As we head into Thanksgiving and then into the rest of the holiday season up to and including New Year's Eve, many of us can already feel our stress levels rise. I’m sure over the next few weeks, there will be a host of articles on the topic -- here’s my contribution with a healthy and mindful angle:
Stay active. One of the best ways to beat stress is to move your body. Yoga, running, Cross Fit and the gym are all great options. As the weather gets colder, try ice skating, a brisk walk in a local park, snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Anything that keeps you moving and gets your heart rate up is a wonderful way to manage stress.
Make plans for the holidays in advance but remember, it’s ok to not have any plans too: Waiting until the last minute to make plans can add to your stress. Take time in advance to figure out what you’re going to do, whether it’s plans to drive, fly, board your pets or stay with family. If your holidays aren’t filled with plans to spend time with family or friends, try to relax and enjoy the time for yourself. Catching a movie, relaxing at home, buying a new book or leisurely taking in local shopping can all be options if you’re solo.
Be selective about what festivities you join: If you find that you get a number of requests for special dinners and parties, be mindful about which you attend. To go to every party you’re invited to may leave you completed exhausted, broke and frazzled. If you’re the type to get a number of invites, go to the events you’ll get the most out of. Make it less about “being seen” and more about having meaningful connections.
Get your rest: Sleep is so important to health. Try to stick to a schedule of at least 6 hours a night. Even though the temptation might be there to sleep in late on the weekends, try keeping to a regular schedule.
Get smart about holiday foods: Thinking that salad with lots of heavy dressing is better than a moderate sized three-course dinner is just kidding yourself. Having three glasses of wine with dinner can also add calories and result in a headache the next day. Don’t head into the holidays with unreasonable expectations about calories but instead be mindful about what you eat. Eat what you want but moderate amounts. You’ll feel less deprived.
Take the pressure off: Going into the holidays with lots of expectations for changed behaviors, heart-to-heart talks with those that barely chat beyond the weather or having a peaceful time in a house that’s regularly full of kids is just setting yourself for stress. Expect nothing and instead be at peace with how things are.
Gifts are not about how much you spend: You’ve probably heard, “It’s not the gift but it’s the thought behind it.” That’s a true statement but one that many people forget when they head into the malls to shop. With the added pressure for people out of work, those struggling to pay bills and many with credit card debt that’s already through the roof, it would be irresponsible to spend hundreds of dollars. Be honest with your friends and family; let them know that this year will be a little light. Focus instead on finding things that are low cost but meaningful.
Let yourself be sad if the feelings arise: The holidays can be a time of pain and sadness for some people. Memories of those that have died, feeling alone if you’re not in a relationship or having memories of joyful times that have since passed can bring you to tears. Instead of stuffing your emotions down, let them flow. Sure, you may have a good cry, but if you don’t, it may turn into an ulcer. It takes courage to feel sad and let your true feelings show.
Be grateful. A lot. Every day. Sure it’s the theme of Thanksgiving. But it’s also just good for your health. Every one of us can be thankful for something every day. I have a note on the inside of my medicine cabinet above my sink that says, “Be Grateful.” It’s a constant reminder to me to tap into a feeling of gratitude each morning.
Tell the people in your life you love them. Take the time to acknowledge friends and family as being special to you. It’s one thing to get them a card or a gift. It's another thing to say it. Take the time to tell them how much they mean to you. You’ll be amazed at how good it makes you feel.