7 Simple Strategies to Reduce Holiday Stress

‘Tis the season to be jolly – or is it? With all the stresses of the season headed towards us like a runaway (toy) train, now’s a good time to take a step back and put together a plan to help navigate the next few weeks so this year you won’t collapse in a stressed-out heap. Here are some thoughts and gentle reminders on how to manage the season, with more joy and less stress:

1. Eat Wisely and Well

As in, yes, even though there are lots of holiday treats on offer, you really do need to think of your body as a temple. Over doing it with big doses of alcohol and sugar will weaken your ability to fight off winter ills at exactly the time your exposure is peaking. So instead of weakening the castle walls, remember to fortify them at every meal, with the goal of keeping optimal levels of nutrients coursing through your veins throughout the season. To do that, start with a morning Smoothie to fill up on good fats, protein and phytonutrients.  Eat or drink plenty of greens, fill up on protein and healthy fats, and snack on low-sugar fruits like blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Eat mindfully and consciously just as you would during the non-holiday season, and always have a healthy snack before going out to parties to cut cravings and limit the temptation to over-indulge. 

2. Be Kind to Your Body – And Give It a Rest

The holidays are a marathon. To finish strong, you’ve got to treat your body in ways that will support health and allow for rest, repair and relaxation. At this time of the year, gift yourself with a weekly body tune-up, be it a massage, steam room session or sauna time at the gym. All will to reduce stress, relax muscles and boost circulation in a quiet, cell phone-free environment, so your brain gets a break too! If you’re short on time, you can also try this DYI massage when you get home at night: dig out a few tennis balls and treat yourself to an ultimate foot massage or try a neck and shoulder release to help soothe aches and release tension. Another simple, stay-healthy tip: don’t cut corners on sleep –it’s a non-negotiable if you plan to stay well through the holidays. If you’re going to be out late frequently, try to arrange it so that at least every other night you’re hitting the hay at close to the usual time. Keeping a somewhat normal schedule will help keep your defenses strong – three or four late nights in a row won’t.

3. Take Your Brain on Vacation

Every day, step off the holiday merry-go-round for a few minutes to quiet your mind and boost well-being to boot. Be it a 5-minute yoga or meditation moment in the morning, a sunny park bench (soak up a little vitamin D!) or a church pew for a few moments in the afternoon or an evening group meditation, turning down the noise in and outside of your head will help keep stress levels from boiling over. To unwind at home, instead of a glass of wine, try doing 15-minutes of Restorative Yoga. Think of it as a vacation for mind and body, and one you can enjoy as often as needed, no reservations required.

4. Move and Groove!

I know it’s tough to stay on an exercise routine during the holidays, but it’s easier if you schedule it like you would any other important event – just block out the time. Exercise is great for stress relief and can help put you in mildly euphoric state when mood and energy starts to flag. Add a great playlist to help carry you along on the treadmill or the bike. You can also keep extra weight at bay, so just do it! Need some extra motivation and a party-like atmosphere? Try a hi-energy Zumba, urban rebounding or spin class to lift your spirits and heart rate. If time is tight, just do a 15 or 20-minute workout to take advantage of the endorphins and the feeling of accomplishment you’ll have earned. On non-gym days, grab someone you love and bond over a brisk walk around the neighborhood after dinner. Too snowy to stroll? Then put on some music and dance around the living room to get in a few minutes of mood-boosting, stress-busting, low-impact cardio. (Anything by Bob Marley is a favorite in my house!)

5. Plot Your Course and Don’t Fear the “No”

The addition of nightly social obligations, holiday cards, gift shopping and giving etc., on top of an already demanding work and family life, can bring out the bah-humbug in even the best of us. My advice for the stressed-out masses? Take several deep breaths and take a long hard look at the next month. Draw up a list of the events and must-dos. Identify what you can jettison, do less elaborately or graciously decline. Set aside nights for festivities and nights off, alternating every other night if possible. By plotting out the month in advance with built-in breaks and time-outs, you’ll be able to maintain more control over the season and have more time to enjoy it. Concerned about hurting feelings when declining invitations? When declining, try to book a date in early January to make good on the holiday no-show. 

6. Know Your Triggers – And Work Around Them

Before the holiday season gets underway, take a few moments to identify what makes you unhappy during the holiday season – and figure out how to restructure the season so the things that get you down are less of a presence. For those who have lost loved ones or perhaps have a few too many toxic relatives, leave town. Sounds extreme but instead of bracing yourself for a rough few days, enjoy them at a spa or meditation retreat to rejuvenate yourself for the new year. If overspending is a problem or money is tight, streamline your holiday gift list and/or agree to not exchange gifts with close friends or family. Simplify by giving gift cards, particularly to teens and college age kids. Give smaller gifts to minimize January remorse, and recognize that the best gifts of all are usually free.

7. Remember Kindness Spreads Joy – So Practice Ubuntu

What’s Ubuntu? It’s a Xhosa concept that means, “I am because you are.” In other words, be conscious of how you treat others and how your behavior impacts theirs – remember, we are all in this life it together. Create brief moments of simple, positive connection with others to spread good feeling that can lift spirits far beyond a single interaction (the opposite is true too, so be aware!). As Bishop Tutu once said, “My humanity is caught up in your humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced mine is enhanced as well,” and to me, that embodies the essence of the holiday season.

For more thoughts on how to manage the holidays and beyond, check out 14 Ways to Stay Sane for the Holidays

Have a healthy and peaceful holiday season.

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