Ask the Experts: Anxiety & Depression; Avoiding Weight Gain During the Holidays

Q: Between the political climate and the upcoming holidays, I am feeling more depressed and anxious than ever. Are there any options besides medication to help?

A: Two major polls from the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association show that you are not alone: Stress and anxiety are increasing in Americans.

Fortunately, there are a variety of healthy coping mechanisms and strategies that may help.

  • Limit your screen time. Studies show that spending excessive time online is directly linked with depression. The link appears to strengthen among people who are online for at least three hours per day.
  • Turn off the news. The 24-hour news cycle and an endless stream of bad news makes trying to keep up with current events a trigger for many people. Cut back on the time you spend consuming this information, and seek out positive news instead. For a nice break, visit websites like, where you can keep up with happy things that are happening in the world.
  • Practice good health habits. Exercise has been proven to reduce stress and boost mood. Take a walk in nature for an added mood-boosting effect. Eating healthy foods that help you maintain a stable blood-sugar level can also help you feel more even keeled. Instead of caffeine-rich coffee, which is a stimulant, try green tea, which contains a compound (L-theanine) that has been shown to promote calmness. Drink plenty of water, too. Dehydration can cause symptoms of anxiety.
  • Make time for things that calm you. Yoga, meditation, prayer, and listening to music have all been associated with elevated mood. Even carving out five minutes a day may help you feel more centered. At the same time, learn to say “no” to the things that cause stress but not happiness.
  • Boost your serotonin. This neurotransmitter has a proven relationship with treating depression, and the most common pharmaceutical antidepressants work by boosting its levels in your brain. Several over-the-counter dietary supplements have also been shown to increase serotonin and effectively treat symptoms of depression, including SAM-e, 5-HTP, L-tryptophan, and St. John’s wort. Talk to your doctor about the best option for your particular needs.

Q: I recently lost a good amount of excess weight, but I am worried that the holiday season is going to undo my hard work. Do you have any tips?

A: The holiday season is filled with many delicious temptations, and it’s common for people to overindulge. But there are some best practices that can help you enjoy the bounty of the season without packing on pounds.

  • Don’t graze. Stick to regular mealtimes and avoid the temptation to snack throughout the day. Those calories add up.
  • Budget your calories. If you’re planning on going to a party where you expect to eat more calories than usual, focus on lighter meals for breakfast and lunch.
  • Don’t go hungry. If you’re going to be around high-calorie foods and snacks at a party, eat something light before you go to take the edge off of your hunger.
  • Be selective. Don’t waste calories on things that don’t really appeal to you. Save the calories for the foods that you’ll really enjoy.
  • Take a low-cal dish. When attending potlucks, take a low-calorie recipe to share.
  • Exercise. Whether you take a walk or hit the gym, burning calories through activity gives you more leeway with what you eat. But don’t overestimate how much you’ve burned. It takes an estimated 23 minutes on the treadmill to burn off (or earn) four Oreo cookies. A single-serve bag of Doritos will take walking an hour and 15 minutes.
  • Don’t drink your calories. Eggnog, alcohol, juices, and sodas are filled with calories and sugar. Limit your consumption and, when you have them, drink them slowly and try to have just one before switching to water.
  • Beware of eating your feelings. The holidays can be stressful for many people. Try not to eat to manage your stress—instead, take a walk, listen to music, exercise, or spend time doing something you enjoy. By being smart about your holiday nutrition and fitness, you can enjoy food and drink without compromising your health.

The post Ask the Experts: Anxiety & Depression; Avoiding Weight Gain During the Holidays appeared first on University Health News.

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