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Running on empty this holiday season? Here are the top seven ways to de-stress, beat holiday stress and slide into the New Year feeling your best
During the holidays, it's tempting to go all-out for those you love. From cooking elaborate meals to shopping for the perfect gifts for friends and family, it's natural to want to give your best so you can show them they are appreciated at this special time of year.
But remember the oxygen mask theory -- you can't help those who depend on you if you're not breathing easy. This year, it's more important than ever to fill yourself up first before trying to uplift others.
So while you're decking the halls and filling your shopping cart to make everyone's holiday memorable, remember to take time out for yourself. These seven tips for beating holiday stress can help you remain calm and centered throughout the festive whirlwind.
1. Practice Sleep Hygiene
Get a jump-start on a healthy New Year by resolving to prioritize sleep during the holidays. Practicing sleep hygiene is important for both physical and mental health. If you don't have consistent habits around sleep, you may not be setting yourself up for optimal rejuvenation from time spent in bed. By implementing a few conscious and consistent nightly habits, you'll ensure that your down time sets you up for a great tomorrow.
First, make your bed as inviting as possible by replacing your worn-out or unsupportive mattress with one that supports healthy sleep posture. Be sure to also choose a mattress made from natural materials, without chemicals. To keep bed clothes fresh between washings, make a relaxing aromatherapy spray.
Add around 20 drops of lavender essential oil (known for its soothing properties) to a small spray bottle of filtered water. Mist sheets and pillowcases when you make your bed in the morning and once again before settling into bed. The scent of lavender will calm your mind and signal your body that it's time to relax.
Next, prepare for sleep by instituting a wind-down period one to two hours before bedtime. Minimize the use of screens and dim overhead lights in favor of task lighting. Soften the volume of conversations and reduce strenuous activity to begin relaxing your body and mind.
If you're serious about getting good sleep, consider banning all screens, including the television, from your bedroom. Exposure to unnatural light, especially blue light from screens, can alter your body's circadian rhythm, your natural, internal synchronization with the sun. Research has shown that even brief exposures to blue light can lower levels of melatonin secretion, the hormone that helps you feel sleepy at night.[i]
By creating and practicing bedtime rituals, you send a signal to your body that it's time to relax, recharge and restore. Getting regular, deep sleep will provide a sustainable foundation for good moods and high energy so you can handle whatever the elves put on your to-do list.
2. Eat Nutritious Food
It's always important to eat clean, nutrient-dense food. But it takes on even greater significance when colder, dryer weather moves in and the holiday pace creates more demands on your time. Even though a cookie tray may always be within reach, don't risk a dip in well-being by skipping real food over the holidays.
Many seasonal dishes rely on ingredients like sugar, which, taken in excess, can wreak havoc on your health. With more opportunities for indulgent dining, it's important to strike a balance by eating clean, plant-based whole foods for most of your regular meals.
To maintain daily energy levels and ensure that you don't enter the New Year with too much "jingle" in your belly, aim for a minimum of five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.
Fruits and vegetables not only provide your body with fiber and energy-boosting carbohydrates, they are a great source of vitamins, minerals and essential phytonutrients that have been associated with reduced risks for heart disease and some cancers.[ii] While you're busy with your holiday task list, don't forget to stay hydrated. Keep a refillable water bottle on-hand and aim for drinking around three to four liters of pure, filtered water each day.[iii]
3. Make Time for Exercise
With your year-end focus shifting to what you can do for others, it may be tempting to forego regular exercise during the holidays. But this is not the time to slack on self-care. The hectic pace of the season demands that you consider your own needs, and consistent exercise is key to staying fit, healthy and high-energy into the New Year.
With extra demands on your time creating changes to your normal routine, it's more important than ever to schedule your workouts. Resolve to prioritize "me time" so that it doesn't fall off your calendar. Enlist an exercise buddy to help you stay committed to your workout goals, or, if weather permits, meet up with a neighbor for a brisk daily walk.
While it may seem ambitious to maintain a regular exercise regimen with so much on your plate, the benefits of even low levels of exercise more than justify the calorie expenditure and time spent. Studies show that burning around 1000 kcal per week, which you can accomplish with around 30 minutes of moderate exercise just three times per week, can reduce all-cause mortality by as much as 30%.[iv]
The benefits of exercise aren't just physical, they can also help you to better manage the pressure and tension of the holidays. Routine physical activity is associated with improved mood and reduced feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.[v] What better gift can you give your loved ones than a longer, happier life?
4. Be Kind to Yourself
Why is it sometimes easier to show compassion and caring to others than it is to be kind to yourself? Social and religious messaging can imply that selflessness is the epitome of personal development, but compassion rarely flows from a space of feeling depleted. This holiday, practice filling your spiritual tank by being your own best friend.
Carve out time for yourself each week to "do nothing" or to do those things that serve you and you alone. Reread your favorite novel, or take long, luxurious baths with candles and Epsom salts or magnesium flakes. As you soak, meditate on the many things you are thankful for this year. The relaxing effects of magnesium can improve your quality of sleep[vi] and relieve muscle tension,[vii] and the time spent away from noise and distraction can restore a sense of calm during the hectic season.
At this time of giving to others, don't forget to also be generous with yourself. Catch negative self-talk and replace it with the same words you would say to a good friend. By taking a conscious break, even for a few moments, to befriend yourself, you will embody the grace of the season and send a signal to your unconscious mind that your well-being matters, too.
5. Get Outside the Box
While the weather outside may be frightful at times during the holidays, the benefits of spending time outdoors are nothing short of delightful for your health. While much has been said about the hazards of too much sun exposure, the World Health Organization has reported that a much larger worldwide disease burden results from very low levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure.[viii]
At least 1,000 different genes governing nearly every tissue in the body are believed to be regulated by vitamin D3 through photosynthesis.[ix] To reduce your risk of various autoimmune and musculoskeletal diseases, as well as to help you de-stress naturally, make a point of getting outside your four walls and spending time outdoors this holiday season.
There are lots of ways to get outside, but consider a few holiday-specific ideas, like taking a stroll through your neighborhood to see the holiday lights or walking through a seasonal display in your town. Woods and parks are generally less trafficked in winter months, so grab the dog and hit the trail. You can even make yard chores festive by clearing away any remaining fall debris and hanging up some holiday decorations.
You'll not only get a vitamin D boost -- provided you're in a climate that allows you to expose enough skin to the sunlight even in the winter months --but you can count these activities as a great way to exercise and boost your holiday spirit all at the same time. If cold weather prevents you from being able to produce vitamin D via your skin, a supplement may be necessary, but getting outdoors is highly recommended nonetheless.
6. Focus on Traditions
With the modern emphasis on commercial gift-giving, it may be easy to forget what this time of year is truly about. If you feel overwhelmed by expectations and a long to-do list, take a break from the noise and refocus on your personal and family traditions.
Rather than spending time in traffic going to crowded shopping centers or using valuable hours up shopping online, consider unboxing your favorite holiday activities or creating new customs that have meaning for you and your family. Playing festive music while baking or watching a time-honored, favorite holiday program can feel like spending time with an old friend.
Connect with elders in your family or community and ask them to tell you stories from holidays' past. When bad weather dictates an indoor day, grab the kids, clear the kitchen table and make fun crafts to decorate your home or give as gifts at church, work or school. By refocusing on your true values instead of what the media says you should be focused on, you can center, de-stress and connect with the true meaning of the holidays.
7. Be Present
Giving presents often takes the form of things wrapped in shiny boxes, but what if you took the time to give your presence this holiday season? While it has become commonplace to snap selfies and share activities on social media, try taking a break from digital devices this holiday to focus on simply being with the people and places you love.
Feeling a sense of connection is vital to your mental health and well-being. Research has shown that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of depression and anxiety, higher self-esteem and a greater sense of empathy and trust.[x] The modern digital era has produced a myriad of ways to connect, but unfortunately our devices often serve to keep us further apart in the ways that truly matter.
Whenever possible, put down your phone and allow yourself to be fully present in moments of connecting with others. Whether you're dealing with clients or colleagues at work, engaging with employees in a store or spending time with friends and family, make a point of enriching each person through your connection. Something as simple as making eye contact and extending a heartfelt "thank you" can create a ripple effect of positive energy that deeply impacts someone's day.
By taking just a moment and applying positive focus to each connection you make, you can embody the spirit of giving with your positivity and good will. You never know how deeply you may impact someone with a simple act of kindness. Isn't that what the holidays are truly all about?
[i] Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Letter, Blue light has a dark side. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
[iii] Mayo Clinic, Healthy Lifestyle, Nutrition and healthy eating. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256#
[iv] Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 174(6), 801-809. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.051351
[v] Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 174(6), 801-809. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.051351
[vi] Behnood Abbasi, Masud Kimiagar, Khosro Sadeghniiat, Minoo M Shirazi, Mehdi Hedayati, Bahram Rashidkhani. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec ;17(12):1161-9. PMID: 23853635
[x] Stanford Medicine, The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection. https://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/