Feeling frazzled? The Christmas lead-up can be a real strain on our health. Make the most of the summer break — looking good and feeling great — with these simple pre-holiday tips.
Combat holiday collapse
People who rarely fall ill while working often get sick as soon as they relax. This phenomenon is called ‘leisure sickness’, a term Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets coined when he surveyed men and women on vacation. His research revealed that out of 100 holidaymakers, about three reported complaints such as headaches, migraines, fatigue, muscular pains and nausea, as well as viral infections that caused colds and ‘flu-like symptoms. Vingerhoets linked the onset of such symptoms to the stress caused by both pre-vacation work overload and the actual stress of organising to go on holiday. These wound-up people also found it hard to unwind as a result.
This year, we’re going to help you break this debilitating pattern. “Use our tips to beat pre-holiday stress and bolster your immune system, and you’ll be less likely to get sick,” says dietitian Juliette Kellow.
Organise your exercise
Life is hectic before the holidays. To stay well, start scheduling 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise into each week, and include muscle-strengthening moves. Being physically active will help you feel calmer and happier. The bonus? You’ll feel more confident baring some skin!
Picture your holiday self
Make time for a little ‘me time’. Close your eyes and imagine watching a calmer, slimmer version of yourself on vacation. Look at the way you move and behave, at the clothes you’re wearing, and at the activities you’re enjoying. Notice how much more energetic, yet relaxed, you feel. Whenever you feel stressed or tempted by more festive food or wine, replay these scenes in your head. You’ll instantly feel more collected and in control.
Head to bed early
If you’re tired before you take time off, you’ll be even more fatigued when you reach your destination. You’re also likely to feel irritable and cope poorly with stress during the countdown. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night. To nod off more easily, avoid eating large late-night meals, and switch off your phone or laptop long before bedtime. And if you’re having a party-free night, swap alcohol and coffee for calming camomile tea.
Stock up on supplies
If you’re busy, you may have neither the time nor the inclination to cook, but eating badly is only going to further stress your immune system.
“When we’re super busy and stressed out, we’re more likely to indulge in harmful habits,” says Kellow. So prepare now: Fill the freezer with homemade ready-to-eat meals. Every time you cook, double the recipe and freeze the extra portions in individual containers. Stock up on fresh salad vegies, so that you can quickly chop and serve healthy dinners; buy frozen berries for fast and easy smoothies; and grab a couple of extra loaves of bread and cartons of milk to freeze and use in those frantic last few days.
Rethink your drinks
Dehydration can trigger headaches and tiredness, and impair concentration, making life seem even harder. But the solution is simple: Drink plenty of water. All fluids (except alcohol) count, but some are loaded with unwanted kilojoules. Caffeinated beverages are also tricky, as they produce a stress reaction in the body, making you feel tense and too alert to sleep. Try switching to decaf versions, or to fruit and herbal teas.
Eat to stay well
A balanced, nutrient-rich diet staves off bacteria and infection. Crunch into plenty of fresh fruit and vegies — their antioxidant vitamin power boosts your immunity. Find vitamin C in capsicum, citrus fruits and berries, and eat nuts, seeds and avocado for vitamin E. Include lean meat and eggs for their zinc, and snack on brazil nuts for the antioxidant selenium, as both of these nutrients are essential to a healthy immune system.
Start your day with probiotics
The ‘good’ bacteria in probiotic yoghurt and drinks can help keep your digestive system healthy and ease some troublesome stress-induced problems, such as bloating, loose stools and a gurgling tummy. Make sure your gut is in tip-top shape and brimming with good bacteria, as this may also help guard against infection while you’re away, and help you cope with the dietary changes that often go hand in hand with holidays. Keep these good bacteria well fed by eating plenty of prebiotics, such as those in onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus and whole grains, particularly rye.