Thanksgiving now has come and gone, and the annual holiday season is in full swing. This time of year can be one of the best, but it can also be one of the most taxing on our bodies.

Stress, poor eating and less sleep can take their toll on our health. And nothing will put a damper on your holidays faster than getting sick.

Holiday stress can, and does, contribute to stress-related illnesses. How many times have you heard employees and colleagues say that they're stressed from shopping and from running endless eleventh-hour errands in a crowded mall? Ho-ho-ho!

What was intended to be an enjoyable, relaxing and fun gift-giving outing becomes another must-do. Bah, humbug!

Think about what your life might be like if you slowed down a little and tried to enjoy your holidays.

Here are five tips to help you thrive, not just survive, through the holiday season:

1. Don't overcommit. Saying yes to every invitation could be one of the bigger mistakes we all make.

Holiday parties, get-togethers, Pollyanna parties and cocktail hours are just a few of the many events that crowd the month of December.

The workplace environment is not the only place where time management is critical. Like the drug education slogan, "Just say no," you may have to politely decline some of your invitations. Decide which events are worth your valuable time and plan to attend only those.

2. Make your holiday gift a donation to a nonprofit in honor of your recipient. There are many family members, friends and colleagues whom I like to see and extend gifts to during the holidays.

But several years ago, in the midst of a particularly hectic year, and realizing that we all had enough stuff in our lives, I invited them to identify a nonprofit organization that they supported. Rather than contribute to the frenzied holiday craziness, I wrote checks in honor of my intended gift recipients to their charity. And I, in turn, suggested several organizations that I was supporting.

This made a tremendous difference in reducing my stress level. It also allowed us to contribute an end-of-year gift to several worthy charitable organizations that undoubtedly put the money to good use.

3. Eat smarter and stay active. My favorite piece of advice about eating is "everything in moderation." This is a solid suggestion when thinking about holiday eating. With balance and moderation, you can enjoy the holidays the healthy way.

Choose fresh fruit as a festive and sweet substitute for candy. Consider selecting just one or two of your favorites from the table full of tempting foods. Try to avoid skipping a meal in lieu of a full plate of hors d'oeuvres.

Stick with routines

If you have an everyday exercise routine, stick with it. The holidays are no time to skip exercise or let regular, healthy eating habits slide. If exercising is not an everyday routine, find fun ways for you and your family to stay active, such as dancing to your favorite holiday music.

4. Keep a close eye on safety. Injuries can occur anywhere and anytime, but particularly at a time when you're rushing, stressed and inattentive. Use a step stool instead of furniture when hanging decorations. Keep candles away from children, pets, walkways, trees and curtains and be careful not to leave candles, stoves or fireplaces unattended.

When driving or riding in a car, make sure you wear your seat belt. And never get behind the wheel of a car after you've been drinking. Period.

If you have children, keep an eye on them when they're eating and playing. Keep potentially dangerous toys, food, drinks, household items and choking hazards (like coins and hard candy) out of their reach. Learn how to provide early intervention for children who are choking, but remember, the best intervention is prevention.

5. Get enough sleep. Sleep is essential for a body but particularly so at times of high stress. It's important to aim for eight hours of sleep so that you give your body time to recover from the day's work.

The holidays are also a time for connecting with friends and family, and creating memories that live on throughout the year. Chances are you'll be more receptive to those interactions if you approach them with positive energy rather than the stressed out, impatient, "oh-no-not-another-thing-I-have-to-do" attitude.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.

Contributing Editor Betty Long is a registered nurse and founder of Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates, a health care advocacy firm that has helped thousands of patients navigate the health care system and saved millions of dollars in health care costs. Follow EBN on: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Podcasts

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