It's the most wonderful time of the year—until it isn't. Here's how to troubleshoot sniffles, holiday stress, and other winter woes before they sap your spirit.
It seems to happen every December: Just as we're cruising into the heart of the holiday season, the universe conspires against us. The cold bug strikes. Stress levels spike. You're hit with a case of the winter blues. Humbug!
Because no amount of careful planning seems to let you completely sidestep these problems, Better Homes & Gardens® reached out to health and safety experts for their best on-the-spot fixes. Follow their advice, and you'll be back to your merry self in no time.
Problem: You feel a cold coming on. That is, you and roughly 31 million other Americans. The Gallup organization reports that on any given day in December, about 10 percent of the population has an upper-respiratory bug. There isn't a cure for the common cold just yet, but there is a tasty way to keep it from getting the best of you: Slurp chicken soup.
Research suggests that compounds in the broth—canned and homemade alike—quiet the activity of neutrophils, immune cells that contribute to inflammatory symptoms such as body aches, says Philip Hagen, M.D., medical editor of the Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies (Oxmoor House). A few extra ingredients can help you get even more bang from your bowl:
Problem: Your family feast becomes a stress fest. Put all your relatives—and their range of personalities—in one room, and tensions can quickly mount. Etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, author of Poised for Success (St. Martin's Press), shares her peacekeeping strategies:
Problem: A long line sends your blood pressure soaring. At busy stores, waiting to pay creates more stress than cluttered aisles and aggressive crowds, according to a 2011 study of Black Friday shoppers. Long lines are particularly frustrating because they put you at the mercy of the store, says Richard Larson, Ph.D., an engineer at MIT who specializes in queuing psychology.
Follow his feel-good advice next time you're trapped:
Problem: You're forced to drive on a slick road. Ideally, you'd spend every snowy day curled up by the fireplace. But some commitments can't wait for fair weather.
When you must steer through snow or sleet, remember: "Your tires have a limited amount of grip available to do three things: accelerate, slow down, and turn," says Mark Cox, director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. "In poor travel conditions, don't expect them to do more than one of those things at once."
Here's how to navigate safely:
Problem: A major meal brings on heartburn. At holiday gatherings, you can expect rich food, cocktails, coffee—and a serious case of acid reflux if you sample all the offerings.
Unless your host is handing out antacid, keep these fast-acting fixes in mind:
Problem: You're hit with the holiday blues. Ever get the feeling that "joy to the world" applies to everyone but you? Take heart: About half of women find themselves feeling down in December, says Krystine Batcho, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York.
Restore your joy by rooting out the cause:
Problem: During a flight, your back starts killing you. Combine cramped seating, the stress of traffic and airport delays, and disruptions to your workout schedule, and your back can take a beating when you travel.
David Van Daff, vice president of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, offers a relief plan:
Problem: You burn yourself while cooking. Yowch. While pulling gingerbread cookies from the oven, you bump your forearm on a hot rack and suffer a painful burn.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Penn State College of Medicine, says some great first-degree burn remedies are within reach (along with a few duds to avoid):
Try it: Water. Cool H2O eases pain by halting the burning process and quelling skin inflammation. Hold the affected area under cool running water for at least a few minutes, or fill a clean bowl with water and submerge the skin.
Skip it: Butter. It's long been touted as a healing salve, but when left on a wound, it can promote bacterial growth and lead to infection. Ditto for other creamy animal products, such as yogurt and mayonnaise.
Try it: Black tea. The tannic acid in this brew might not sound soothing, but in fact, it's a potent anti-inflammatory. Place three bags of black tea in a small bowl and cover with cool water. Steep until water begins to darken, then dab on the liquid with a clean cloth.
Skip it: Ice. Don't be fooled by its numbing effect. After a few seconds, freezing temperatures only cause additional damage to injured skin.
Try it: White vinegar. Mixed with an equal amount of water, it's a gentle antiseptic that can help ward off infection. Pour the mixture over the burn and allow skin to dry.
Note: After treating the burn, cover the area loosely with a sterile gauze bandage. If your burn is larger than 3 inches in diameter or comes with severe swelling, pain, discoloration, or blistering, call your doctor ASAP.