As Thanksgiving draws closer…are you feeling stressed? Do you feel challenged to be 100% present when you’re with family and friends? Have you been so preoccupied that you have been ignoring your own health?
If so, you’re not alone.
A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), published earlier this month, shows that the U.S. is at its highest stress level yet.1 The current political environment is a significant source of stress2; so, too, is work and technology, which blur the boundaries between professional and personal life.
Although technology affords us endless ways to connect, we feel more disconnected than ever—and we live in a constant state of distraction.
According to the 2017 APA Stress in America survey, the vast majority (86%) of more than 8 out of 10 Americans, who are attached to their devices, are “constant checkers” of their emails, texts and social media accounts. Ironically, constant checkers say they feel disconnected from family—even when technology brings them together!3 Despite being comfortable with technology, Millennials (aged 18-37) report the highest level of stress from technology.4 And nearly half of parents (45%) say they feel disconnected from their families even when they are together—because of technology.5
Unfortunately, the convenience of technology has not only changed the dynamic of our personal interactions, it has also taken a toll on our physical health, most visibly, our collective waistlines. Between 1981 and 2008, the U.S. experienced a 45 percent growth in obesity.6 How? Spending more time online translates into a sedentary lifestyle—excess sitting, eating more processed and pro-inflammatory foods (including increased consumption of processed snack foods), eating out more (less home cooking) and much less physical activity (even walking) overall.
I’m not suggesting that you throw out your iPhone or smart phone or retreat into a cave! Instead, see this Thanksgiving—and the rest of the holiday season—as an opportunity to connect and truly be present—without distraction. As a gateway to the official holiday season, Thanksgiving is also the perfect time to jumpstart healthy eating and lifestyle practices that will also positively affect how you connect with others—and yourself. Here are 8 tips:
1. Commit to taking time off (and don’t be half-assed about it).
All work and no downtime erodes the quality of your life and your health; in addition, you are more prone to making errors in judgment or reacting inappropriately in professional situations. When you’re overworked and exhausted, you tend to sleep poorly, crave sugar and junk food, and skip exercise.
Overwork—without adequate rest and relaxation—has health consequences: sleep issues (problems falling asleep or shortened sleep), more accidents due to fatigue, depression, and a greater risk of heart disease.7, 8 Chronic stress increases the stress hormone cortisol—and, without a break, high cortisol levels pack on belly fat. Step away from the computer or phone: spend time with yourself, your friends or your family—without apology.
2. Prepare a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal for—or with—someone you love, whether it’s a partner, spouse, friends, family or children. Make this one holiday where you don’t outsource your meal to a restaurant, caterer or Amazon Fresh. Take the time to plan a menu, shop, chop and reconnect with real food. A home-cooked, family-style meal encourages bonding among family and friends. Bonus: when children and teenagers are involved in the preparation of a meal, they develop a greater appreciation for the food they eat and learn healthy eating habits.
Need more incentive to cook? A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when participants ate meals at home, they tended to make healthier food choices, which, in turn, triggered intense positive emotions.9 Sharing meals can also contribute to greater feelings of happiness.10
3. Establish a zero tolerance no-media zone at your Thanksgiving table. This means no smart phones, iPhones, iPads, computers of any kind, texting, Snapchat, FB messaging…. What is allowed? Real human connection through face-to-face conversation.
In a study published earlier this year, Danish researchers investigated how quitting Facebook for 1 week would affect well-being. The results, which were based on 1,000-plus participants (the average age was 34), suggest that quitting Facebook—even temporarily—can improve life satisfaction and mood. This positive effect was especially significant for heavy Facebook users and users who tend to envy others on Facebook.11
Ironically, another recent study of young adults, aged 19 to 32, found that those with high social media usage of 11 social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., actually felt more socially isolated than those who had a lower social media usage. 12
4. Prepare a Thanksgiving meal featuring fresh, quality ingredients. Choose ingredients that are as fresh, whole and unprocessed as possible. Consider splurging on a heritage breed or organic turkey: we like upstate New York’s Northwind Farms heritage breed turkey. Commercial turkeys, like Butterball, typically carry “water weight”, a 4 to 8 percent solution of water, salt and spices. This also means that, from the outset, you’re starting out with a sodium-infused turkey; for every 4 ounces of Butterball’s “fresh” whole turkey, you get 130 mg of sodium before you’ve seasoned it. The farmer’s market is a great place to load up on seasonal, budget-friendly produce: Brussels sprouts, green beans, squash, sweet potatoes, organic salad greens and more. Need inspiration for a healthy Thanksgiving dish?
5. Plan your indulgences. The spirit of Thanksgiving is one of generosity and bounty. There is, however, a fine line between indulging mindfully and hapless overeating that can cause you to go off the rails the rest of the holiday season. Decide in advance what you want to enjoy—maybe it’s a slice of pumpkin pie or a couple glasses of Barolo with the Thanksgiving meal. Food sensitivities and intolerances create stress in the body. If you’ve been eating gluten-free, dairy free, or both, and feeling great, you want to honor what your body can tolerate. Be prepared to stand your ground with pushy relatives: “Wow, dessert looks delicious, but I have to stay away from gluten / bread / wheat / sugar / dairy—doctor’s orders!”
6. Avoid or limit contact with energy vampires. In these modern, fast-paced times, when many of us are working to full capacity, the kindest thing you can for yourself is to spend what free time you have with people who accept you as-you-are and who love and support you. Or, spend time alone, tending to yourself (yes, even on Thanksgiving!).
The goal is to limit your exposure to energy vampires, people who leave you feeling drained and depleted physically and emotionally. Energy vampires who can include friends and family, come in many forms: complainers who use you to vent their frustrations; narcissists who love to talk about themselves; braggarts who regale you with tales of their achievements or acquisitions; critics who put down your weight, your attempts to eat healthy, your appearance, child-rearing, partner, job or passions; intruders who ignore boundaries and invade your physical or emotional space; and downers who are relentlessly negative in their thoughts and actions. If avoidance is not possible, keep your contact brief: “I can stay for coffee and visit for 20 minutes.”
7. Walk it off. Instead of surrendering to holiday post-meal lethargy—in front of the television or drinking into the night—get up and go outside for a post-prandial walk. A post-meal stroll—as brief as 10 minutes—can effectively help lower your blood sugar. Walking outdoors—ideally, the greener the setting, the better—can also help boost mood, energy levels, immunity and overall mental health.13
In a recent study published in Diabetologia, New Zealand researchers asked Type 2 diabetic patients to take a short walk after each of their three daily meals. The result? After taking a 10-minute post-meal walk, patients’ blood glucose levels dropped 12%, on average. The study also noted that taking a short walk after dinner was especially beneficial for lowering blood sugar (by as much as 22%), particularly when the meal contained a lot of carbohydrate.14
8. Play board games. Dust off those old board games—Scrabble, Monopoly, checkers—and have them at the ready. Board games are a fun way for people of all ages to come together. Playing a board game after a family dinner or holiday dinner can be an enjoyable way to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and spend conflict-free time with your family—even strengthening your family bond. Unlike electronics, which are an isolating activity, board games encourage interaction.
Engaging in board games stimulates the brain across all ages. Studies show that younger children benefit from playing board games because they use—and develop—practical cognitive skills, like planning, problem-solving and reasoning. According to a French study, playing board games is also associated with less cognitive decline and depression among the elderly.15
Have a beautiful Thanksgiving!
1, 2 American Psychological Association (APA): Stress in America Survey, 2017
3, 4, 5 American Psychological Association (2017): Stress in America: Coping with Change
6 Milken Institute, Aug. 21, 2012
7 American Journal of Epidemiology, 2012 Oct 1; 176(7): 586–596.
8 Sleep 2009, Jun 1; 32(6): 737–745
9 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition July 2011, Vol. 94, No. 1, 254-261
10 Global Journal of Health Sciences 2015 Jan 14;7(4):270-7
11 Tromholt Morten. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. November 2016,
12 American Journal of Preventative Medicine July 2017, Vol. 53, No. 1, 1-8
13 Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2006 Aug; 17(2): 114-23
14 Medscape Oct 19, 2016
15 BMJ Open 2013; 3(8): e002998