The 1 Thing Doctors Refuse To Do During The Holidays

Medical experts tell HuffPost the behaviour they personally skip this time of year for the sake of their health.

The stretch between the holidays and the new year is an extremely busy time of year for many people. We sleep less than we typically do, travel and attend more social gatherings than we’re used to. Some of us may eat foods that may not be in our regular diets, drink more alcohol and get unusually stressed out. Even if you’re lucky enough to have planned a relatively low-key holiday, chances are something will throw your typical routine out of whack.

All of these changes can significantly disturb our circadian rhythms, or the biological processes that keep our bodies functioning each and every day. This can increase the risk of getting sick with a respiratory infection like COVID and influenza, and at the very least, just make you feel mentally off, research shows.

Thanks to all the hoopla, it’s more common than not to enter the new year feeling downright exhausted. So, we asked four doctors to share what they do to cope with the holiday whirlwind. Here’s the one habit they absolutely refuse to do for the sake of their well-being:

Overcommit to social activities.

Dr. Benedict Ifedi, a primary care physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group, tries not to overdo it with social activities around the holidays. A recent poll found that Americans plan to attend, on average, five holiday get-togethers this year and the vast majority of people expect to be busier than they were in years past.

Ifedi is trying to learn from his past mistakes. He’s made the mistake of attending one too many holiday get-togethers and returned to work feeling more run down than when he left.

This “makes me ineffective in clinic and I am not able to be the best physician I can be for my patients,” Ifedi said.

Now, he works on being comfortable saying no. When the invites come in, he reminds himself of the motto: “Sometimes doing nothing is doing something.”

He tries to strike the balance of getting rest in addition to spending time with friends and family. Doing so helps him recharge and be effective at work, without getting burnt out. One way Ifedi has been able to accomplish this is by prioritising high-yield social activities, or gatherings that will fuel and energize him as opposed to get-togethers that may feel toxic and draining.

“Think quality and not quantity,” he said.

Skip physical activity entirely.

Dr. Eric K. Holder, a Yale Medicine physiatrist, makes sure he does some type of movement over the holidays. Sitting for hours on end, which tends to happen this time of year, can cause blood to pool in your body (increasing the risk of blood clots), trigger low back and spine pain, and impair blood sugar control, according to Yale Medicine.

To combat these health risks, regular physical activity is a must, Holder said. The benefits are endless. Being physically active protects heart and lung function, boosts our mood and improves the quality of our sleep.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t workout as much as you normally do, though. It’s likely not going to impact your overall fitness, and, in fact, it can even be beneficial to rest and go easy on yourself this time of year. But try to pencil in some movement during the holidays, whether that’s going on quick 10-minute walks, practicing yoga in your hotel room or even dancing to holiday music as you get ready for your family gatherings.

If you don’t already exercise regularly, it’s worth starting now — just ramp up gradually in order to avoid injury, Holder said. Even short bursts of activity — achieved through everyday tasks, like taking the stairs or doing laundry — can provide major health benefits, recent research has shown.

Moving your body “is crucial for your overall well-being,” Holder said.

Overcommitting to plans can cause unnecessary stress this time of year.
AleksandarNakic via Getty Images
Overcommitting to plans can cause unnecessary stress this time of year.

Travel without a mask (especially before visiting at-risk loved ones).

Dr. Malathi Srinivasan, a clinical professor of medicine at Stanford Medicine, won’t be traveling without a high-quality face mask this year. She and several of her relatives will be heading to India and she she doesn’t want to run the risk of getting sick and missing the reunion.

Most importantly, however, she doesn’t want to get her at-risk relatives sick. “Since we’ll also be visiting older family members in India, we have all committed masking while using public transportation, in crowded markets and while going through airports and on flights,” Srinivasan said.

She and her family stocked up on KN95s, as evidence has shown they can dramatically reduce the risk of contacting upper respiratory travel infections in community settings. “KN95 masks are as effective as N95 masks, if they fit your face, and they filter even better than surgical masks,” Srinivasan said.

Let stress get the best of them.

The holidays are an inherently stressful time, which is why Dr. Majid Basit, a cardiologist with Memorial Hermann Medical Group, said it’s crucial to put yourself first.

Too much stress can increase your blood pressure, and, in some cases, trigger irregular heart rhythms. As a result, stress can significantly increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

It may not be possible to completely dodge stress triggers, especially at this time of year when so many of us are stressed out from work deadlines, family obligations and other commitments. But managing that stress is crucial, Basit said.

“As a physician who practices what I preach, I recommend to my patients to create a schedule and try not to over-commit,” Basit said.

It can take time, practice and patience to effectively cope with all of the stress that the holiday season brings. Identifying what’s putting you on edge and limiting your exposure to it can help as can be mindful about how you use social media, focusing on what you can control and spending time in nature. A few other simple tips include maintaining good sleep habits, avoiding too much alcohol and exercising regularly. Listen to your body, and let yourself take breaks and rest.

“These habits will help all of us feel healthier and happier during the holidays,” Basit said.