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10 Ways to Maintain Optimal Health During the Holidays

10 Ways to Maintain Optimal Health During the Holidays

Written by Molly Smerika on November 20, 2023

The holidays are here, and many people will be gathering with friends and family to celebrate over the next couple of weeks. We sat down with the University of Colorado College of Nursing Assistant Professor of Clinical Practice Emily Cheshire, DNP, MS, FNP-BC to talk about ways to stay healthy – and safe – during the holiday season.

Get vaccinated!

 There’s nothing worse than missing this special time of year with family and friends because of illness. Data show that even though vaccines don’t prevent illness 100% of the time, they do shorten the duration, and that just may mean you are able to spend Christmas morning with the ones you love rather than spending another day in bed.

Cheshire says to consider these vaccines: Flu, RSV, and COVID-19. With the flu shot, you will be protected against the virus two weeks after receiving the vaccine, so Cheshire says the time to get the vaccine is now.

COVID-19 is still around, and while we are not in the middle of the pandemic, there are still precautions people should consider, including hand washing, masking, testing, and having conversations with your friends and family about their comfort level.

“The biggest thing now is protecting people that could suffer grave illness from COVID-19. The number one thing to consider is who am I going to be around?” Cheshire says. “I think it’s a good idea to get tested for COVID-19 even if you’re asymptomatic if you’re going to visit a nursing home or a place where a lot of people are immunocompromised.”

The CDC also has guidance about COVID-19, including helpful information about what to do if you are exposed.

In summary: Cheshire says vaccines work and are safe. It’s worth getting them now to protect your loved ones and increase the chances of a healthy, happy holiday. Talk to your medical provider about other vaccines you may be eligible for based on your individual health.

Wash your hands!

We often cook, wipe noses, and scratch eyes without realizing it. Data show that simply thorough handwashing can decrease diarrheal illness by 23-40% and respiratory illness by 16-21%.

“If there’s just one thing to do -- wash your hands,” Cheshire says. “Getting vaccinated, reducing stress, and eating healthy are all important – but they’re also more difficult. Handwashing is simple and effective.”

Check-in with stress levels

Although it can be a joyful time, it can also be a stressful time. Sometimes the tasks that come along with the season can be overwhelming. What can you let go of this year?

“You may have good stress, as in you’re excited about seeing your family and getting together for the holidays,” Cheshire says. “But there’s task-oriented stress that comes along with that, so I think letting go of some of the perfection matters. For example, does it really matter if every napkin ring is perfect? No. Focus on the real intent of what the holiday is about.”

Other times, family relationships may be difficult or triggering. Make sure to set firm boundaries ahead of time with family members. Write down a list of HEALTHY coping mechanisms prior to events. If you are experiencing worsening mental health symptoms due to a triggering event around the holidays, make sure to schedule a visit with your behavioral health or primary care provider.

Eating healthy

This is the most difficult time of the year to do so! There’s often so many leftovers that are shared among family members, that we tend to overindulge. Get containers ahead of time, make your plate, then put half of your plate into your container (It’s still there if you want it but can also be your leftovers!).

Alcohol Consumption

The patients Cheshire cares for who are non-drinkers often have a drink or two during the holidays – so what does that mean for the rest of us? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it means this time of year is when some of us are most likely to drink beyond our limits, compared to other times of the year. It is easy to misjudge how long the effects of alcohol persist beyond that last drink. Alcohol in the stomach and intestines continues to enter the bloodstream resulting in impaired judgement and coordination for hours.

While New Year’s Day is the deadliest day for car accidents where alcohol is involved, there is an increase in Thanksgiving and Christmas automobile fatalities. Here are some tips to plan ahead:

  • Hosting a party? Offer drinks without alcohol. Beyond sparkling sodas and juices, there are a wide variety of non-alcoholic (NA) beers, wine, and spirits.

  • Don’t premix drinks! Effects of alcohol depend on the individual and a variety of factors. Avoid making a festive “batch” of cocktails so that guests are aware of how much they are consuming. Rather than spiking the cider, make a NA version, and allow guests to add their own amount of spirit.

  • Keep track of your intake. It’s easy to get lost in conversation, games, and the festiveness of the evening and lose track of what you’ve consumed. Pay attention to your food intake and make sure you don’t drink beyond your limits.

  • The CDC recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

  • Plan to be the designated driver (DD)! Make a plan ahead of time and stick to it! Or, if you overindulge, make plans to spend the night or use a rideshare service/taxi to get home safely.

Chronic illness check-up

Check in with your healthcare provider if you have a chronic illness affected by food, like Diabetes or Congestive Heart Failure. For those who avoid certain foods, this is an especially difficult time of year.

Cheshire says a lot can be done to prepare before the holidays, including scheduling a three-month checkup to get guidance from a primary care provider.

“Ask ‘What’s safe for me? Could I bump up my insulin, and how do I do that safely?’ You want to know how to safely partake without going overboard,” Cheshire says. “Most providers are going to have individualized treatment plans to allow that. The last thing any of us wants to do is try to find an urgent care or go to the hospital for a flare up of a chronic illness on Christmas Day,” Cheshire says.


How many of us go from the table to the couch for football? Why not get everyone involved and throw a football during halftime? Fresh air and movement are both important for health.

Check smoke and carbon dioxide alarms!

Holiday and Christmas tree fires are more damaging than other fires and 30% of all home fires occur during the holiday season. This is a result of cooking, heating, open flames, and holiday decorations such as trees with lights.

Decoration safety!

Check your extension cords! 4,000 people per year are treated for injuries such as fractures, lacerations, contusions, and sprains associated with tripping over extension cords. Approximately 5,800 people are treated in emergency rooms for injuries associated with falls from holiday decorating.

“We’re bringing people who have a greater risk of falling into our house, like older adults or toddlers, so it’s almost like setting up a booby trap,” Cheshire says. “So when you’re decorating, assess where your rugs are. Are extension cords all over the place? Put that kind of stuff on a checklist and be mindful of where you are setting up your decorations.”

Travel Safety

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? If you’re traveling, be mindful of road conditions and make sure to have emergency equipment and supplies in your car. This is especially important for Colorado residents, as the weather is predictably unpredictable!

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Emily Cheshire, DNP, MS, FNP-BC