The Doctor's Corner: Fighting holiday blues and bulges

I am pleased to announce that I will have a recurring column in the Coastline Pilot and Daily Pilot. Your feedback is welcome. My goal is to grapple with relevant health topics, which will be interwoven with the colors of local personalities, enterprises and culture — a sort of Southland medical and social tour of my own creation.

With Thanksgiving under our belts (literally), discussion of maintenance of health in body and mind through the remaining holiday season is in order. I chose to tap into some of my favorite locals for their advice and coping strategies.

Last weekend, I rambled through the magical feel-good place that's one of my favorite Laguna institutions throughout the years — the Sawdust Festival's Winter Fantasy — with my friend Amy. According to the participating artists, exhibiting there is a sure antidote for holiday blahs. Plus, its location in beautiful Laguna Canyon is awe-inspiring.

Patty Jo Kiraly, a 27-year participant with lovely jewelry designs, was her usual affable self, sporting a festive plaid holiday vest straight from London. Her simple advice to watch the waistline: "Stop eating before you're full."

Gary Spellman, an eight-year exhibitor of heart-warming, retro mixed-media and oils, gets caught up in the work of the Winter Fantasy from mid-September until the first of the year. It is his substitute for the "gray-out" escape holiday behaviors of some, such as alcohol abuse or compulsive shopping. The festival helps keep him jaunty and creative.

Patrick and Christine Sullivan, second-year Sawdust artisans, don't have time to get the blues or bulges. When creating jewelry and hand-knitted items, they enjoy reacquainting themselves with tots from last year whose parents return to show off the wee ones and get fuzzy, warm hats in bigger sizes. This darling couple, married 45 years, is so happily sated with holiday glow from the festival buzz that they get too tired to eat.

Brynne Cogorno, creator of eco-friendly, hand-printed notes and T-shirts, usually has mild seasonal depression as darkness deepens. Selling at the Winter Fantasy for the first year has perked her up. She is heartwarmed by the addition of twinkle lights and a driftwood holiday tree (a gift from mom) to her busy home work space.

To keep a smile in her heart, this resourceful young woman thinks of five new things for which to be grateful, or five funny experiences, as she's going to sleep. With work beckoning, she kept Thanksgiving simple and didn't travel.

While alcohol doesn't attract her, she loves desserts. This slim, industrious artist eats healthy homemade soups, works out, does yoga, hikes and sees friends to keep her holiday equanimity, in between work stints in the canyon. Visit http://www.backwardprints.com for more information.

You can still get to the Sawdust Winter Fantasy in Laguna Canyon from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. this weekend and Dec. 9-11. For more information, visit http://www.sawdustartfestival.org or call (949) 494-3030.

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Check out a lovely sanctuary created by Hollee Neff at her Difusion Therapeutic Massage studio, newly nestled into the space where my girls had their orthodontia at the quiet but central corner of Mermaid Street and Second Avenue in downtown Laguna.

Neff unleashes her energy on clients, creating awareness and empowerment, and alleviating fear, pain and stress, which is sure to fight holiday doldrums.

She advises us to "eat a big salad" before attending a calorically challenging holiday party. Focus on positive relationships: "The friends and family are your dessert," she says.

She continues, "Water down a drink or sip on a glass of soda. Get a little plate and nibble while you mostly push the food around."

Neff facilitates resolution of problems to promote peace, a welcome adjunct in our end-of-the-year taking stock of our lives. She can be reached at (949) 439-6175.

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Now, let's get input from Dr. Deborah Hendlin. She and her hubby, Dr. Steven, both psychologists practicing in Newport Beach, wrote about holiday woes more than 20 years ago. Funny, the Internet connections and frenzied multimedia stimuli may be different, but the human elements are the same.

Here are their suggestions from 25 years of practice for avoiding the inexorable holiday spiral of anxiety, depression and belly fat:

Have realistic expectations. Let go. Be in the moment. Especially relevant with many strained wallets, keep your holiday spending within your means. Recognize that there will be inevitable family challenges, such as division of time with divorce, unresolved dynamics, and the tension of choosing between loneliness and diving headlong into family messes. Find the magic in simple holiday delights such as seasonal lights, music, baking and hearing from old friends. Don't idealize the past, as this leads to depression.

In the realm of self-care, the psychologists admonish us to moderate our alcohol and food consumption, and to guard our sleep hygiene.

About the year-end report card, Deborah Hendlin opines that while it is good to review our goals, we should be gentle on ourselves. Don't get into a psychological tailspin when grandiose expectations are silhouetted in the glaring headlights of harsh reality.

I, for one, am wearing my too-tight pants to an upcoming holiday party that always offers a sumptuous dessert smorgasbord, in hopes of stifling my overactive sweet tooth.

May we all land on Jan. 2 in better shape than today, invigorated by reconnections, new connections, and the beauty and shalom of the 2011 holidays.

Dr. JANE BENING is a board-certified gynecologist who for 20 years has had a private practice in Newport Beach, and has lived in Laguna Beach. She can be reached at her office at (949) 720-0206 or at ask@drjanebening.com.

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