As we gear up for the impending holidays and the stress that comes with it, the importance of reflecting on the year and all of the many things that bring joy into our lives is sometimes overlooked. In the rush to make the holidays perfect, we can easily overlook the need for self-care. Which can lead to a less than jolly holiday season. Here are 5 simple ways to help ensure the happiest of holidays for you and your loved ones.
1. Keep moving! In the hustle and bustle of the season it is so easy to fall out of our normal routines. Skipping our normal exercise for holiday activities is a double whammy by trading potentially stressful situations for a normal stress reliever. If you don’t have time to hit the gym, make time for a short walk, or some light stretching. Consistency is better than intensity, a few minutes when you can is better than nothing at all.
Exercise reduces stress, combats depression and improves concentration, and regular exercise has been shown to be as effective as taking antidepressants. Just ten minutes of challenging exercise signals the brain to release serotonin and dopamine (the same hormones that antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications regulate), the regular stimulation of these help build up a buffer against stress and anxiety. And the only side effect is that you look and feel better.
2. Sleep is vital. One of the quickest ways to get physically and emotionally out of balance is due to interruptions in your sleep cycles. This time of year is rife with reasons not to sleep, holiday parties, elf-shelving, last-minute gift wrapping, or stressing over having your whole family in the same room. All of these things are made worse by exhaustion. Chronic sleeplessness can lead to irritability, weight gain, and increases cortisol levels in the body (leading to more overall inflammation).
Cutting back on caffeinated drinks earlier in the day, and skipping naps (including food-induced comas), will make falling and staying asleep much easier. Resist the temptation of late-night leftovers, trying to digest food can interfere with your ability to sleep soundly. Stop eating 2-3 hours before you go to bed to give your body time to fully digest anything before sleep.
3. Practice gratitude. More and more studies are showing that the simple act of asking ourselves, “What am I grateful for?” can increase the amounts of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, even if you can’t think of an answer. By simply seeking out the things that we are grateful for actually builds stronger positive thought patterns in our brains, and reminds us of all of the great things life holds for us.
4. Be present with your feelings. The holidays can be charged with a myriad of emotions both good and difficult. Our tendency to avoid difficult emotions by using food and drink is at an all-time high during the holiday season, instead of accepting that it is natural to feel some of those feelings this time of year.
While using food and drink to soothe the difficulties we may feel during the holidays the distraction won’t last long and carries with it the potential for dependence on alcohol or food that can last well beyond the holidays. Understanding why you feel the need to reach for the next drink (or plate) is vital. Are you hungry, or angry at your partner? Is that glass of wine because you are grieving a departed relative? The more you try to understand the motives the less scary they become. Never be afraid to seek professional help, this time of year can stir up all sorts of feelings that we seek to numb.
5. Accept the present. It is easy to get so wrapped up in trying to orchestrate the best holiday experience that we don’t leave ourselves time to actually enjoy the moments of joy that present themselves. While you fret over whether or not the kids are having a good time, or trying to keep contentious relatives apart, you rob yourself of the powerful, spontaneous little moments that make the holidays so special.
Much like gratitude, accepting the present is a practice. Take a few minutes to find one thing that you feel good about right now. Allow yourself to dwell on that as long as you can. The holidays belong to you and your family and as likely as not, your holiday happiness is going to look as individual as your family. Trying to fit into an ideal can make us blind to the unique flavor of our holidays.
The holidays can be some of the happiest and most stressful times of year, remember it's ok to take a step back when it all becomes too much. Whatever way you celebrate remember that you can't pour from an empty cup, if you make self-care a priority then taking care of those you love will be much easier.
Yours in Good Health,
The Essential Mind and Body Team