Faculty experts' gift: Tips for the holidays

A photo of a crowded shopping mall.

Shopping trips to crowded malls are a familiar -- and often stressful -- part of the holiday season.

With the holidays in full swing, people across the U.S. and the world are buying gifts, gearing up for some big-time travel and preparing for bountiful feasts. While the end of the year brings celebrations, it can also bring stress and anxiety. Below, San Francisco State University faculty share some tips and seasonal advice.


Just S.T.O.P.  

The holiday season can be very stressful, with triggers ranging from flying or driving during peak travel times to concerns about finances, or spending time with family members who know exactly which buttons to push.   

Adam Burke, professor of health education at SF State's Institute for Holistic Health Studies, provides a simple tip in the form of an acronym -- S.T.O.P., for stop, take a breath, orient and press on! It is easy to remember and can help everyone maintain a positive and healthy holiday spirit.  

"When you feel yourself getting out of balance, then just stop," Burke said. "Take several slow, deep breaths, raising your shoulders and filling the chest." Next, he advises, "Orient." As you stop and breathe deeply, ask yourself "Where am I right now?" Burke suggests that you answer that question literally and look for the positive amid the chaos, such as an enjoyable song playing in the mall as you wait in a long line. Once you reconnect with the moment, with your own sense of what is good, then press on with whatever needs to happen next, Burke said.

Above all, "Be patient, with self and others," he said. "We cannot control other people's emotions or behaviors, but we can control our own." 


Think like a "sport shopper"

New research from SF State marketing professors Kathy O'Donnell and Judi Strebel has identified a new type of consumer: the "sport shopper," for whom bargain shopping is akin to an athletic competition in that these shoppers perceive it as an achievement domain.

"Sport shoppers are the kind of shoppers who, even when they have the resources to pay full price, derive no pleasure from doing so,“ said O'Donnell, who is also the associate dean of the College of Business. "These are shoppers who take great pride in their ability to get the things they want at a discount. So it's not about spending the least, it's about saving the most.”

To help get an advantage during your next trip to the mall, O'Donnell suggests training ahead of time: Familiarize yourself with the store's inventory through store and online visits, comparison shop online and pay attention to those days of the week when stores offer their best discounts. She also suggests that those who are frequent shoppers of a particular store sign up for the store's credit card in order to accumulate rewards points.


Plan ahead for the holiday meal

In advance of the big holiday feast, think ahead and try to incorporate vegetables into your meals so you don't arrive at the dinner table already feeling full, says Gretchen George, an assistant professor of consumer and family studies/dietetics and registered dietician. Something else to keep in mind? Water.

"Hydration is huge during the holidays because often we'll think we're hungry when we're not and we'll pass by the plate of cookies or whatever it might be, when really we just need a nice big glass of water," George said. "Especially when you've been eating a lot, you feel more hungry but it's often dehydration."

She also suggests making vegetables or other healthy portions of the meal your main course and adding the other dishes on the side, versus the other way around. "So I might do a big salad and then add my turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce on the side."


Dashing through the … campus

Susan G. Zieff, professor of kinesiology and director of SF State's Active Living across the Lifespan Research Group, said keeping a physical activity routine during the holidays is a good strategy for maintaining emotional and physical balance. 

"If parties and other social events are scheduled in the evenings, try to switch to a morning routine," she said.

As we approach the holiday break, "Walking meetings, lunchtime walks and stairway climbing are effective ways to maintain a healthy body when schedules become impacted," she advised.

Zieff said another tactic to keep your workouts interesting is asking a friend or workmate to walk and share support for keeping active. "Use the campus pathways and enjoy the physical environment while gaining a much-needed break from offices and classrooms," she added.