HEALTHY LIVING
12/09/2015 05:48 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2016

Biggest Health Issues Doctors See During the Holidays

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. It is a time that we get to enjoy time with family and friends, celebrate, to be thankful for what we have. It is also a great opportunity to appreciate our health. During the holiday season, there is a heightened risk of compromising our health for various reasons. These are some of the biggest health issues doctors see during the holidays and tips to avoid in which people should be aware of.

Overeating and weight gain. With all the holiday cookies, eggnog, and left-over food, it is easy to overeat and pack on the pounds. And unfortunately, having self-control is easier said than done. Why do we over eat and why does it make us feel so uncomfortable?

Physically, we overeat because we can. Our stomach can actually stretch to volume of one liter. When we eat large meals, our stomachs stretch to its limit which squeezes the organ against others. This makes the abdomen feel full. The stomach and intestines also fill with gases which only adds that uncomfortable swollen feeling. And every time we swallow, we also ingest air -- even more so when drinking soda or beer. This fills more space in the stomach than the liquid that was actually ingested.

Mentally, people may over eat to cope with negative emotions, while others may have a binge eating disorder. When you have eaten enough our brains send a hormonal message known as leptin that we are full. When we are consuming foods that are high calories, this can makes us feel even fuller since we are ingesting similar amounts of foods but with different amounts of calories.

How to avoid overeating and weight gain:

• Drink a glass of cold water before you eat -- this can help curb your appetite
• Beware of emotional triggers that cause you to eat more
• Eat slowly; wait at least 20 minutes before going back for seconds or grabbing dessert
• Eat small portions and a variety of nutritious foods
• Stay physically active over the holidays

Drinking too much alcohol. Over the holidays, people often consume more alcohol compared to the rest of the year due to having multiple holiday parties or dinners to attend. We often use alcohol as a way to let loose and have fun. However, many people also use it as a way to cope with stress. If you are using alcohol for the latter reason, you must be especially careful. In general, alcohol can cause you to feel depressed, lose sleep, and gain weight. It is estimated that about 40 percent of people use the holidays as an excuse to drink. About 96 percent of people go to work hung over after a holiday party or knew someone who did.

How to limit alcohol intake:

• During holiday parties and other social events, limit yourself to two drinks total and no more than one per hour
• Drink lots of water -- this will help you stay hydrated when you are drinking, stay in control, and make it less likely to experience a hangover

Too much stress. About 7 out of 10 people report saying that they feel overwhelmed and stressed during the holidays. This could be due to spending more money, hosting holiday events, hosting family members, being alone, remembering loved ones, family conflicts, or simply having too much going on. There are a number of reasons to feel more stressed than usual during the holidays. The important thing is to learn how to cope as some things may be out of your control.

How to avoid and cope with holiday stress:

• Stay organized. Prioritize with a holiday to-do list and tackle the more challenging tasks first.
• Identify your stress triggers and find ways to properly manage what you can.
• Do set unrealistic expectations for yourself or family members.
• Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and doing things you enjoy can all help with any unavoidable stressors during the holidays.

Accidents. Did you know that there are about 15,000 holiday-related accidents a year? There are also at least 12,000 people who end up in the emergency room for a holiday-related incident, and more than 5,000 injuries from decorating-related injuries. Common holiday-related accidents include car accidents due to weather or alcohol or decorating-related accidents such as falling off ladders or roofs.

How to avoid holiday accidents:

• Don't put up decorations alone, especially if you are older. Always have someone to help and stand behind you when working on ladders.
• When driving, always wear your seat belt. Make sure the children are in car seats.
• Make sure car is "winter-proof" to ensure safe driving in bad weather.
• Do not drink and drive.
• Try not to or even avoid driving on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. This goes for the mornings after too as people are often coming home from parties where they have been drinking or are hungover.

Lack of sleep. It is common to experience a lack of sleep during the holidays. This is often a result of having too much going on from holiday shopping, partying, having to meet year-end deadlines at work, or possibly being jet-lagged from traveling. It is important to get good sleep in order to function optimally. Otherwise, missing sleep can lower your immunity, increase your stress levels, cause weight gain, increase depression, and cause more car accidents.

How to get enough sleep:

• It is recommended that most people get about 7 to 9 of sleep each night
• Plan ahead. Pre-plan for any stressful and time-consuming activities that may cause you to lose sleep.
• Create a healthy sleep environment. Avoid using cell phones, computers and watching television right before going to sleep. Take the hour before bed time to do something relaxing.