Holiday graphicThis year has been a challenge, to say the least. Issues with working situations, worries about health, and trouble staying in touch with loved ones are just a few of the ways that 2020 has made life more difficult. While this time of year is typically marked with joy and excitement, as well as some stress, this year there are added tensions related to remaining safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Faculty members from UAB’s Department of Family and Community Medicine offer tips for enjoying the upcoming season with less stress and better preparation amid the changes this season will hold.

Health and Wellness

It’s not all about COVID. Remember that other viruses like the flu are still active during the colder months. Ian McKeag, M.D., assistant professor and program director for the UAB-Cahaba Sports Medicine Fellowship, encourages everyone to get a flu shot this year.

“Just because COVID-19 is around doesn’t mean that other viruses have gone anywhere,” said McKeag. Wearing a mask and continuing social distancing safety measures will also help guard against these and other viruses.

It is always important to maintain physical and mental health by exercising regularly but especially during times of increased stress like many have experienced in 2020. Kaylee Crockett, Ph.D., assistant professor and clinical health psychologist, gave several easy options for staying active this holiday season.

“Physical activity is an effective way to boost mood and manage stress and anxiety. Aim for at least 150 minutes of activity in a week. That’s five 30-minute walks, 20 minutes of yoga or dance each day, or any combination of your favorite physical activities.”

Pick your favorite way to stay active, grab a mask and invite a friend to come along for a safe, healthy, and fun way to catch up over the holidays.

Holiday Nutrition

Everyone looks forward to holiday treats. Caroline Cohen, Ph.D., R.D., clinical dietitian and assistant professor, pointed out several quick tips for staying healthy while still enjoying what the holidays have to offer.

She suggested eating normal, balanced portions ahead of a larger holiday meal. “Often people are tempted to skip meals or eat very small meals to ‘save room’ for the holiday meal, which can set you up for overeating later.” Prepare your body for a larger meal by continuing to fuel it properly beforehand.

There are plenty of items on holiday plates that are healthy. Cohen encourages prioritizing vegetables first to fill up on fiber and valuable nutrients. For holiday beverages, consume in moderation. "Monitor your intake of high-calorie drinks like alcohol and juice, as they can add up quickly without making you feel full," she said. "Consider limiting intake to two drinks per sitting."

Lastly, Cohen advises everyone to relax. “One meal is not enough to derail your health goals, so savor and enjoy your favorite holiday foods in moderation.”

Time with Loved Ones

Spending time with loved ones is a major part of the holidays. Whether planning to keep gatherings small, meet outside, or defer them until next year, also remember to check in with others who must quarantine.

Crockett pointed out that holidays can be a difficult time for those grieving a lost loved one. “Make some space at the table to share memories and tell stories about those that you or others are missing.”

Many people are facing isolation during the holidays, so it is important to find ways to connect that comply with health recommendations.

There are several creative alternatives to celebrate the holiday season with loved ones while distancing, she said. Consider hosting a virtual gathering, such as a pie-judging or tacky holiday sweater contest with creative prizes for the winners.

Taking advice from health experts can help make the holidays a little brighter. This year may look different from previous celebrations, but the challenges can make way for beautiful new traditions. Protecting loved ones and keeping personal health as a priority will ensure that the 2020 holiday season is just as memorable as years gone by.