Not in Lauren Jeffs' house, it isn't. Lauren, 37, a mother of two and a public servant in Ottawa, is racing around her kitchen, defrosting shrimp under the tap, stirring something in a pot and uncorking a bottle of wine. Upstairs, a mountain of gifts awaits wrapping. Half of her 30 dinner guests have already arrived and she's still not dressed. She pauses to actually listen to the soothing Christmas carol. It's so incongruous, she bursts out laughing. All is calm? Yeah, right.
She's not alone. For many Canadian families, Christmas is a frantic round of parties, overspending, overindulging and too much stress. But it doesn't have to be. The 12 days before Christmas can also be your healthiest, calmest and best ever. Just follow our pre-Christmas calendar of health-enhancing tips and you'll be fighting fit for the festive season.
1. Drink meadowsweet tea
Long before over-the-counter antacids, indigestion sufferers sipped meadowsweet tea, made from a perennial sagelike herb that grows in low wet areas across Canada. It not only settles an upset stomach and is used to treat peptic ulcers, but it's also an anti-inflammatory that contains salicylic acid, the natural precursor to acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).
"Meadowsweet is great for digestion and it has some calming aspects," says
Dr. Garrett Swetlikoff, a doctor of naturopathic medicine in Kelowna, B.C., who suggests blending it with soothing chamomile or peppermint teas. Although it's considered safe, avoid meadowsweet if you're sensitive to ASA. It's available as a tea in most health food stores.
2. Get a flu shot
Although it's best to get the shot well before shopping malls start piping in carols, it's not too late come December. Health Canada recommends that you get the flu shot sometime between October and early December. The flu usually runs rampant from November to April, but remember, the inoculation takes two weeks to kick in to give you full protection. Although nearly one-third of Canadians get the vaccine – which covers different strains every year – up to 25 per cent of Canadians come down with the flu annually.
3. Detox your system
Christmas is coming, and the goose isn't the only thing getting fat. According to a study by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, many people gain between 0.8 and five pounds over the holidays.
But it doesn't have to be that way, says Madeleine Marentette, owner of a health and wellness centre in Bancroft, Ont., and author of Grail Springs Holistic Detox for Body, Mind and Spirit (McArthur, 2007, $29.95). "To get your body into peak form, stay off red meat, white sugar, refined flour and table salt," she says. "Your body's acid levels will drop, and your liver will release toxins from stored fat cells." By the time Christmas rolls around, "you'll be energized, you'll sleep well and you won't have such strong cravings."
4. Clear your lymphatic system
Feeling sluggish, tired and bloated? Before bathing, brush your skin for five to 10 minutes with a natural bristle brush or sea sponge. The gentle action, starting from your feet and hands and moving inward in a circular motion, not only exfoliates dead skin and smooths cellulite, but it also releases toxins from your lymphatic system, the body's oxygen and nutrient highway.
When lymph glands become clogged with cell debris, the result is water retention. Dry brushing "stimulates, unblocks and allows the lymphatic fluids to move more freely," says Marentette. Scented salt rub, applied with the same circular motion during a bath, gets the same results.
5. Break with tradition
Stuffing yourself like a Christmas turkey is a long-held tradition – along with loosening your belt and groaning from indigestion. "At Christmas, it's about carbohydrates, alcohol and sugar," says Swetlikoff. "Those things produce indigestion because they ferment in the gut." But it's OK to break with this gluttonous tradition. Rather than filling up three times a day, have five small balanced meals and avoid refined carbs and sugary foods. You'll be more energetic and less inclined to overindulge.
6. Balance your chakras
According to ancient Indian yoga practices, chakras are the seven energy centres that run from your brain to your reproductive organs. Here's what you do to balance them: Sit up straight, breathe in through your nose, then out through your mouth. With every exhalation, say "shhhhhh." Do this twice daily for two minutes until the new year and your system will be recharged. "The negative pictures in your mind stop and your feelings will calm down," says Marentette. "Your energy flows freely, it revitalizes the chakras and you feel pretty terrific."
7. Stay active – even indoors
The hours of sunlight are shorter and with hectic schedules, it's even tougher to be active. But don't let the season get in your way, says Dr. Joey Shulman, a Toronto-based chiropractic doctor and author of The Natural Makeover Diet: A 4-Step Program to Looking and Feeling Your Best from the Inside Out (John Wiley and Sons, 2005, $21.99).
"I am a very big advocate of the basics – five- and 10-pound weights, an exercise ball and a mat. It doesn't matter if you work out in front of the TV or in your bedroom – just do it." By exercising for at least 20 minutes four days a week, you will boost your immune system, aid digestion, sleep better and feel energized, says Shulman.
8. Do what you enjoy
"The most stressful thing about Christmas is doing too much in too little time, and forgetting what Christmas is really about," observes Michele Caron, a life coach in Coldwater, Ont. Instead of trying to please everyone, sit down with a calendar and make a list, itemizing those things you really enjoy and scheduling time to do them. Or start a journal recounting this year's highlights and what you'd like to achieve in the months to come. By the time 2008's resolutions roll around, you'll be ready for them.
9. Turn on the light
If your mood declines along with hours of sunlight, you're not alone. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) seriously affects up to four per cent of Canadians, while many more develop the milder "winter blues." "We are light-needing creatures," explains Swetlikoff.
Ease the blues with a SAD light box or full spectrum bulbs, available at some hardware stores and through www.lighttherapycanada.biz, that you can install where you spend most of the day. "If you combine light therapy with exercise," says Swetlikoff, "you produce more dopamine and serotonin (two brain chemicals associated with mood) and you will feel better."
10.Chew on licorice
Long revered by Chinese and Western herbalists for its ability to treat flu, colds and infections, licorice root is now being studied as a treatment for stomach ulcers, stress and high blood pressure. "It also has very good antibacterial properties," says Swetlikoff. "It's a hugely important herb."
To ease a flu or cold, brew a cup of sweet-tasting licorice root tea or take it as capsules or tincture, both available in health food stores. But first ask your doctor – it may affect the performance of insulin, certain heart medications and oral contraceptives.
11. Try passionflower tincture
Sneak away from the stressful circus of visiting relatives to sip a calming cup of passionflower tea. Naturopaths and herbalists use passionflower – a purple, star-shaped plant native to South America – as a nonaddictive relaxant, nerve tonic and sleep aid, says Swetlikoff. If you can't take it – and you shouldn't if you use other sleep aids – try a calcium-magnesium supplement before bed. "They're very calming to the central nervous system," he says. Passionflower tincture or tea is widely available in health food stores.
12. Make your home a spa
Can't afford the time or money for a stress-relieving spa getaway? Turn your bedroom into the kind of place you'd love to visit, says psychologist Tim Lowenstein, head of the Oregon-based Conscious Living Foundation. "Our family does this regularly at home," he says. "First, we lock the door and we don't answer the phone. We put on classical music and massage each other. We exfoliate our feet and hands. We take long, relaxing baths and watch a movie while sipping on Champagne. We meditate and pamper ourselves. There are no arguments, no pressure and, best of all, no schedule!"
Worried about falling off of your exercise schedule over the holidays? Read about how to stay active this holiday season.
This story was originally titled "12 Ways to Stay Healthy this Christmas," in the December 2007 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!