HCN News & Notes

Don’t Let Sickness Ruin Your Holiday Season

SPRINGFIELD — Are you letting your body get run down with all the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and late-night parties, which can really put a stress on your immune system? You owe it to yourself to stay healthy so that you can enjoy every minute of the festive season with friends and family.

An ounce of prevention is the best defense to staying healthy, and it begins with making sure you are protected from COVID, flu, RSV, and other respiratory viruses circulating this season, noted Dr. Armando Paez, chief of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Health.

“It goes without saying that you should be vaccinated for flu and COVID-19 and be up to date on your boosters,” he said. “Don’t go out or attend gatherings if you are sick. Take COVID-19 tests if you think you have COVID-19 symptoms. During the holidays, there are more family gatherings and parties to attend, shopping, and traveling, especially by airplane, putting you in contact with more people and increasing your chances of getting sick. So, take necessary precautions, like wearing a mask, especially if the COVID-19 community levels are high where you live.”

Paez added that “frequent hand washing can also help prevent the spread of respiratory infections. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and consider carrying a hand sanitizer with you at all times. Open windows for ventilation. Practice proper cough etiquette. And because there is more sickness at this time of year, refrain from sharing utensils or drinking cups.”

Another golden rule: get plenty of rest.

“Sleep is essential for our health and well-being, and getting a good night’s rest is important to help strengthen your immune system to fight infections, reduce stress, improve our mood, and to stay energized,” said Dr. Karin Johnson, director of the Baystate Health Regional Sleep Program. “Most adults function best with seven to eight hours of regular sleep, but holidays can be a time to catch up on lost sleep.”

And be sure to make time to exercise or be physically active. Even a 10-minute walk twice a day or one 20-minute walk per day can help you reach the goal of 150 minutes of physical activity per week, noted Patrick Schilling, manager of Cardiovascular Rehabilitation and Wellness at Baystate Health.

“We know physical activity feels good, improves sleep, and lowers stress, and taking care of your body may help you feel rejuvenated and will give you the extra energy you need during this busy time,” he said. “Don’t forget that children should also be reminded to stay active for at least an hour per day for optimal health. If you just can’t make it to the gym as regularly as you have in the past, you can try to keep moving in other ways. Don’t try to find that parking spot close to the mall entrance; instead, opt for one far away so that you will have to walk more. And take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some additional simple tips to keep your holiday free from stress and sickness:

• Bundle up and stay dry and warm. Wear appropriate outdoor clothing: layers of light, warm clothing and mittens, hats, scarves, and waterproof boots.

• Don’t drink and drive or let others drink and drive. Whenever anyone drives drunk, they put everyone on the road in danger.

• Eat healthy and don’t skip meals. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit your portion sizes and foods high in fat and sugar.

• Also, a good-quality multi-vitamin and vitamin C can help boost your immune system for the holidays.

And what about the stress of the holidays — all the shopping, the cooking, demands placed upon you, and your efforts to create the perfect holiday for others?

“It’s not unusual to feel increased stress over the holidays, between the loss of loved ones, economic pressures, the busyness of the holiday season, and feelings of social isolation. Don’t forget to take care of yourself emotionally as well as physically,” said Dr. Stuart Anfang, vice chair of Psychiatry at Baystate Health. “Take relaxation breaks when needed; eat and drink in moderation; get plenty of sunlight, which helps avoid seasonal depression; avoid social isolation; and understand that you are not alone in feeling stressed. Volunteering and giving to others less fortunate is a great way to get perspective and feel better about your own situation and stressors.”

If you have serious symptoms of depression or any thoughts to hurt yourself, seek out professional help, Anfang added, because no one should suffer in silence.