During the holiday season, many of us have a lot to get accomplished in a short time. With those responsibilities comes a mixed bag of emotions.
Personally, I am filled with the memories of holidays past which remind me of good times, but then the grief sets in as I remember those who are no longer here to share them. Then there’s the stress of hosting extended family, deciding what to cook, overindulging in all the festive sweets and drinks, choosing and paying for gifts, and if I’m lucky, taking care of my own needs so I can show up with kindness and presence when it matters most. I know I’m not alone in this kind of chaos!
The holiday season is often accompanied by stress, anxiety, loneliness, and angst, which leads us to behave in ways we may regret or judge ourselves for later on. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that nearly half of all women in the United States experience heightened stress during the holidays, which puts their health at risk. The APA also found that 41-percent of women stress eat and 28-percent use alcohol to cope with seasonal demands. Those are pretty staggering numbers!
But there are a few strategies you can take to prepare yourself for this seasonal overwhelm. Effective relaxation and self-love techniques, as well as positive self-talk, are tools to fend off those unfortunate holiday trademarks like binging, overloading on alcohol, and arguments with loved ones.
To help you have a happy and healthy season, I’ve put together eight tips to help you manage holiday stress. Try some or try them all – you will see returns on any and all investments you put into self-care.
1. Get Outside!
The lack of sun exposure in the winter months diminishes our body’s ability to create Vitamin D. Often called “the sunshine vitamin,” several studies confirm a strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and negative psychological effects like negative mood and exacerbated symptoms of depression.
If you have low vitamin D levels, you may feel symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder such as fatigue, mild depression, and lower energy. Getting outdoors, moving your body, and letting that sun kiss your cheeks can boost your mood and help you enjoy the beauty of the season.
So bundle up, walk that dog, do some shopping, take the kids sledding, tackle a winter hike (safely) – whatever helps you get out and about during these days of little sunlight will help regulate your body and enhance your mood.
2. Soothe Your Nervous System: Breathe
When you feel tension, anxiety, or any other negative emotion building up, respond by taking long, slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Slowing down the breath speaks to the parasympathetic nervous system and tells your brain and body that you’re safe, and that it’s ok to release tension. The great thing about deep breathing is that you can practice it anywhere, at any moment.
To take it a step further, try adding a short breathwork session into your daily routine, or even just a few times a week. Developing a breathing practice helps regulate your stress response and increases your overall sense of wellbeing. We have several routines you can try on our Facebook page.
3. Eat Real Foods
What you eat has a direct effect on your mood and energy. To be your most energetic, focused, and happy self, it’s best to fuel with foods that grow on trees or on the ground (vegetables and fruits) and to choose healthy fats (such as olive oil and flax seeds), lean protein (such as fish and organic chicken) and legumes, nuts, and seeds.
It’s not about restriction – you don’t need to completely swear off those special treats that thrill the senses and make the season so festive. Just make sure that you’re getting plenty of nourishment from real food first.
4. Connect with Others – Don’t Isolate
Loneliness is a common feeling over the holidays because there’s an expectation to be celebrating with others. That is not realistic all the time. When you need space, honor your needs and enjoy quiet time alone. But try to retain balance.
Too much isolation can contribute to depression. If you find time for the people you enjoy being around, they will give you energy (not deplete it, as some people in our lives do). You don’t need to do over-the-top holiday activities. Even a morning walk with a friend or pet can improve your mood and mindset.
5. Set Boundaries; Learn to Say No
Telling others what you are okay with and what you’re not okay with can be a total game-changer. This is especially true when you’re around family or other people from the past, who may push you into old roles you’ve outgrown. Setting appropriate boundaries trains others to treat you with respect.
And then there’s the Inner Perfectionist, that little subconscious voice telling us we need to cross everything off the list. Examine that self-criticism and see if you’re saying “yes” to responsibilities simply because you feel like you should. You don’t need to show up for every party, event, or gift exchange.
6. Practice Self-Compassion
Take breaks throughout the day to give yourself some credit. This can be a challenging time of year and you’re doing the best you can. Show some kindness to yourself with a simple gesture: place your hand over your heart and breathe deeply. It helps override anxiety-inducing tendencies like self-judgment and comparing yourself to others.
7. Prioritize Sleep
The more rest you get, the better prepared you will be for the next day. If you have a busy season ahead, keep your stress low, your immunity high, and energy levels stable through plenty of rest and daily hydration. 7-9 hours of sleep is the recommendation. Believe it or not, ample sleep can also be a great defense against overeating.
8. Honor Loved Ones
The magic of this season is often rooted in nostalgia for childhood or the remembrance of loved ones. This can bring up painful feelings. If you have lost loved ones, don’t try to suffocate your grief. Honor them through old traditions like burning a candle, or reach out and share a story about them. Remembering that grief is a natural part of life. Take sweet care of your heart when you reflect on these memories.