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Mr. Norris, December is one of my favorite months of the year. However, because of the busyness of the season, I almost always crash during or after it and get sick. What do you do to experience the joy without getting all jacked up? – “‘Tis the Season to Crash and Burn” in Tennessee
Our body’s immune system is critical to heal wounds and fight or prevent infection. And though you’ve heard it said that stress in general is one of our body’s chief immunity killers, it’s really only chronic stress that is harmful, according to a 2012 Stanford University study.
Short-term stress – such as that brought on by fight-or-flight circumstances – can actually prepare our immune system for battle.
As Firdaus Dhabhar, Ph.D. – lead author of the study, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and member of the Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection – explained, “Mother Nature gave us the fight-or-flight stress response to help us, not to kill us.”
Here’s the catch. According to Dhabhar, the difference between bad (chronic) and good (short-term) stress is that the former can last weeks or months and the latter only minutes or hours. The only difference between them is the duration and caliber of stress. In other words, short-term stress can morph into the chronic category if we don’t find ways to take a break and ratchet down our temporary stress during the holiday season.
No wonder so many get sick during the holidays. It’s just one long chain of unbroken short-term stress events in which our body’s resources are often depleted and not replenished by the proper nutrients and rest, opening us up for bodily breakdown and infection.
The Daily Mirror recently reported on 25 expert daily tips to help readers experience their healthiest holiday season ever. Most of that advice is a part of my regular health regimen to fight bad stress and bolster my body’s immunity, but seven tips in particular are keys that I call up from my reserves during stressful times such as the holidays.
1. Intentionally break up your busyness with “me moments.”
Quit sprinting from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Pace yourself through the holidays like a marathon runner. Pencil in expected activities and gatherings on a calendar, and intentionally draw X’s or M’s (for “me” time) in between those days, breaking them up with restful and relaxing moments. On those non-event days, make sure you refuel with things that refresh you, such as reading a book, playing games, taking a bath or going to the gym.
2. Consider every meal and snack time (including at holiday parties) as refueling stations.
There’s no crossing the holiday finish line without ensuring you’re eating and drinking the right fuel to bolster your energy and immune system. I’m not telling you not to enjoy a party or occasional holiday treat, but remember that everything you eat and drink contributes to your mental and physical welfare.
The Mirror reported on how “recent research from Harvard University … suggests a diet low in zinc, iron and Vitamin C can make people more prone to infections – from colds to winter vomiting bugs – so start including plenty of citrus fruits, lean red meat, lentils and beans in your daily diet.”
3. Have some aerobic fun (by even shopping?).
The bad thing about holiday shopping is it burns holes in our pocketbooks. The good thing about holiday shopping is that it can burn calories – up to 300 calories an hour, as long as we’re not shopping on the Internet! Of course, my preference for exercise is going out to the gym or engaging in any winter outdoor activity – any of which easily will burn three times what the “sport of shopping” will!
4. Avoid stress headaches and heartburn.
A hurried schedule can trigger tension headaches. So slow down and pace yourself. Hydrate by drinking plenty of water. Remember that lots of caffeine and alcohol can dehydrate you and trigger headaches by chemical ups and downs. Lastly, acid reflux and heartburn are often spurred on by too much booze and rich foods.
Gastroenterologist Nick Read advises: “You don’t have to stuff yourself like a turkey to have a good time. Avoiding large portions, not eating too late and limiting your alcohol intake will help.”
5. Minimize your alcohol intake and high-calorie drinks.
As the University of Rochester documented, a 12-ounce can of regular beer contains 140 to 200 calories; a light beer has 100 or more calories; a 4-ounce glass of wine has 62 to 160 calories; and a single shot of liquor (1.5 ounces) has anywhere from 115 to 200 calories. And one cup of eggnog has 343 calories! Remember that it takes 2,100 continuous jumping jacks to burn off 8 ounces of eggnog!
6. Fight to keep consistent sleep patterns.
Bad sleep patterns are precursors for bad stress and sickness. In last week’s column, I gave you Santa’s secrets to help you slumber. As much as possible, fight to get 7 1/2 hours of sleep every night, doing your best to get to bed and wake at roughly the same times, per the advice of Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist specializing in sleep and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
7. Restore your inner calm.
Intentionally recalibrate your inner self each day by setting aside at least 15 minutes to meditate or pray. The sacred in the season can offer key calming and refreshing moments. Studies reveal that people who regularly meditate have less depression and lower blood pressure. And this past April, T.M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford, explained in The New York Times that church attendance “boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life.”
Now that’s timely advice for Christmas!
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.