Though the holidays are a joyous time for many, we tend to forget how stressful they can be and what a toll they can take on our health. By following some simple steps, you can keep your healthy holiday glow and prevent it from turning to a New Year’s pallor.
Take your medications, check your blood sugar, measure your pulse etc… Just as you always would. If you happen to be one of the many people who suffer from a chronic illness, it is imperative that you continue your normal treatment routine. Whether this involves keeping track of your blood sugars, making it in to your cardiac rehab visit, or simply ensuring that you continue taking your medication every single time it’s due…DO IT! Ignoring your blood sugar because you had that glass of eggnog and know it’s going to be higher than normal will not change the fact.
If you find that, due to some holiday overindulgence, your blood sugar, blood pressure or heart rate is significantly different than normal, give your doctor a call. He or she may suggest temporarily adjusting your dose of medication to get you through the holiday rush in one piece. Whatever you do though, don’t try adjusting doses yourself. I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve admitted to the hospital who became gravely ill after trying to self-adjust their medication. It’s not safe and it will backfire.
Particularly for folks who have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure (most often following a heart attack or heart surgery) I would recommend weighing yourself daily and calling the doctor right away if a significant fluctuation occurs. Because many of the foods we imbibe in over the holidays contain increased sodium, it’s very easy for a damaged heart to get overloaded with too much fluid (which sodium causes you to retain). This can cause pain and discomfort as well as cardiac arrythmias (irregular heartbeat), kidney problems or even another heart attack. When the fluid overload becomes too much to handle, it causes something called CHF exacerbation, which generally requires hospitalization, oftentimes in the ICU. It won’t be much fun to spend the holidays stuck in the hospital. So watch out for the sodium-laden foods. Gravies, stuffings, cured or brined meats, and even many beverages and desserts are prime suspects.
If you are a renal dialysis patient, for heaven’s sake don’t skip your dialysis treatments! It can get hectic around the holidays, and making time for your normal treatments is admittedly a pain, but getting in to the center for your dialysis treatment serves a dual purpose. Not only will you be more likely to stay on track and feeling good throughout the holidays if you keep to a normal schedule, but the assessment practices that the dialysis nurses follow, such as weighing you in, drawing routine blood work to check your electrolytes and so on will make it far more likely that if things do start to get off track, they will be able to get you back on track with a minimum of fuss and
For diabetics, I’m sure you are aware that this season is chock full of land mines in the form of holiday receptions, buffets, dessert trays and cookie swaps. Make sure that people around you know that you need to maintain a healthy blood sugar and that your diabetes makes that a little more difficult to do. Most loved ones, and many coworkers, will make a concerted effort to provide a sugar free or low carb option and keep the temptation to a minimum if they know you struggle with it. Do your best to maintain strict glycemic control throughout the holidays. Having wildly variant sugars puts your body at great risk for a plethora of different complications of your diabetes including eye problems, circulation problems and an increased risk of infections.
If you struggle with obesity, please do not give up the fight from Thanksgiving all the way through New Years, resigning yourself to additional weight gain over the holidays. While it may be realistic to give yourself some wiggle room around the holidays, don’t simply give up. Picking your battles around this time of year may be a wise choice. If you resign yourself to indulging on Thanksgiving Day, make up your mind firmly to keep up your normal exercise regimen (start a walking or mobilization program if you haven’t already), get back on the bandwagon first thing the next day and then make a plan for the rest of the season. Intersperse healthy days with less healthy days. Try to offset the bad days. Perhaps it isn’t realistic to plan on losing weight, even if you’ve previously been doing well on a weight loss program, at this time of year. Make a resolution not to gain any weight in the coming month. You’ll start off the New Year in a better place for getting back on track if you haven’t completely fallen off the healthy eating bandwagon for an entire month.
Last but not least, do not hesitate to head for the Emergency Room or call 911 if you experience any chest pain, numbness and tingling on one or both sides or your face or unexplained weakness. Heart attacks, strokes and other medical emergencies happen just as often, if not more so, at this time of year. Regardless of how many people are about to show up at your house expecting a holiday meal, or whether you are supposed to be on your way to the holiday concert, etc…, it is not worth dying over. It’s a win win situation whether you end up receiving life-saving intervention for a true emergency or the staff at the local ER are able to reassure you that it really is just a case of holiday induced indigestion.