Tips to keep holidays in check

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Did it feel just a little too early for all the Christmas decorations to go up in stores right after Halloween?

If you think no, you are probably the type to sing along with all the holiday carols, get your cards out before we see the first day of December and look forward to the crowds at the malls! But, if the joyous songs start to get on your nerves and the endless responsibilities from getting your cards out, decorating the house inside and out and finding the perfect gifts for your loved ones offer enough stress for you to break into hives, today's column might provide some helpful tips.

Whether or not you buy into the holiday season, we all probably experience some level of stress at this time of year. Here's how to ensure the holidays don't get you down.

Exercise: Bet you guessed this would be at the top of my list. Exercise is the best de-stressor at any time of year and this still holds true during the holidays. But don't get yourself worked up if you can't keep up with your regular fitness regime. Instead, set some minimums. For example, instead of following your regular five workouts a week, over the holidays it's OK to allow yourself to drop back to two to three workouts a week to maintain your fitness. Or, instead of your usual hour-plus routines, opt for a quick 30-minute express workout. This will keep your energy levels up and you won't feel like you've got to start all over in the new year.

A quick workout is all you'll need to help make you feel better when you're feeling a little overwhelmed with everything you've got to get done. The endorphins that are released during the workout will give you the energy to tackle errands with a more positive attitude.

You'll also find that committing to your workouts over the holidays helps to keep your nutrition in check. For one, when you're exercising, you seem to have more self-control to pass on some of the holiday extras -- and even if you do decide to indulge, it helps to know that you can afford a few extras because you didn't skip your workout. In fact, on Thanksgiving morning, Christmas morning and New Year's morning, I love to work out. It really sets the day up nicely. I feel great and I'm less likely to overeat at dinner.

Nutrition: Pigging out on chocolates, cookies and cakes and drinking till you see three of everything is enough to make you feel like you've been hit by a truck! It's perfectly OK to indulge over the holidays but you've still got to keep your health and fitness goals in check.

Go for the "have to eat" vs. "can't eat" approach. Instead of forbidding any treats over the holidays, focus on drinking eight glasses of water, consuming five vegetables and three fruits, eat breakfast, and consume five small meals/snacks each day. If you've still got room for your favorite Christmas cookie or Thanksgiving pie, go for it. But eat it slowly and really enjoy the taste. At parties, you may find yourself eating a lot later than usual. Try to eat something small earlier, and at the party you'll be less likely to overeat right before bed.

Daily activity: When you're running around like crazy and can't commit to your normal fitness regime, try to incorporate more activity into your days. For example, go for a walk with your family and friends. In the mall, take the stairs instead of the escalators and park at the back of the lot. The little bits of extra activity will help you feel better.

Say no! Remember you're in control of your life and how much you're going to enjoy the holidays. If attending every single party you're invited to stresses you out, choose only the ones you know where you'll have a great time. If seeing each of your relatives on Thanksgiving Day will leave you feeling exhausted, perhaps set up a rotation system for each year or schedule one large party where everybody gets together and there's no need to drive to three different locations.

If the thought of cooking dinner for the whole family makes you want to cry, delegate responsibilities and enjoy a buffet dinner. If purchasing presents for everybody in your family or all your friends is enough to break the bank, draw names; or instead, spend your time planning how you are going to enjoy special, quality time with them. In fact, my favorite holiday memories are not of gifts but of long walks, hikes or sitting around with friends and family talking in front of the fireplace.

Manage your stress: Get enough sleep. If you're tired, stress appears worse than it is. If you do feel stressed, take a number of slow, deep breaths and try to relax.

Remember the spirit of the holidays —

a celebration of love, community, friendship and family. Do something nice for someone. Go out of your way to be kind. Schedule time for your family to recognize and appreciate all the things you should be thankful for.

Happy Holidays!

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com.