The holidays are a great time to spend with friends and family, eat delightful foods and give and receive. But there's also a downside. The holidays can ring in a host of ills that affect everything from your immune system to your mood. It's the most wonderful time of the year until...

You feel a sniffle coming on.

Americans catch about a billion colds annually and one in five come down with flu at the holidays. Most of us turn to our go-to remedies: chicken soup, vitamin C, sleeping with a humidifier. But here are few new ones to try when you fight your next cold:

  • North American ginseng. A Canadian study found that folks who took North American ginseng came down with fewer colds and had colds with a shortened duration and less severe symptoms. Check with your doctor about taking ginseng because it can have side effects and may react with other medications.
  • Mushrooms. Mushrooms contain immune-stimulating compounds called polysaccharides. One study found that Maitake mushrooms in particular stimulate the body’s immune system against infection.
You’re in a shopping frenzy with all that chaotic mall energy and heavy traffic.

Stress management is about preparation. “The root problem is that we feel we have lost control. To regain immediate control, control your breathing – slow it down by breathing more deeply,” says Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress.”  “This will oxygenate your brain to think more clearly while lowering your blood pressure.” Mandel says focus by doing things with awareness instead of walking around distracted. Listen to upbeat holiday music and sing along. Food and mood correlate highly, so make sure to eat well-balanced meals. “And watch your language,” says Mandel. “Words are powerful activators. If you say that you are ‘crazy busy,’ you will be.”

You wake up with a crick in your neck from sleeping on Grandma’s basement sofa.

Take a hot shower. “This heats up the muscles super quick and is a moist heat, which is better for acute muscle tightness,” says Sara Daly, physical therapist, massage therapist and owner of Waterfalls Day Spa in Middlebury, Vt. Use lotion or oil after the shower and spend five minutes working your trapezius muscles, the muscle from the shoulder to the base of the head. Better yet, have a relative give you a quick rub. Try some gentle neck stretches. “Look up to the ceiling, down to the floor, right, then left. Focus on getting a nice quality to your range of motion, not a more aggressive sport stretch.” Then head out for a walk. Getting your circulation going will move muscle tissue and swinging your arms helps open chest and neck muscles.

You have so much on your mind that you can’t sleep.

Try rice for dinner. Researchers at the University of Sydney found that carbs that quickly raise blood sugar (those with a high gylcemic index, like rice) make you sleepy. A study with 12 healthy men who had no sleep problems were served a meal of rice and veggies one hour before and four hours before bedtime. Those who ate the rice four hours before hitting the sack fell asleep more quicker.

You wake with the hangover from hell (too many spiked eggnogs).

When alcohol is metabolized in the liver, the liver must work overtime to clear it out. This process causes acid production, nausea and vomiting, and a quick rise and fall in blood sugar that contributes to headache and shakiness as well as dehydration. If you know in advance you might overimbibe, load up on vitamin B12 in a good B complex, which helps speed metabolism. Rehydration is important. Drink peppermint tea, tomato juice or hot water with lemon and honey. Lemon stimulates the liver to produce bile, which helps detoxify your system. Finally, pop vitamin C (1000 mg) and evening primrose (2000 mg) to clear alcohol toxins quickly.

You’ve eaten too much you have heartburn.

“Something kind of natural to do for heartburn when you just have a one-off episode of it after a big holiday meal or party is to eat a few tablespoons of Greek yogurt,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD and author of “Doctor's Detox Diet: The Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription.” “The high calcium content will soothe sour tummies.” Try a small cup (4-6 ounces) of warm ginger tea. To make, use either grated ginger root or a commercial ginger (decaffeinated or herbal) tea. And add a second pillow under your head or raise the head of your bed so stomach acid can’t splash upward into the esophagus, causing pain.

You’ve come down with a case of holiday blues.

“Many people overextend themselves, causing unneeded stress which then can turn to fatigue, exhaustion and sometimes mild depression,” says Barbara Neitlich, LCSW, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist. Instead, go into the holidays with realistic expectations. Understanding what may happen regarding family dynamics will help you to feel prepared for whatever the holidays bring. Then carve out time for you. “Self-care is probably the number one defense against the holiday blues.” Don't give up on hobbies, exercise or yoga class because you have to shop. The things that you love are the things that will keep you in balance this holiday season. Neitlich says feeling the loss of loved ones is quite common during the holidays. Don't keep your feelings bottled up inside. Reach out to family and friends (or a professional) to help process difficult feelings.

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