The holidays are full of festive activities: visiting friends and family, seasonal travel, and decadent meals. Unfortunately, these events can also be full of germs (and stress) that can cause illnesses ranging from mild to severe. To help you and your family stay as healthy as possible during the holidays, Xpress Wellness Urgent Care has put together a guide to holiday health so that you can focus less on looming illnesses and more on the festivities at hand.
What Illnesses Circulate This Time of the Year?
Winter is the peak season for several illnesses, most of which affect the respiratory system. The spread of viruses and bacteria increases when people spend more time indoors – especially when sharing serving utensils and smaller spaces at holiday gatherings. The dry winter air also facilitates the travel of respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes, enabling germs to spread more rapidly.
Some viruses or infections that are active around the holidays include:
- Common cold
- Flu (influenza)
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- Strep Throat
- Stomach bug (norovirus)
Individuals over 65 years old, children under 5, and those who are immunocompromised are most at risk for developing serious illnesses or complications from these.
This time of year may also cause increased symptoms for individuals with mental or behavioral health concerns. The added stress and activity that accompany holiday planning, travel, and socializing can create uncomfortable experiences and exacerbate existing symptoms. And, as moods and behaviors have an impact on our immune systems, prioritizing both physical and mental health during the holidays is equally important for all individuals.
How to Stay Healthy This Season
While getting sick is sometimes inevitable, there are things you can do to mitigate the risk of contracting an illness around the holidays. By putting these tips into practice, you can greatly reduce your chances of feeling under the weather.
Practice Good Hand Hygiene
Hand washing is essential to staying healthy. Our hands come in contact with countless surfaces throughout the day, many of which other people have also touched. Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently will reduce the spread of pathogens and their likelihood of infecting you.
Proper hand washing technique includes lathering all surfaces of your wrists and hands, in between your fingers, and under your nails. Scrubbing should last at least 20 seconds, followed by rinsing under running water. If soap and water aren’t available, a hand sanitizing solution of at least 60% alcohol can be used until the proper hand-washing technique can be performed.
Remember to wash your hands after touching communal objects like:
- Door handles
- Gas pump nozzles
- ATM machines
- Serving and writing utensils
- Elevator buttons
Use automatic doors when possible, or push doors open with your elbow to avoid touching where other hands have been. Create a habit of not touching your face with your hands – especially around your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Prioritize Healthy Habits
Busy holiday schedules aren’t always conducive to maintaining routines, but keeping up your exercise or meditation practices will help your mind and body stay well. Find creative ways to incorporate your routines: invite friends and family to join in, infuse your workout with holiday-themed elements, or create an advent calendar of wellness activities.
The holidays also pose a temptation to indulge in foods that aren’t ordinarily on the menu. While the occasional splurge is fine for most individuals, it doesn’t mean healthy habits have to be abandoned entirely. Sugary desserts, alcoholic beverages, and rich dishes can impact both your waistline and your immune system. Choose indulgences wisely, opting for smaller portions or healthier offerings such as a fruit-based dessert or dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate.
Spend Time Outside
Winter brings cooler weather and shorter days, which drives people to spend more time indoors. This increased time in close quarters gives viruses and other illnesses ample opportunity to spread. When the weather permits, host gatherings outdoors, or consider open and airy spaces – even if it means just opening a few doors or windows. Offer an after-meal walk around the neighborhood, or other outdoor activities interspersed throughout an event for a literal breath of fresh air.
Shorter days also equate to less sunlight, which deprives our bodies of an essential nutrient: Vitamin D. Low Vitamin D levels can be linked to: decreased immune system response, increased feelings of depression, fatigue, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Talk with your healthcare provider about taking a Vitamin D supplement when sunlight is in shorter supply, and aim to spend time outdoors when the weather permits to give your body a natural serving of this mood and energy-boosting compound.
Water is vital to overall wellness, and our bodies thrive best when fully hydrated. The winter air is drier than in other seasons, and heating systems inside of homes and buildings further remove moisture from the air – putting stress on the respiratory system. Drinking plenty of water will help nasal passages remain moist and flush the body of impurities.
Men should aim to drink at least 15.5 cups of water per day, and women should strive for at least 11.5 cups per day. This is a general guideline, and some individuals may need more or less water depending on age and other factors. Ask your healthcare provider to help you set a goal for your daily water intake.
It’s important to prioritize not just your physical health during the holidays, but also your mental health. Stress management is crucial during a season full of activities, travel plans, and social obligations. Talk with your healthcare provider before diving into the stress of the season to find out ways to help mitigate some of their effects.
The same aforementioned practices that bolster your immune system also help to reduce stress, but some additional things you can do to boost your mental health include:
- Getting plenty of sleep – between 7-9 hours a night for most adults
- Making time for self-care
- Declining commitments that may overextend you
- Define and adhere to both monetary and physical goals and budgets
- Schedule additional counseling sessions ahead of the holiday rush
Don’t Wait Illnesses Out
These same preventative measures can also be employed if you start to feel under the weather to shorten the duration and severity of symptoms. Washing your hands keeps other people safer from the spread of illness, just as healthy habits, fresh air, staying hydrated, and prioritizing mental health help your immune system fight off pathogens. But with so many winter illnesses having overlapping symptoms, it’s important to visit a healthcare provider when they first begin.
At Xpress Wellness Urgent Care, we will be able to provide an accurate and timely diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan to get you back on your way to enjoying the holiday season. And, with behavioral health services, our licensed clinical social workers and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners can help prevent or alleviate some of the stressors that come with this busy time of year. Walk-ins are welcome, and virtual visits are available for most conditions. Don’t delay in prioritizing your health this season – check in online to prioritize your seasonal overall wellness.