scale can stubbornly persist and add up over time. The annual spike may not surprise anyone, but if partying and celebrating almost inevitably lead to overindulging, there are also other elements at play that make it harder to resist temptation this time of the year. One of them is stress.
Whether you look forward to the holiday season or dread it, either way it’s an emotionally charged time. Choosing gifts, preparing festive meals, attending family events and office parties can give cause for joy or misgivings. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can become more intense for those who feel left out.
“Many people use eating as a way to cope with difficult emotions, not only bad ones, but also happiness, excitement and celebration,” says Alexis Conason, Psy.D., a psychologist at the New York Obesity Research Center, in an interview with the Huffington Post.
To handle their emotions better, some people find their greatest comfort in food. Food can have, among other things, a numbing effect. Emotional eaters, she says, often eat to cushion themselves against the challenges they’re facing. Especially when food is as plentiful as it typically is during the holidays, these responses are easily triggered and overeating occurs as a result.
Emotional eating is commonly identified as a behavior pattern where food is used for other purposes than just stilling hunger – such as to deal with stressful situations or as a means for reward. Unlike physical hunger, which increases gradually, the emotional need for food can emerge suddenly, demanding instant attention. It cannot easily be stilled by filling one’s stomach because the emptiness it is based on may persist beyond the physical satisfaction. Additionally, emotional eating can leave a person even more distressed by triggering feelings of guilt and shame in the wake of the eating event.
Not all emotional eating leads to compulsive disorders like binge eating or bulimia nervosa. But the risk of developing dysfunctional behaviors over time is greater when emotional eating is misunderstood or unnecessarily demonized, according Dr. Pavel Somov, a psychologist and author of “Eating the Moment.” When it results in mindless overeating, it can be both psychologically and physically unhealthy, he says.
To prevent such consequences, it is important to identify the sources that trigger certain emotional responses. The next step is to find alternative solutions when negative emotions strike. If the natural tendency is to reach for comfort food, it may be helpful not to keep certain items around the house or the office. The harder it is to get to a juicy burger, a sugary donut or a bag of candy, the better the chances will be to overcome sudden cravings. Sometimes, this will take a bit of strategic thinking, but it’s doable, even during the holidays, and over time it will get easier to avoid the traps that worked all too well in the past.
Of course, these can only serve as intermediate measures. The ultimate goal is to find the source of the inner void and fill it with something that isn’t food but is truly satisfying.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Emotional Eating – A Widespread but Poorly Understood Health Problem.”
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.