Does the thought of Thanksgiving fill you with joyful anticipation or dread and anxiety?
For most, the holidays are more than a little stressful. And for those who are already struggling with chronic fatigue, pain, or long COVID, the added holiday stresses and sugar intake can actually trigger a flare of symptoms and exhaustion.
“While you may not be able to totally avoid stress, you can reduce your stress levels and the odds of painful episodes by following a few simple rules,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, chronic fatigue and pain expert and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Avery Penguin 4th revised edition 2021).
For starters, Dr. Teitelbaum recommends 4 cornerstones: 1) a healthy diet, 2) restful sleep, 3) exercise and physical activities, as you’re able, and 4) spending time with the people who make you feel good. Here are a few more Rx’s from Dr. T that will make you feel thankful:
- EAT FRESH: Healthful eating begins with lots of whole grains, fresh fruits (whole fruits, not juices) and fresh vegetables. Many raw vegetables have enzymes that actually boost energy levels.
- START WITH A SMALL PLATE: Fill your plate halfway with the idea that you can return for seconds 20 minutes later. If you eat slowly and enjoy each bite, you may find that smaller portions are more than adequate to make you feel full. Be aware that the feeling of satiety kicks in after 20 minutes so pace yourself and you may not need a second plate.
- NOBODY’S PERFECT: it’s perfect to be imperfect. In fact, especially around the holidays, it’s okay for humans to be downright ridiculous. Don’t shoot for perfection because it’s nearly impossible to resist holiday desserts! It’s better to maintain a diet that’s reasonably healthy and low in added sugar. “Start out by cutting out sugary drinks,” says Dr. Teitelbaum, “and if possible substitute sugar-free chocolate, and sodas sweetened with Stevia and sugar-free cocoa.” Surprisingly, taking a few small bites of a dessert is often enough to satisfy a sweet tooth. Nibble a corner of the pie on your plate and savor the flavor…it may be all that you need!
- EFAs REDUCE INFLAMMATION: He also recommends including foods with essential fatty acids, including three to four servings of fatty fish per week – salmon, tuna, or sardines (fried fish doesn’t count).
- ZZZZZ: Proper sleep is even more important during the holidays when schedules go into overdrive, and eight hours of zzz’s per night is wishful thinking. You may find that travel, additional financial and social obligations can all lead to restlessness, and sometimes, full blown insomnia. “The first step,” says Dr. Teitelbaum, “is to realize that you will never get it all done, no matter how fast you run.”
- QUICK TIPS… Prioritizing your to-do list and scratching off the things that aren’t really essential and don’t feel good. Consuming little or no alcohol right before bed, even if you do overindulge a bit at the office party. No caffeine after 4:00 pm (everyone knows that one!). Keep your cool by keeping the bedroom at a comfortably cool temperature. CHILL!!!! Don’t lie in bed worrying and ruminating; rather get up and write down what’s on your mind, then set it aside and go back to bed. Whatever the concern, it will be there when you wake up, but you’ll find better ways to cope when you’re rested and fresh.
- MOVE YOUR BOOTY: Exercise is easy to avoid during the colder months, when putting on extra layers can be a pain. Bottom line: exercise is a proven stress-reducer and, in moderation, this can lead to less pain. Always choose an activity that you enjoy, or you won’t stick with it. Light exercise, like walking, is a good way to begin. “Walk to the degree that you feel ‘good tired’ afterward,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Increase your time incrementally and when you get to the point that leaves you feeling worse the next day, cut back to a comfortable level.” Investing in a pedometer and walking with friends will help you maintain your regimen while monitoring your progress. When it’s cold outside, wear long woolen underwear to avoid muscle spasms and also make sure to wear a hat and scarf. And remember, sex can be an excellent exercise!
- PROTECT YOURSELF: Spend time celebrating with the people who enrich your life and make you laugh. Oddly, this can be difficult when social demands pull you in all directions and make you “should on yourself.” It’s OK to say N-O says Dr. Teitelbaum and learning how to use this wonderful word can liberate you. “In general, I suggest you decide to say yes or no based on how you feel, more than based on a sense of guilt,” he advises.” So, if going to Aunt Agnes’s Ugly Holiday Sweater Party makes you feel awful every year, politely bow out, stay home, and plug in your favorite holiday classics with the ones you love to be with!
Watch Dr. Teitelbaum and Mark here: