Not to sound like too much of a Scrooge, but the holidays can come with their own set of health risks. From too much stress to holiday weight gain to risks from poisonous plants, flammable Christmas trees, and outdoor decorating snafus, it’s important to be aware of the unique risks this time of year poses so you can keep yourself and your family safe and healthy to enjoy the best of the season.
Here are some of the biggest holiday health hazards and how you can avoid them:
Too much holiday stress
Holiday stress can be worse than stress during other times of the year. People tend to overcommit themselves with parties, events, shopping, charity work, traveling, and trying to create and send the perfect holiday card. Women especially are more prone to stretch themselves too thin, as the bulk of the family’s holiday obligations often fall on mothers. Neither men nor women should be afraid to ask for help if they feel themselves getting overwhelmed this time of year. Too many activities, even if they are fun, can leave anyone feeling stressed rather than fulfilled.
To manage stress this time of year, it’s important to set priorities. If you become overwhelmed by committing to too many activities, decide which ones you really enjoy and want to participate in, and skip the rest. It’s perfectly OK to say no to protect your mental health. Also, if the idea of skipping your annual holiday card or baking task brings you even more stress, you can still do all of the things you normally want to do this time of year, just do it on a smaller scale. For example, you can still send those holiday cards, but keep your list to only those you are in communication with on a regular basis.
If you always bake dozens of different types of cookies and other desserts, choose just one or two this year, or buy baked goods and support a local bakery. The most important thing to do in managing your stress levels is to cut corners just enough so that you and your family can still enjoy these traditions without feeling overwhelmed.
Holiday weight gain
Cookies, eggnog, and sausage balls, oh my! There’s always an abundance of rich and delicious food and desserts at holiday gatherings, not to mention the tempting sugary gifts that just keep on arriving. Gaining weight over the holiday season is quite common, and oftentimes, that extra holiday weight doesn’t come off. But it isn’t inevitable! There are ways to avoid the dreaded holiday weight gain and still enjoy some of your favorite seasonal foods.
When attending parties and gatherings where food is the main event, be mindful of your eating. Watch portion sizes too. For example, put a few of your favorite items on a small plate rather than standing at the buffet table noshing on hors d’oeuvres while talking with friends and not realizing how much you are really consuming.
Desserts are everywhere during the holidays, and eating too much sugar is a big cause of weight gain. You can still enjoy your favorites, just watch your portion sizes and don’t feel like you have to taste test the entire dessert table. Watch the calories with holiday cocktails as well. Eggnog and other traditional holiday drinks can pack a lot of calories, and it’s easy to overindulge.
The best thing you can do to help decrease your risk of gaining weight this season is to remain active. No matter how busy your holiday schedule gets, carve out the time to be active every day, whether it’s a brisk walk around the neighborhood or a full gym workout. Staying active will also help you manage those stress levels as well.
Holiday home and decor hazards
All of the holiday greenery, lights, and decor make our homes festive and beautiful this time of year, but they also come with their own set of special risks.
• Poisonous holiday plants
Holly and mistletoe are festive traditions, but both can be toxic to children and pets. Pine cones and berries can also pose a choking hazard for young children and pets. And those beautiful, red poinsettias can be extremely toxic for pets, but they can also cause skin irritation and a rash in some humans as well. Be careful with any live holiday plants in your home or opt for the artificial versions, which can be just as festive but safe.
• Fire risks
Live Christmas trees smell great and look lovely, but they can pose safety hazards. Every year, there are more than 400 residential fires that involve live Christmas trees—resulting in as many as 40 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Artificial trees are safest, but if you decide to have a live tree in your home, follow these safety tips to keep your home and family safe.
• Decorating disasters
Home holiday light displays have reached a new level, with neighbors often trying to out-decorate other neighbors. While this extreme holiday decorating can be fun, the associated decorating-related falls and injuries are not. To avoid a Clark Griswold-level disaster when stringing outdoor lights, make sure your ladder is on secure and level ground and that it’s locked. When climbing your ladder, stay centered between rails and don’t overreach, and never step on the top two rungs. If you are hanging lights on your home’s roof, extend the ladder at least three feet above the roof.
Christmas tree lights and outdoor lights should not be left on for long periods of time or ever overnight. Even LED lights can overheat and cause a fire. Get in the habit of turning off your holiday lights any time you leave the house and before you go to bed at night. You can also place lights on a timer, so they automatically cut off each evening at bedtime. You don’t want to risk forgetting to turn them off when you are tired and sleepy.