Taking care of your health is one of the best gifts you can give yourself this holiday season, a medical expert suggests.

“This festive time of year can be a lot of fun, but may also hurt our mental and physical health,” said Dr. Joseph Cooke, chairman of the department of medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens hospital.

“When we’re stressed or in a rush, it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves. To have a happy and healthy holiday season, we should all take a few moments to pause, and be mindful of what our body and mind are telling us,” he added in a hospital news release.

It’s important to set realistic expectations and goals. Say no to social activities, chores and events when you need to, and be sure your priority is on you, your family and your health.

Holiday parties and shopping can expose you to illness-causing germs. Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you or wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap.

Be sure to drink plenty of water. Dehydration can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to feelings of anxiety, exhaustion and irritability, according to Cooke.

Be active. Try to get at least 30 minutes of outdoor activity every day. For example, go for a run, take a walk with your family, or go ice skating.

It’s OK to indulge in some holiday treats, but try to maintain a healthy diet most of the time. For snacks, focus on nutritious items like fresh fruits and vegetables, Cooke said.

Find time to rest and relax to reduce stress and keep your immune system strong. Have an herbal tea, meditate or read a book to wind down. And try to get eight hours of sleep each night.

Tell family and friends that you’re grateful for having them in your life. Expressing gratitude can improve positive feelings, fight depression and strengthen relationships, Cooke said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers holiday health and safety tips.