The countdown to the holiday season has started, and while most of us look forward to enjoying the festivities, heightened demands and the pressure to “do it all” often bring unwelcome stress.
“Shopping, baking, parties and taking care of your family can throw you into a dizzying whirl of activity that can wreak havoc on your health and emotional well-being,” says Allison Theberge, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Eastlake.
“However, it doesn’t have to be that way this year. Instead of running yourself ragged, take a deep breath, slow down and try these practical tips to minimize stress and enjoy the fun,” she says.
To help manage stress and make it a truly enjoyable season, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Feel free to say no
One of the first steps toward dealing with holiday stress is realizing that it is not unusual.
“Try to manage your expectations of the season,” says Dr. Theberge. “Usually, with some planning and thoughtful scheduling, you can enjoy the holidays with peace and joy.”
Don’t overbook yourself. Fitting in family obligations, school holiday events and finding the perfect gifts can seem overwhelming on top of an already busy schedule. So, don’t be afraid to say no or ask for extra help when you need it.
“Look at your to-do list and decide what you ‘must‘ do versus ‘want‘ to do,” says Dr. Theberge. “Think about crossing off a few items, so you will have some time to rest and recharge.”
2. Spend time with people you care about
Connecting with family and friends is important, and it doesn’t have to be elaborate or even in person thanks to modern technology.
Have a potluck get-together with neighbors and watch old movies or bake holiday treats with the kids.
Consider decorating the Christmas tree with nostalgic ornaments or eating latkes after lighting the Chanukah menorah. Keeping it simple is easy when you catch up over a cup of your favorite holiday beverage.
3. Eat healthy
Eating healthy may seem like a challenge during holiday celebrations but try to remain mindful while indulging.
“Enjoy the tastes of the season while remembering to include a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains into your meal. Pay attention to how your body feels after eating larger portions or richer foods. Don’t be discouraged if you overdo it for a few days,” says Dr. Theberge. “Remember to drink lots of water and limit alcohol consumption.”
If you feel you won’t be able to cheat only a little, but actually overeat, then take a step back from the buffet table and load up on salads with one or two goodies.
4. Exercise regularly
With all that stress-induced adrenaline running through your body, it’s important to exercise. Get creative — take advantage of any good weather to plan active holiday get-togethers that include walking, hiking or sports.
Exercising regularly will help you stay calm during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
Prolonged physical activity releases endorphins, or brain chemicals that act as natural pain and stress relievers, so your aerobics class is the last thing you should skip.
You might also consider taking time out for stress-reduction techniques, such as yoga and meditation.
5. Get enough sleep
Trying to maintain a hectic holiday schedule can make it challenging to get enough sleep, but those necessary hours of shut eye help you stay alert and have enough energy to enjoy the season.
Talk to your doctor if you’re having trouble sleeping. Sometimes, all it takes is making some simple changes to your lifestyle, such as limiting caffeine or turning off your phone at bedtime, to get better sleep.
6. Acknowledge your feelings
Don’t try to hide sadness or anger or self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Talk about it with a trusted friend or counselor.
Difficult emotions or problems repressed during the year can come to the surface during the holidays. If you notice this happening, seek help from a therapist or counselor.
7. Do something for others
Take time to help a family member or neighbor or spend an hour or two volunteering with a non-profit organization. Helping others can help improve your physical and mental health. Scripps has many volunteering and donating opportunities.