After Thanksgiving, the holidays season kicks off with a vengeance – shopping, food prep, and more. Suddenly, you have more to do than ever and your agenda was already too full! The preparations, the parties, the gift buying can quickly become overwhelming, especially if you have a full-time job and a family. You’re not alone. Despite the picture of happy, bubbly people holiday shopping and preparing meals, many folks feel weighed down and even stifled by the extra demands and expectations. Don’t let that be you.
With so much to do, you might wonder how you’ll get it all done. At the same time, you don’t want to get off track with your healthy lifestyle habits either. It’s more important than ever to stay healthy during the holidays – to get enough sleep, manage stress, eat right, and exercise to stay fit.
Be Realistic: Don’t Try to Do Everything
The holidays can be a major time suck, especially if you let it – the cooking, cleaning, gifting, and holiday visits. Ask yourself if you really need to “do it all.” Maybe this is the year not to send holidays cards and, instead, make a quick phone call to let the people closest to you know you appreciate them. The same with gifts. Pare down your gift less and reduce the stress of shopping by buying gifts online.
What about those holiday parties where you have to find the “perfect” outfit to wear? That’s another thing to stress over! Do you really need to attend all the holiday parties you’re invited to? Pick one or two and gracefully opt out of the rest. More important than a party is to spend time with family. Don’t over-schedule yourself.
Stick to a Routine as Much as Possible
With so much going on, sticking to a familiar routine can actually reduce your stress level – and that includes exercise. Don’t let the holidays steer you off course. If time is a problem, schedule your workouts for first thing in the morning and do high-intensity interval training or circuit training where you get benefits with 30 minutes or less of exercise. As you probably know, workouts are a stress reliever. In fact, research shows exercise helps manage anxiety and tame those “down” feelings. Those feeling become a problem for some after the clock changes and it’s dark outside after work.
Why is exercise such an effective stress reliever? It alters brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine that impact your motivation and mood. Plus, moderate exercise help lower the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, exercise relaxes muscles that tighten up when you’re stressed out. If possible, include yoga in your routine twice a week to further buffer stress.
According to Harvard Health, yoga helps modulate the body’s stress response. One way it does this is by increasing heart rate variability, a marker for the ability to handle pressure and stress. So, temper your high-intensity workouts with relaxation therapy like yoga.
Chill Out with 5 Minutes of Meditation
Meditation is another stress destroyer and you don’t have to spend a lot of time doing it. Five minutes of calm and quiet is all you need to relax and get back on course. Here’s an added bonus. One study showed both meditation and exercise was linked with fewer incidences of the common cold among older adults. With so many viruses making their rounds around the holidays, that’s an added perk!
Don’t know how to meditate? Download a meditation app to guide you through a meditation session. Don’t forget about the importance of dwelling on the moment at hand, rather than obsessing about the future and how much you have to do to prepare for the holidays. Mindfulness helps keep you calm and centered. Meditation can help you cultivate the ability to focus on the present. Put it into practice, not just around the holidays, but year-round.
Expose Your Eyes to Sunlight
Lack of sunlight can alter your biological clock and disrupt hormones and brain chemicals. If you’re going to work before the sun comes up and coming home after dark, your eyes aren’t getting enough light exposure. This can aggravate stress by disrupting brain chemicals, like cortisol and melatonin. In addition, a portion of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder, seasonal blues that come from a lack of sunlight. Your body expects to be exposed to light during the day and to have complete darkness at night. When this pattern is altered, it creates imbalances in hormones and brain chemicals.
Light therapy helps folks who suffer with seasonal depression. You can buy a special light box or phototherapy box for home use if you feel down during the winter. However, you can also get some benefit by opening the shades during the day and exposing your eyes to natural light. Letting your eyes soak up sunlight may even help you sleep better at night. A study among office workers showed those who worked in front of a window slept an average of 46 more minutes per night relative to those who worked in a windowless office.
Here’s a simple way to vanquish stress. Grab a heavy coat and step outside for a short walk. Doing so not only increases light exposure, it helps your body produce more vitamin D, a hormone that’s important for mental and physical health. Too often, we don’t get enough vitamin D in the winter. When your vitamin D level is too low, it can manifest as fatigue and lack of motivation. Even better, get your vitamin D level checked to make sure you’re not deficient.
The Bottom Line
Enjoy the holidays but don’t let them be an additional source of stress. You’ll find more joy if you learn to stay centered and not take on more than you can comfortably tackle. The holiday season is about spending time with family and friends and being grateful for simple things. Don’t over-complicate it.
Harvard Health Publications. “Yoga for anxiety and depression”
Forbes. “To Get More Sleep, Get More Sunlight”
Stanford Medicine. “Can Exercise and Meditation Prevent Colds and Flu?”