Suicide prevention, mental and physical fitness tips for winter holiday season

While for many the holidays are a time to gather and celebrate with family and friends, for Military families it can be a particularly difficult time of year due to loneliness and separation from loved ones caused by deployments, training or other assignments.

Though the hustle and bustle of the season often distracts Service members and gives them activities and events to look forward to, the Army reports that suicides can spikein January and February, as the excitement of the holidays dies down.

Many Service members carry on with family traditions, even when they are deployed, to help combat feelings of loneliness or depression during the winter holiday season. Photo courtesy of

In an article published by the Army, Emilee Owens, suicide prevention program managerat Fort Bragg, recommended staying involved in activities on post as one effective way to combat the holiday blues. Deployed Service members also sometimes plan gift exchanges or special holiday meals to foster an increased sense of home and camaraderie during the holidays they spend away from family.

In addition everyone, whether they are separated from their loved ones during the holidays or not, can benefit from physical activity and mental stimulation during the long, cold winter months. Here are some fitness tips to help you stay healthy and happy during the winter holidays.

1. Find ways to increase your activity and movement.

Find every imaginable way to increase your activity, even if it seems silly — it keeps your mindset focused in the right direction. One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories, so that means a 200-pound person walking three miles per day even at a moderate pace for one week can burn about 2,300 calories.

So park further away from your office, always take the stairs, carry your purchases instead of using a shopping cart, if possible, and turn your house cleaning into pumped up aerobic activity. Dance, skip and hop while you vacuum! Flying somewhere? Take a jog around the airport. Driving a long distance? Use a gas or food break to take a vigorous, 100 steps per minute walk for ten minutes.

2. Party and eat healthy and smart.

Plan your eating before you go out and stick to your plan. That means eating more fruit, more protein and less refined carbs. If you go through a buffet line, be sure to choose fresh veggies, lean meats and other lower calorie goodies. While the stores are filled with delicious treats, avoid the temptation at home and leave those chocolate covered popcorn bags in the store. Whatever else you do, be a dessert splitter. Those cupcakes are going to look great. Don’t deprive yourself though. Allow yourself one small serving of your favorite treat and be as mindful as possible as you savor the look, taste and aroma of whatever it is that you “must have.”

3. Sleep.

You may be busier than ever, but getting enough sleep is essential for keeping your stress hormones in check and your weight from creeping up. In fact, lack of sleep can affect hormones so much that your body may actually store extra fat when things get stressful. Do everything you can to create a bedtime ritual that helps you unwind and relax — try a light stretching workout, take a hot bath, read something soothing or have some herbal tea. And don’t be afraid to take a power nap during the day if you’re not getting enough sleep at night.

4. Drink more water.

Being dehydrated zaps your energy and makes it difficult to concentrate. Being thirsty can even make you feel hungry, causing you to eat more than you normally would. Try and carry a water bottle with you all day long. You can also drink herbal teas and eat fruits and vegetables, which will also contribute to your hydration. And, if you drink alcohol, try having a glass of water between each drink to keep you sober and hydrated.

5. Reward yourself.

When the holidays are over, reward yourself for a job well done. There’s always a little let down when the holidays end, so pick yourself up with a little self-care to get your mind and body relaxed and ready for the New Year.

Fort Bragg’s Owens also encourages Service members to reach out to support networks including Recovery Care Coordinators, AW2 Advocates, family life consultants, chaplains and “battle buddies” during the holidays, especially if they are feeling depressed or like they might hurt themselves.

Commanders, family members and fellow Service members should also be on the lookout for warning signs of suicidal behavior, including changes in eating and sleeping patterns, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, lessened interest in activities, lessened energy or increased fatigue, the person isolating himself or herself, thoughts of suicide or other general changes in behavior like a loved one not acting like himself or herself.