‘Tis the season! As the calendar rolls on, our days become filled with commitments to attend holiday parties and events, gifts to buy and get in the mail, family obligations, cookie exchanges, class parties, and decorating the home to host holiday festivities. When you cross one thing off, another comes out of nowhere. The to-do list seems endless! The pressure to complete these tasks and create the perfect holiday is not only daunting but leads to more stress.
As busy people, we experience stressors daily. Under certain circumstances, limited acute stress can be positive and may help build our immune systems. On the contrary, long-term stress has significant risk factors. The Cleveland Clinic warns that stress can lead to headaches, high blood pressure, digestive issues, dysregulated sleep, anxiety and depression, decreased libido (which no one wants!) and weakened immunity.
As the holiday season approaches, here are seven tips for creating a self-care routine to stay stress-free.
- Work it Out! During the holidays, it is easy to put our exercise regimen on pause. But when times are stressful, maintaining your regular exercise routine is more important than ever. Exercise helps to boost mood by releasing endorphins (aka “happy hormones”), helps manage anxiety and depression, and reduces your risk for cardiovascular events. Exercise can also help keep weight in check and balance the decadent holiday indulgences. The CDC recommends that adults participate in 150 minutes of exercise at a moderate level of intensity per week and two days of strength training. Don’t wait until the new year; stay healthy all year!
- Take a Time-Out. Time-outs are not just for toddlers. We all have our limits, and the holidays are notorious for driving us to the edge – or over it. This holiday, make it a point to become more aware of how you feel. Notice your heart rate, breathing, or that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. When these sensations arise, politely excuse yourself to a quiet place and breathe. Deep breathing can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and restore your sense of peace and calm. For helpful breathing techniques, see my article on Emotional Eating.
- No. For most people, especially women, saying “no” is extremely difficult under normal circumstances. During the holidays, the invitations and responsibilities multiply exponentially. As a result, we tend to overcommit and say yes to things we want to say no to out of a sense of obligation. When we say no, we feel it must be blanketed with reasons. The fact is, we don’t owe anyone an explanation, and “No.” is a complete sentence. When we say yes begrudgingly, we end up feeling miserable during a time when we should be feeling merry and bright. Learning to say “no” can help clear your calendar of things that don’t “fill your cup” and increase your ability to be genuinely present and joyful.
- Presence Over Perfection. Creating the perfect tree and getting the entire family (including the dog) to smile for the perfect family portrait to send out to 500 people on your holiday greeting card list only adds to the stress and steals your joy. Your family would much rather have you present versus a “picture perfect” holiday with a stressed-out, angry, irritable parent. Let go of the idea of perfection in exchange for presence and happy memories that will last a lifetime.
- Talk it Out. Increased stress levels, being away from family, grieving a loss, pressure to create the perfect holiday, and lack of sunlight can influence our moods and lead to increased anxiety and depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people who suffer from a mental illness experience increased symptoms during the holiday season. If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to a licensed professional for help or dial 9-8-8 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
- Sidestep Sugar. Sugar is everywhere between sweet treats and celebratory libations, especially during the holidays. Sugar can lead to weight gain, sleep disruption, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends women limit sugar consumption to 100 calories, which is only 6 teaspoons, or 24g for our nutritional label readers. To put this into perspective, that recommendation equates to about one regular soda, so choose wisely!
- Sweet Slumber. During the holidays, our obligations and commitments can lead to a lack of sleep. For adults, 7-9 hours of sleep is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. The National Institute of Health reports that prolonged sleep deprivation can cause cortisol levels to spike, slow down your metabolism, reduce reflexive reaction times, and increase your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. To promote the highest quality of sleep, consider going to bed and waking at the same time each day, set the thermostat a little cooler than usual, make sure the room is completely dark, and avoid electronics and t.v. at least 30 minutes before sleep, and limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Establishing a self-care routine can seem selfish, but self-care is the opposite of selfishness.
If you fly, you have heard the flight attendant state, “put your own oxygen mask on before assisting other passengers.” Practicing self-care is the oxygen mask that can help get you through the holidays and beyond!