By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine
We start seeing and hearing it after Halloween. The holidays are coming! And according to the songs we hear, what we see in stores, on television and social media, we are supposed to embrace the holiday season with open arms. We think there’s something wrong if we feel overwhelmed, stressed, sad or anxious around the holidays. Things are supposed to be perfect: happy people, happy families, and happy holiday celebrations. Let’s face it…while the holidays can be fun and uplifting, there is also a big element of stress and pressure involved. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2015 Stress in America™ study, stress levels have risen, with more than 1/3 of adults surveyed reporting that their stress has increased over the last year. And the top 3 sources of stress are money, work, and family responsibilities. We struggle with financial stress, work stress, and relationship stress throughout the entire year. If we are not adequately practicing stress-management, or even if we are, adding the pressure of upcoming holidays to the mix can exacerbate all this stress, or at least topple our balance. As the holidays approach, we need to be aware that we are vulnerable to feeling "less than jolly," and then we can be proactive to increase our stress-busting lifestyle and self-care practices.
Let’s briefly look at the 5 Pillars of Health and what we can do to strengthen each one during the holiday season.
Sleep: Feeling that we don’t have enough time to get everything done, we may skimp on sleep during the holiday season. Sleep deprivation can make us sluggish, irritable, lead to poor decision making, as well as increase our risk of getting sick. That’s the last thing we want for our holiday. Practice good sleep hygiene such as moving away from activating things like the nightly news and social media, the blue light from our phones, and eating food with sugar and caffeine a few hours before lights out. Also, adding calming activities as part of the bedtime ritual can help us wind down and prepare us for a restful sleep. Some examples include chamomile tea, lavender essential oil, a guided meditation, slowing down & counting your breaths, and reviewing what went well in the day.
Activity: With less daylight and being crunched on time with holiday related activities, we may let go of our precious exercise time. Please reconsider doing this! Physical activity helps to boost metabolism and mood, decrease anxiety, increase brain power, and improve sleep. This self-care practice is so important in maintaining our balance around the holidays. We can get creative with how we get this activity: accumulate it with shorter periods of physical activity or stretching throughout the day, combine socializing with a friend during a walk (bundle up!), try a new class at the gym, or get on your treadmill with some great music or follow an exercise/yoga DVD. You will feel energized, your mind and body will thank you, and you’ll be better equipped to handle the increased holiday stress.
Purpose: Sometimes we think, "Why am I getting caught up in all of this? The meaning of my holiday is buried under shopping and extra obligations." As we approach the holidays, we can take a few minutes to quiet down and reconnect with what is important to us about the holidays. We can ask, how can I make the holidays more meaningful and special this year? Listen carefully to the answer, and then cultivate that activity or mindset. It may be spending time connecting with others, volunteering or making that special DIY gift for someone. Whatever it is will fuel the soul and provide that extra feel-good energy to manage it all.
Nutrition: While we all know how important it is to eat healthy and mindfully, the holiday season can be a double whammy because we may eat reactively due to stress, and there is an abundance of unhealthy food taunting us, and we find our willpower diminished. We can counteract this by being prepared and boosting our awareness around eating. Examples include: bringing healthy food to the party, using smaller plates, and being extra careful with what we eat before we go out, knowing that we may be indulging later. If we take the “food as medicine” perspective, being extra mindful of what we eat around the holiday season can help boost our energy levels, mood, and physical health.
Resilience: Resilience is the ability to actively manage everything that is on our plates throughout the holiday season. It’s an ongoing process which entails both being grounded and flexible. Think of a healthy tree that is strongly rooted in the ground, yet can withstand all kinds of weather and sway with the winds. To build up our resilience, we can do things like find humor in our situation, ask for help when needed, take breaks throughout the day, do mini-relaxations, say kind things to yourself as you would talk to a good friend, keep a gratitude journal and cultivate feelings of gratitude, joy, and love, and practice mindfulness.
This holiday season, try focusing on a pillar or two, and see how we can expand our holiday spirit!