Mind-Body Connection and the Holidays
By Jocelyn R. Miller, PhD, Dean Psychologist
A key factor to maintaining good mental and emotional health during the holiday season is making the time to take care of one's self physically. Don't wait until New Year's resolutions to start a program of increased physical activity or exercise. Make walking, stretching, yoga, or other forms of physical movement a regular part of your day or week. Start as small as you need to-a walk around the block enjoying the crisp fall weather will lift your spirits and your outlook on life. Invite family members or the family dog along as well. Everyone benefits from movement and a change of scenery, and having company increases your motivation for exercise.
Set a goal of moderate to intense physical activity for 15 minutes at a time. Reward yourself with something you like, such as a new book, CD, or outing with a friend, when you reach your goal. Then strive to be physically active three times a week. What kind of treat can you look forward to when you reach this more difficult goal?
Research has shown that a program of 30 minutes of aerobic, heart-pumping exercise three times a week is as effective as medication in alleviating mild to moderate levels of depression. The brain is intimately connected to the body via multiple, complex chemical channels. Providing the body with the movement and exercise it is designed for, along with sufficient sleep and good nutrition, helps the brain to do its jobs of regulating moods and thoughts more effectively.
Make an appointment with yourself for physical activity, and keep the appointment. One 50-year-old woman who has already survived a heart attack created a simple program of dance and stretching in her living room. She turns up her favorite radio station and has a dance class of one every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Another middleaged couple takes a brisk walk starting half an hour after dinner two nights a week, returning refreshed to finish evening chores of dishes and laundry. They add in a third walk or bike ride on one weekend day. Plan ahead as to how you are going to maintain your physical activities during holiday periods, and perhaps some of the relatives will join you!
Remember that most cultural and religious holidays overlap with the cold and flu season. Increase the frequency with which you wash your hands, especially after shaking hands with numerous people at a large social gathering. Cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief or tissue when you sneeze or cough. If you are coming down with a "bug," be cautious and stay at home or in your hotel. Better to miss out on part of the festivities than to spread a virus that might cause more serious illness in children or the elderly. Following simple rules for rest and recovery when suffering from a contagious illness will help you get back in the action faster, and maintain a jolly holiday mood.
Mental, emotional, and physical health are closely interwoven throughout the year. Holiday times are no exception. If you are struggling with difficult feelings, worries, or pessimistic thoughts, talk to a mental health professional and get the help you need so that you can enjoy life all year round.
Jocelyn Miller, PhD is a psychologist with over 20 years of professional experience. Dr. Miller joined Dean Clinic in 1993. View Dr. Miller's profile.