By irene maslowski
The holiday season is a joyous time of year, but it can also be stressful, exhausting and dangerous to your health.  All the cooking, cleaning, shopping, decorating and entertaining can impact an individual’s physical and emotional well-being and lead to injury or illness.
            “The demands of the season can be overwhelming and people often ignore their health and safety in their efforts to get everything done,” said Bruce Pomeranz, M.D., Medical Director and Chief Quality Officer, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (http://www.kessler-rehab.com/patient center/staff/DoctorDetails.aspx?ID=23). “The work and expectations we put on ourselves can cause stress, headaches and irritability.  And overexertion, overeating and just overdoing it can make us more susceptible to colds and flu, as well as strains, pains and injuries.”
            To maximize the joys of the holidays and minimize the risks of illness and injury, clinical experts from Kessler Institute (www.kessler-rehab.com), a leader in the field of medical rehabilitation, offer the following tips:
Don’t Shop ‘til You Drop
Holiday shopping can hurt more than your wallet, says Mark Brinn, P.T., director of Kessler’s outpatient rehabilitation services. “Lifting and carrying all those packages can easily lead to aches, pains and strains of the shoulder, neck and upper and lower back.”
·      Distribute the weight of shopping bags between both hands. Pick up heavier packages by bending your knees and lifting with your legs, not your back.
·      Take advantage of package holding areas, home delivery and other customer services stores may offer … or consider shopping online.
·      Shopping is a “sport,” so be sure to stretch before you hit the mall or market, take breaks and stay hydrated.
Find Some Elves to Help
Falls account for 12% of seasonal emergency room visits, and 43% are related to falls from ladders according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “In the rush to get everything done, people take short-cuts or try to do too much by themselves,” says Brinn. “The best advice is to ask for help.”
·      Don’t move furniture, large boxes or other heavy items by yourself. Enlist family, friends or neighbors to lend a hand.
·      Use a sturdy ladder when reaching for high shelves or the top of the tree and have someone hold it in place. 
·      Remove clutter, including toys, pet supplies and throw rugs; tape down wires; and wipe spills and wet floors immediately to help avoid slips, trips and falls,
Indulge in Moderation
Whether entertaining at home or going to holiday parties, it’s hard to avoid the many treats and temptations of the season. Jackie Waldron, a registered dietitian at Kessler, says that by planning ahead and following some basic nutritional guidelines, you can maintain a healthier diet and prevent weight gain.
·      Limit salt, sugar and alcohol intake. Consider serving nuts and dried fruit or hummus and pita bread instead of candy, chips and dips. Substitute honey, agave nectar or a little bit of sugar substitute for white sugars.  Use citrus or fresh herbs, like thyme or cilantro, or spices to add flavor without adding salt to savory dishes.
·      Watch portion size and eat slowly to avoid overeating. Don’t skip meals as you’ll likely wind up eating more or grabbing fast foods.
·      Allow yourself a small splurge or two, so you won’t feel deprived.
Stay Connected
 While the holiday season may be the favorite time of year for many people, others find it emotionally overwhelming.  According to Kessler psychologist Monique Tremaine, Ph.D., “Many people put too much pressure on themselves, trying to find the perfect gift or host the perfect party. In addition, the holidays can evoke memories and feelings of loss and loneliness, which can lead to a lack of interest in seasonal activities, mood swings, changes in sleeping and eating habits and depression.”
·      Be realistic; no one can do everything. Set reasonable goals and expectations for yourself and others. Enlist the help of family, friends and neighbors.
·      Have a sense of purpose.  Plan to spend time with family or friends if possible, or consider volunteering at a shelter, food bank or other community organization. 
·      Acknowledge your emotions, talk about them with close family or friends, and seek professional help if these feelings of sadness or depression persist.
One final recommendation from the experts at Kessler Institute:  Get some exercise!  Whether you take a walk, go to the gym, or even go dancing, exercise is excellent way to relieve tension, re-energize your spirit and help to burn some of those extra calories from holiday sweets.
Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation is nationally recognized for the treatment and research of both spinal cord and brain injuries and also leads the field in the care and treatment for stroke, neurological diseases, amputation, orthopedic and musculoskeletal conditions and cardiac recovery.  Ranked as one of the top two rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and best in the greater New York/New Jersey metropolitan area by U.S.News & World Report, Kessler has three hospital campuses in West Orange, Saddle Brook and Chester, N.J., and more than 85 outpatient centers throughout the state.  For more information, visit www.kessler-rehab.com.