When it comes to wellness, Americans tend to press the pause button during the holidays, only to experience the consequences in January.
It’s not just the sweets and alcohol that drag people down, but also the ruinous bowl of nutty behavior that includes scaling roofs and running on ice in 3-inch kitten heels. With less sunlight from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, folks become ticking time bombs of illness and depression, all in the name of good cheer.
“Our species is still bound by biology,” said Dr. Robert Hayden, owner of Iris City Chiropractic Center in Griffin, Ga. He expects to heal ballerinas injured performing in The Nutcracker, yet other cases can be more colorful than sugar plums. Imagine a client throwing logs over a fence and coming to the office with an aching shoulder.
“We think we can interrupt good habits during the holidays,” Hayden said. “I’m guilty, too. I think, ‘I’m going to watch that Turner Classic movie until 2 a.m.’ The next day, I wake up feeling sluggish. We can withstand a jolt in the system, but not over the course of a whole month.”
In other words, the delicious, frothy eggnog on your lips might spend a winter on your hips, as well as affecting your feet, neck, skin, back and sleep cycle.
The Observer checked in with doctors in four specialities, so you don’t have to make a panicky call in 2018. Here’s how you can stay out of waiting rooms while still enjoying a pint and an ergonomic kiss under the mistletoe:
Foot Care: Dr. Jane Andersen, a podiatrist in Chapel Hill, N.C., said patients travel more frequently this time of year, which means they might be more susceptible to deep vein thrombosis caused by sitting for long periods. If blood clots break loose and lodge in the lungs, the situation can be fatal. To prevent clotting in the legs, Andersen recommends patients take aspirin before boarding an aircraft, wear compression hosiery and allow for frequent movement breaks on the plane or in a roadside rest area.
Andersen’s also concerned by dressy footwear that might spell disaster on slippery pathways after consuming alcohol.
“Shoes are like dessert,” Andersen said. “If you are going to a party, you can plan ahead. You decide, ‘I’m going to wear the pointy high heels, but on the way home, I’ll wear comfortable shoes.’”
During the winter, foot professionals note a rise in neuroma, also known as pinched nerves, and metatarsalgia, characterized by tingling, numbness or shooting pain through the ball of the foot.
Blisters and corns are problems that sound benign until they happen to you. Diabetics who might feel foot numbness must be extremely mindful of trauma related to new shoes.
To get the best fit, Andersen recommends trying on dress shoes at the end of a workday, when the feet are swollen. Pay attention to any pain as a signal that something is wrong and will only get worse. While some people are prone to hammertoes and bunions, issues could quickly escalate if a wearer insists on pushing through the misery.
Varying heel heights can reduce future problems. Stick to a 2-inch height or less, the chunkier the better. Toe boxes should be rounded rather than pointed, and if a partygoer expects to stand for long stretches, a boot or sensible heel would be wiser than platforms.
To reward yourself after a night of wassailing, soak your aching dogs in a bath sprinkled with Epsom salts. Indulge in Vionic slippers with arch supports, a great gift.
Chiropractic medicine: This time of year, Hayden treats hyperextended knees from too much standing, necks cranked from guest beds and foreign pillows and tight lower backs from lifting and lowering heavy loads. Poor mechanics while cooking also burden the body.
Less sleep means more stress and irritation exaggerated by high emotions. While the season boosts happiness, a feeling of loss can often coexist with joy, establishing new pain while triggering old musculoskeletal injuries.
“During the excitement, we can try to stay in our routines,” Hayden said. “Keep up the good habits. Then you’ll end up ahead in January.”
Dermatology: Dr. Marie Jhin, chief medical officer of QuRetino Therapeutics in California, said many people forget to remove makeup, drink enough water or get proper amounts of quality sleep during the holidays. Patients might skip medications, contributing to episodes of acne, psoriasis, dry winter skin and eczema.
By New Year’s Day, skin—our largest organ—can look rough from all the binging.
Like Hayden, Jhin recommends hydration, rest and a regimen of general wellness. Avoiding super-hot showers can also prevent skin irritation.
Sleep medicine: As the other doctors mentioned, sleep boosts resilience against an avalanche of health problems.
While many Americans can handle one or two alcoholic beverages on occasion, increased intake can have a negative effect on sleep, according to Dr. Darius Zoroufy, medical director at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
“Conditions we see at this time of year include insomnia that is seasonal,” Zoroufy said. “Many people have sleep disturbances because of the low outdoor light intensity and short daylight hours. We often see people who gained weight and have been drinking more alcohol than usual, both of which can cause manifestations of sleep apnea to become more obvious.”
Zoroufy recommended a consistent sleep-and-wake schedule, even on vacation. Avoid late nights and long naps. Set limits on sweets and alcohol and wash hands frequently to avoid contracting a respiratory illness that can also affect rest. To feel more alert during the day, consider talking to a doctor about using a therapeutic light box to offset seasonal affective disorder. And for teens who insist on noon wake-ups, negotiate a reasonable structure for a gentler transition back to school.
Ann Votaw is a freelance writer in New York who has a M.A. in Health Education. She teaches yoga and physical fitness to adults 60 and older.