No matter how much we enjoy the final months of each year, this time is also inevitably packed with holiday stress. Stress about the food we eat, the lack of time for exercise, the money spent on gifts, and the double-edged sword of time with family.
And in all our hustle and bustle to show our love and gratitude for others (and perhaps complete year-end projects at work), we often forget we can take time out to show love and gratitude for ourselves. We can do this through self-care, by making intentional choices around our food, and by setting aside time for our physical and emotional needs.
To help you navigate the season with more joy (and a lot less anxiety), here are our top eight healthy ways to reduce holiday stress.
Our Top 8 Healthy Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress
1. Eat when you’re hungry, not just because.
Often, when we are feeling stressed, we look for something to keep us busy. When we’re at a work party or dealing with family, this potentially means we dive into the appetizers or try every dessert. This season, when you find yourself reaching for goodies, try asking yourself if you’re hungry before you take a serving. If you’re not, look for something else to keep you busy or a friendly face to chat with.
2. Choose your indulgences wisely.
On a related note, don’t eat every holiday cookie just because it’s a holiday cookie—or cake, or drink, or side dish…you get the idea. Consider which items are true holiday treats or family specialties that you want to partake in versus those that are junk you could get any time (maybe in a different color) and that hold no special meaning. Make the holidays special by choosing to indulge in the truly special things.
3. Get enough sleep.
Food, alcohol, and socializing can negatively impact our sleep schedule, which then negatively impacts our ability to recover and our mood. If you’re already finding your family hard to handle, then don’t even try to deal with them when you’re also short on sleep.
Pro-Tip: Book a room at a local motel rather than staying with family. This will provide you with quiet, alone time, personal space, and a guaranteed comfortable place to get adequate sleep.
4. Drink your water.
Not only do we tend to drink more alcohol during the holidays, but as a result we also drink less water. Dehydration may trigger hunger pangs when it’s not actually more food that our body needs, and therefore, we consume unnecessary calories (which at the holidays are most likely to be sugar laden, too).
And, according to researchers, it takes less than 2% dehydration to negatively impact our mood and cause us to perceive challenging situations as even more difficult. Do we really need to make the holidays harder? We didn’t think so—so, let’s just drink some more water.
5. Cook and bake your own healthy options, and make enough to share.
Many of us have healthier daily habits than our co-workers or family members. Rather than trying to pick your way through the holiday meal offerings, bring your own dish and, most importantly, make enough to pass. Your friends and family might not even realize how tasty healthier foods can be.
Pro-Tip: Make a spicy dish. Hot foods that contain capsaicin (like hot peppers) trigger our body to release feel-good endorphins. So, if you’re feeling holiday stress, that bacon-wrapped jalapeno appetizer might indeed offer you some brief relief.
6. Take ten breaths.
Not sure how you’re going to get all the gifts purchased, your work done before the holiday, and the dinner prepared in the time you have allotted? Well, regardless of what the clock says, you do have time to take ten breaths. Breathe deeply and slowly with your eyes closed and consciously dedicate each breath to yourself. You’ll be surprised how much this can release anxiety and allow you to move forward with a clearer mind.
7. Stick to your exercise routine in whatever way you can.
Go for a run, find a local gym, do bodyweight exercises in the yard, do burpees in the garage, find a yoga video online. Or simply go for a walk. The sunlight, fresh air, and break from your environment will do wonders for your holiday stress.
8. Express gratitude.
Remember the real intention of the season—it’s not about money, gifts, baked ham, and shopping malls. It’s really not. It’s about taking time to connect, to think about what actually matters in this life, and to express that gratitude.
Pro-Tip: If it feels to overwhelming to thank people in person, keep a gratitude list. Every day between now and January 1, take a few minutes to sit down and list three to five things you are grateful for.
And don’t forget to acknowledge and thank yourself. Happy healthy holidays!