The holiday season is upon us — bringing with it a sleigh-full of stress if you’re not prepared. The modern scourge of ‘too much to do’ and ‘too little time to do it’ really comes to a head in December, pushing physical and emotional health to the limit. Holiday parties, family obligations, work commitments, gift-giving, and not-so healthy food create the perfect storm of stress.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The holiday season can be one of serenity, calm and even a little joy if you play your cards right.
So, are you up for a game of holiday pushback? Here are a few tips that will help keep you on an even physical and mental keel for the next few weeks — and well beyond:
1. Keep Immunity Strong
A less-than-stellar diet, too many alcoholic beverages, too much partying, and not enough sleep – yes, December is a social marathon. It’s also a physical one, so you’d be wise to prep for it so you’re still standing by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around. Here are some simple ways to keep your immunity humming:
- Lay off sugar, alcohol, and junk food. Eat as cleanly as possible in between holiday events, and choose party foods wisely to help keep the bad bacteria in your gut from overwhelming the good — and weakening your immune system’s defenses.
- Start the day with a smoothie. Even if your diet goes south later on, a morning smoothie packed with healthy fats and protein will lay a good foundation for your day.
- Eat your greens all day. Put breakfast eggs on a bed of greens, eat a collard green wrap for lunch, and be sure to eat a side (or three!) of broccoli with your dinner. Eating greens helps feed your good gut bacteria the fiber and nutrients they — and your immune system — thrive on.
- Keep digestion on an even keel. Don’t forget daily digestive enzymes and a good probiotic. If things get slow, add some magnesium to help ease constipation.
- Sip on a green drink. When whole food greens aren’t within easy reach, shake up a green drink to boost the energy and supplemental nutrients you may be falling short on amidst the holiday whirl.
- Take a sauna, hot bath, or even a nap. All will help to de-stress and relax muscles and blood vessels, which is helpful for keeping defenses high.
- Get your beauty rest. Ever notice how a few days of too little sleep is usually followed by a cold or worse? During the holidays, getting enough sleep will help keep your immune system in germ-fighting form.
2. Chill Out Early and Often
When faced with a month of nonstop holiday activities and a to-do list as long as Santa’s, stress can easily bubble over — so tame it before you blow a gasket. Before your day gets underway, do your best to calm, center, and soothe yourself. Start with 5 to 10 minutes of silent or guided meditation. Next, do some energizing yoga stretches to power up for the day. Even if a few sun salutations are all you can muster, they’re great for boosting concentration and focus and taming anxiety and stress. At the end of the day, if you’re feeling wound up or over-revved, add some relaxing restorative yoga. Overwhelmed in the middle of the day? Hit the pause button: Find a quiet spot, and do some slow, deep breathing to help relieve tension, quiet the mind, and help lower your blood pressure.
3. Dial Down the ‘Perfect Holiday’ Mindset
Hosts everywhere expend a lot of energy trying to make holiday gatherings ‘perfect’ (you know who you are). All that perfectionism can actually cast a pall on the occasion, ratcheting up tension and triggering short fuses. If you’re hosting, ease the pressure. Start by reframing the day in your mind. Think of it as simply time spent with those you love (and perhaps a few relatives you may not), with a nice meal somewhere in the middle of it, rather than a once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza. As I’ve said before, nobody will remember the overdone Brussels sprouts, but guests won’t soon forget a holiday host meltdown.
4. Be a Graciously Healthy Guest
When your hosts are handling the cooking, you are at their culinary mercy and chances are, the typical holiday spread will feature loads of dietary landmines — think refined carbs, sugar, and gluten — which can be stressful for anyone who is trying to stay on a healthy eating path. But, rather than passing your stress onto your hosts by calling attention to your dietary needs in the middle of dinner, ask in advance if you can contribute a dish or salad. If the host declines your offer, then dine defensively and eat a healthy meal or nutritious smoothie before you head out for the night.
5. Cut Yourself Some Slack
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is the gift of ‘no.’ It’s not always easy to say, but if you want to put the brakes on holiday stress, being able to gently and graciously turn down invitations (particularly the last-minute ones) and extra responsibilities is essential. Overbooking boosts our seasonal stress levels and our total load – which, of course, has a negative impact on immunity. Pencil in a few nights off for yourself and enjoy a little forced downtime.
6. Practice Ubuntu
Though you may be feeling harried as you go about your holiday activities, remember to practice ‘Ubuntu,’ or humanity and kindness towards others, along the way. Creating moments of positive connection with others, no matter how small, helps spreads joy, lifts spirits, and brings us all closer together. So even if someone cuts you off at the checkout line, return fire with Ubuntu to disarm, de-escalate, and shift emotions in a more positive direction. As Bishop Tutu says, “my humanity is caught up in your humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced, mine is enhanced as well.” It’s a good lesson to keep in mind all year long.