Many people look forward to the holiday season to take time off from work, spend time with friends and family and often enjoy a winter vacation. While for many people it can be a joyful time, it can also be stressful, anxiety ridden and an opportunity to catch a cold or flu virus. While time off from work may increase, so does holiday stress when shopping to find that perfect gift for your loved one, attending end of the year social gatherings and entertaining friends and family.
The American Psychological Association says that 8 out of 10 people actually anticipate increased stress over the holidays. An increase in stress can often lead to anxiety, depression and a lowered immune system making you susceptible to more significant health problems over the year. While there may be many things to look forward to this holiday season, holiday stress is something that can be minimized so that you can stay healthy during this special time of year.
Exercise prevents holiday stress
One of the benefits to exercise is that it keeps your immune system strong throughout flu season if done regularly. Exercise, or any physical activity, creates endorphins in your brain which produce positive feelings in the body, reduce stress and keep your mood elevated. Even just 30 minutes three times a week could provide a great buffer to holiday stress and give you an advantage when dealing with family. Consider taking a walk at lunch or after dinner, engaging in winter sports or attending a yoga class with a friend.
Sleep is a necessity
It may seem that your “To Do” list is getting bigger and bigger as you try to manage work, shopping and events with loved ones this month. And while sleep may often seem like a luxury, it really is a necessity to keeping your body healthy and your mind elevated this holiday season. Consider getting on a strict sleep schedule even just for the month of December to give you more energy to accomplish everything that needs to get done before the holidays. Start going to bed an hour earlier each night, turn off computers an hour before bed and stop drinking caffeine after 3pm. These tips will help your body adjust to a healthier sleep schedule. The more sleep you give your body the easier it is for your immune system to fight off any potential colds.
Eat healthy during the holidays
Let’s face it, December means more parties and more opportunities to binge on decadent sugary treats. It’s too easy to fall into that trap of eating that huge piece of chocolate cake when everyone around you is also partaking and there are so many deserts available at each holiday party. But the opportunity cost of not denying sugar laden foods is significant. Sugar raises insulin levels which activate the sympathetic nervous system which can cause anxiety and depression. Sugar also triggers the production of cortisol which can disturb your sleep and put your immune system on high alert. Try cutting out sugar just for a few days and see what kind of effect no sugar has on your mood. Do you notice less ups and downs? If going through sugar withdrawal during the holidays sounds like just too much, consider only a bite or two of dessert at holiday events rather than the whole piece of cake. This will limit the amount of sugar your body has to process and prevent your immune system from crashing.
Find your happy place
The holidays tend to be an emotional time for everyone. Whether you are experiencing loneliness by being separated from your family or you are having to spend too much time in close quarters with your family, deep seated issues and emotions tend to arise during the holidays. It’s a great time to cultivate more awareness of patterns and habits that keep your mood low throughout the year. Consider starting a meditation practice over the next few weeks. If that seems intimidating, just commit 10 minutes a day to sitting quietly and calming your mind. Increase that over the weeks to 20-30 minutes. If that feels like too much time, then break it up throughout the day. Take 10 minutes before breakfast, 10 minutes after lunch and 10 minutes after dinner. Scheduling these small mental health breaks for yourself throughout the day will create a buffer between you and the negativities in the world. It will give you more time to consider rather than react when someone is triggering you. This is a great tool to cope with family holiday stress and boost your immune system year round.
Set boundaries and pick your battles
With so many events, errands, and social responsibilities, December can be one of the busiest months. It’s important to be realistic as to what you can accomplish each week as there are only 24 hours in each day. Choose only social gatherings that you must and want to attend. Start practicing saying the word “No” to events, people and activities that are not actively supporting your well being this month. This positive process can even extend throughout the year. Being around family for long periods of time can bring up many differences so it’s important to set clear boundaries and decide what is worth addressing and what is not. If you can learn to “agree to disagree”, you’ll find your holidays will go much smoother. You’ll find that your anxiety and tension will decrease if you can learn to let go and not be impacted by other people’s opinions. The holiday season is a great time to practice this stress reducing tool.
Make self-care a priority this December to keep your mood elevated and your immune system strong enough to fight off any winter colds. By integrating these tips into your daily life, you can make the most of the holiday season and prevent any holiday stress this year.