It’s called “the most wonderful time of the year.” Even in the best of times the holidays are a time of mixed emotions and extra stress for most of us.
There may be happy celebrations, special traditions, and wonderful memories. There may also be unpleasant family members, grief for those who have died, and an overwhelming list of things to do, places to be.
This year the corona virus pandemic has made the holidays extra stressful and challenging. What used to be too much busyness has been traded for longing for people and events that aren’t to be this year. Traditional gatherings are being skipped, family members argue about safety precautions, and too many of us are fresh with grief from recent losses of family or friends or both.
In the midst of this year’s particular turmoil, self care may sound like a silly concept. It is, though, an effective way to reduce the stress, improve well-being, and help you find some joy in these different, probably challenging situations.
It’s true – if you feel better, those around you, even though they are fewer this year, will benefit from your positive energy.
So, bring your best self to the holidays with these 5 tips.
Make Healthy Food and Drink Choices Most of the Time.
Above all, stay hydrated. It’s easy, especially in these colder months, to underestimate the importance of adequate water intake, and forget to hydrate altogether when we’re busy and preoccupied. Dehydration can take a toll on the body and make you feel downright crummy. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces a day. Keep a reusable water bottle with you at all times, so you’re never left high and dry. Water helps to boost energy, flushes toxins from your system and helps all parts of your body operate more efficiently. Read more here about good hydration
It’s also smart to limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol can impair thinking, cause mood swings, raise blood pressure, lead to poor social judgment, lower inhibitions, decrease concentration, and lots more. One good way to manage social engagements is to have a glass of water after every alcoholic drink. After a few rounds, eliminate the alcohol and stick to water. Your body will thank you in the morning.
When it comes to food, choose wisely. Don’t go to a festive meal hungry. Have a green smoothie beforehand, then fill your plate with mostly (~75%) vegetables. Watch portion sizes. Celebrate the holidays with dessert, if you like, in moderation. Too much salt, sugar, and fat can impact your motivation, mood, energy, and health.
The holiday season usually brings up feelings around everything from family losses, relationships, to meeting high expectations of others or the ones we inflict on ourselves. Feel the feelings rather than eating or drinking at them. Emotional eating and drinking may distract or disorient you from strong and sometimes painful emotions, but in the long run will leave you with the same feelings to deal with, along with extra pounds and possibly a good hangover, and dependency.
Keep Exercise Essential
Physical activity is important because it reduces stress, improves mood and concentration, and combats depression. Decades of research shows that even just ten minutes of challenging exercise daily triggers the same hormones in your brain (serotonin and dopamine) targeted by anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. Regular exercise builds up levels of these important mood regulators, becoming a buffer for stress, anxiety, and depression.
If your regular exercise routine is on hold to accommodate holiday visiting and activities, fit in what you can fit in. A ten minute walk around the block or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can assist your physical, emotional and spiritual health. Need more encouragement to exercise? Read it all here
Protect Your Sleep
Few things consistently mess with people’s emotional and physical health like chronic sleeplessness and poor sleep. It leads to weight gain, additional stress, and irritability. Most of us sleep less well during this time of year. Losing sleep over the perfect meal o present will not make you or your family happier or healthier over the holidays. Consistent quality sleep will. Careful planning can greatly reduce or eliminate last minute “deadline” situations, and thus protect your sleep.
Reducing caffeine or eliminating caffeine, especially after 3 pm, as well as eliminating mid-day naps, will help good sleep. Also, eating after 7 pm or so (about 3 hours before you retire for the night), means that your body can really rest in the night, rather than have to work at digestion. (Read more on good sleep here and again here). Adequate sleep is critical for us to feel our best in mind, body and spirit, and help our immune system stay strong.
Remember Why We Celebrate Holidays.
Everyone has traditions connected with the winter holidays. Some have to do with religious practices, others with family, friends, food, gifts, etc. The modifications that have to be made THIS year are, for most, substantial, if not saddening and/or anxiety producing. What can see us through to perhaps new levels of appreciation of all of it is knowing what is most important that can be accomplished in these circumstances at this time. What do you want to do? With whom do you choose to spend your time? How do you want to feel. Decide on your priorities, be clear in your communication of them, and stay focused on what matters and is doable. This will clear the path to some joy.
Meditation and/or Prayer
Both are fine helps for retaining focus on the present. Affirmations can also help to center yourself and align with your intentions. Try “I breathe in calmness and positivity,” or “I will receive the goodness available to me right here, right now,” or another of your choice. The idea is to stay present and aware in the moment, celebrating the “is-ness” of things or “things are what they are.”
Instead of focusing on what ISN’T happening this holiday season, focus on the what and the who of your time together. Take a few minutes each day to journal some gratitude about the experiences and memories that you have this year to carry you into your future. Keep track of how you are maintaining an “attitude of gratitude. If the Hallmark card ideal ever existed before, it probably won’t be there this Covid year. Still, we are all capable of some holiday cheer and joy. Choose that for yourself. Savor it. It’s the healthiest, most life-sustaining way.