Do holiday stress and a raging pandemic have you looking for strategies to stay sane and healthy the holidays? For most of us, the holidays are a time to be thankful and celebrate family and friends with food, gift-giving, and gatherings.
But they can also be a time filled with anxiety, depression, and unmet expectations. And the COVID-19 pandemic has added a whole new layer of angst, making it more important than ever to practice these 9 strategies to stay sane and healthy during the holidays.
1. Prioritize Your Mental Health
This seems obvious, right? But with the whirlwind of to-do lists during the holidays, mental health is often the last thing on our minds. Yet, no matter how long your to-do lists, if you’re feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, or overwhelmed, don’t ignore it! Make an appointment to see your doctor or therapist to address these feelings as soon as possible!
Often the overwhelm we feel is exacerbated by untreated anxiety and depression. So, tackle your mental health first before anything else! And if you have thoughts of harming yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK immediately to find the resources you need to stay safe.
2. Set COVID Boundaries
Setting boundaries to comply with CDC guidelines is essential but can also be awkward and difficult, especially when your family and friends are not on the same page.
Recently, I was invited to a pre-Thanksgiving gathering with family members I rarely see because they live at the opposite end of the state. So, discussing the size of the group, whether it would be outside, and whether everyone would be wearing masks was extremely uncomfortable.
But to my surprise, my boundaries were well-received, the small gathering was safe, and I felt less anxious. Don’t feel bad about expressing your needs when it means protecting you and your family from COVID-19!
3. Make To-Don’t Lists
We all have to-do lists, but how many of us have to-don’ts? These are lists of things that are expectation-based but non-essential to an enjoyable holiday season. Of course, if you enjoy doing these to-do’s then, by all means, keep them on the to-do list. But if they are on the to-do list because you’re trying to please others at your own expense, shift them over to the to-don’t list.
Do you make sweet treats for the entire neighborhood because you love baking and the smiles on your neighbors’ faces? Or do you do so because you’ve always done it and you’re worried about disappointing them?
Do you usually host a large holiday gathering? This year is the perfect time to throw hours spent prepping and baking on the to-don’t list!
Once you start, you won’t want to stop putting things on the to-don’t list, and you’ll feel lighter and happier!
4. Practice Gratefulness
Another strategy to stay sane and healthy during the holidays is to practice gratefulness. The pandemic makes this strategy more important than ever! First, my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones this year to COVID-19. It’s extremely difficult to feel grateful in grief and loss.
And even if you haven’t lost a loved one, thinking about all the freedom and lives lost during the pandemic can still be depressing and anxiety-inducing. Yet, we do have the power to change our perception of the situation even if we’re powerless to change the situation itself.
Do you telework? Think about how much more time you have with your family and pets! At lunch, you can enjoy the outdoors, walking around your neighborhood, or starting a new indoor workout routine like Yoga or strength training!
And what about all the Netflix shows you’ve always wanted to binge on? My personal favorite right now is “The Crown!” Finally, let’s not forget perfecting our cooking skills while saving money by avoiding dinners out!
Start each day with a list of things to be thankful for, and it will help you maintain a more positive mindset throughout the day.
5. Start and Maintain a Fitness Routine
If you haven’t started a fitness program, you may find this to be another stressor on your to-do list. But it takes less than 30 minutes per day to see the benefits in your energy and mood! We need both to get us through the holiday season! If you’re new to fitness, start by walking at a brisk pace every morning for 20 minutes. If that’s too easy, keep adding time until you feel challenged.
Consistently walking just 30 minutes per day on most days of the week is all you need to feel more energized and reduce stress. Add to that at least two 25-minute strength training workouts each week, and you will also be stronger and more toned. The worst part? When January rolls around, you’ll have to find another New Year’s resolution to take the place of getting fit!
6. Don’t Worry About a Few Dietary Splurges
If you maintain a fitness routine and eat a healthy diet most of the time, you can afford to splurge on a couple days of Chanukah or Christmas. Just don’t go crazy, and you’ll be fine!
According to Livestrong, Joel Marion, author of “The Cheat to Lose Diet,” says that indulging in moderation can benefit you both physically and psychologically. It does so by increasing leptin levels, which signals to your body to release fat.
If we’re too restrictive, we risk binging to compensate for the deprivation. WebMD writes that portion control and budgeting overall calories are key. The holidays are a time to celebrate (in moderation), so enjoy!
7. Limit Alcohol Intake
Limiting alcohol intake is typically a huge challenge during the holiday season with so many parties and gatherings that serve alcohol. But one benefit of the pandemic is having fewer gatherings to tempt you.
Although fewer get-togethers may make you feel lonely, resist the temptation to make drinking a part of your self-care routine. You may think alcohol relaxes you and makes you feel better. But over-indulging has the opposite effect, depriving you of restful sleep and increasing depression and anxiety. The last thing you need during the holiday season is more anxiety!
For more tips on how to reduce alcohol consumption read my post Break the Wine O’Clock Habit: Try These 6 Strategies
8. Stick to a Budget
We all love the feeling we get when we give the perfect gift to someone we love. But we don’t love the stress that comes with our credit card bill in January! The solution? Make a budget and stick to it!
Overspending results from the desire to meet the often-unreasonable expectations we set for ourselves or perceive in others. And so often what we perceive has no basis in reality. Your loved ones will love you whether you buy them an Apple Watch or a pair of socks. Okay, they might love you more with the Apple Watch, so maybe that was a bad example. But you get what I’m saying!
Honor your budgetary boundaries and you’ll be glad you did.
9. Take Time Outs
When the stress becomes too much to handle, one of the best strategies to stay sane and healthy during the holidays is to take 10 minutes a day to sit quietly, close your eyes, and focus on your breath.
Breathe in for a few seconds and breathe out for a few seconds. Instead of thinking about the 20 things on your to-do list, focus on nothing but what it feels like to take in the air and release it. This exercise is basic meditation, and it does wonders to relieve stress.
According to Healthline, “one study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation helped reduce anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder.”
I hope these strategies to stay sane and healthy during the holidays help you to have an enjoyable and relaxing holiday season. Happy Holidays!
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