I love the holidays. From time with family to time away from work to good food and good cheer, it’s a near perfect time of year.
But it’s not for everyone. Some people dread the holidays because of family history and memories that aren’t joyous. Others find the added stress of crowds, finances and travel difficult to manage. In fact, surveys by the American Psychological Association have found that nearly half of Americans see their stress levels rise during the holidays.
The short days and low winter light can also cause seasonal affective disorder in many people. And the pressure to spread holiday cheer or put on a happy face when we’re not feeling our best can make us feel even worse.
With COVID still circulating in many communities, it’s all enough to bring out your inner Grinch!
But the holidays don’t have to be blue and your personal path to seasonal joy starts by focusing on your health. Here are six tips that will have you singing carols and hanging tinsel – or at least not saying “Bah, humbug.”
Keep exercising. With the busy holiday season, it’s hard to stick with good habits like exercise, but working out is essential for stress management and good health. Don’t stop just because you’re busy. Plus, if you keep going, it’ll help you with any exercise-related resolutions come January.
Eat smart. We’re around so much yummy food during the holidays. But much of it is not that healthy. That’s why a lot of people gain weight during the holiday season – and let’s be honest, after the COVID lockdown, most of us probably need to push back from the dining room table. Diets rich in unhealthy foods are also associated with increased stress, anxiety and depression. Conversely, the right foods – veggies, fruits and whole grains – can help stabilize your mood.
These simple strategies can help you survive the holidays without cutting out all the fun:
Plan your calories. Set a goal and choose foods that will help you stay in your range. If you eat a little less of one high calorie treat, there will be room for other tasty foods.
Pause before going back for more. This will give your body a chance to digest what you’ve eaten. Chances are, you’ll feel full, too.
Eat a little before you go to a party. If you’re full when you get there, you’ll eat less.
Fill your plate with vegetables and there will be less room for less healthy choices.
Take it easy on alcohol. Having a cup of holiday cheer to get through that awkward family gathering or take the edge off is okay. But alcohol isn’t calorie-free. We also tend to eat more when we’re drinking, especially if we start imbibing on an empty stomach. Finally, be careful that you’re not using alcohol to cope. There are more effective ways to get through a stressful season.
Before you party, get boosted. If you haven’t gotten your COVID booster, do it before you start going to office parties or family gatherings. COVID cases may have declined in parts of the country, but other areas are experiencing surges. While you’re getting your booster, get your flu shot. Flu season is in full swing, and the two shots can be taken together. (If you haven’t been vaccinated, stay at home or mask up and socially distance when you go out for holiday events.)
Pick your battles. If being around someone – even family – causes your mental health to suffer, set boundaries. Acknowledge that you can only control your role in those social dynamics and limit your exposure to them if necessary. The same goes for activities that may cause tension. If the crowds at the mall push your stress into the stratosphere, shop online and avoid putting yourself in a stressful situation.
Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is deeply connected to both our physical and mental health. When we get the right amount – between seven and nine hours a night – it helps our bodies and minds function better. From a mental health perspective, each stage of sleep allows our brain to ramp up or down and leads to better thinking, learning, and memory. Good sleep also allows our body to recover physically. When sleep is disrupted, these processes are less effective and our mental and physical health suffers.
Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the holidays, stressed out, anxious or depressed, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated doctor. They can help you, from developing a plan to manage stress or cope with anxiety, to finding resources for managing your mental health better.
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