5 Steps to Sanity Around the Holidays

Mental Health, Reducing Stress
11/20/18 - Erin Wolgamott

It’s November and the holiday decorations are already out around town and you think, “How can it be?!” Our Halloween costumes are still lying on our bedroom floors. You start to feel the subtle pit of dread in your gut. For many of us, the holidays can be the most stressful time of year. The planning and budgeting and shopping and cooking… and family. It can all be a bit overwhelming. So how can you find some sanity through it all and bring you back to the true meaning of the holidays?

Avoid trigger foods

Your first thought may be to grab for that glass of red wine to relax after running around and spending too much while shopping for loved ones. One glass is good for the heart, after all, right? But alcohol can actually exacerbate symptoms of stress and anxiety, after the good feelings have worn off. (Not to mention, zap your energy!) Caffeine, on the other hand, being a stimulant could possibly increase those “fight or flight” responses and contribute to worsening symptoms of anxiety. It’s no news that sugar can cause a roller coaster of energy, with highs and lows, causing you to spring for those unhealthy snacks to satisfy some craving.

All of these can exacerbate the stress you are feeling. While your body is under constant stress, the hormone cortisol increases in production, which is associated with decreased regulation of inflammation, weight gain, and malabsorption of healthy nutrients.

Be mindful of what you are putting into your body, and remember your body is way better at handling stress when it is fully nourished with vegetables, protein and healthy fats. Focusing on a balanced, wholesome diet, while avoiding the trigger foods, may give you the energy you need to take on the holiday season with greater ease.

Get the heart pumping

The better way to go is to start moving, even if it’s a brisk walk around the block. The fresh air alone could give you a moment of relief! Exercise can decrease the production of cortisol and increase the release of endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals. You’ll also feel good after a brisk walk or a run knowing that you didn’t choose the more unhealthy options discussed above! I know I’m proud of myself when I make the better choices!

For those who say they don’t have time for exercise, let’s talk this through. If you “don’t have time,” it may be because you are neglecting yourself in some way. You’re not prioritizing your health or your energy. It’s admirable when you’re dedicating the bulk of your time to your loved ones, to your work, to anyone else but yourself. However, your energy will be drained, your stress will rise, and you’ll eventually realize (hopefully!) you are just as important. How are you able to give your best when you lack the energy? It starts with you making the decision that your health and your energy are valuable and necessary to giving your all to everyone else. Take 20 minutes a day for a brisk walk, or a run, or a swim or whatever gives you joy in movement. Hell, dance in your bedroom naked if it’ll give you the energy you need to take on the day!

Take time for self-care

So what if you really, really don’t have the energy to go for a run, let alone a walk? Tune in because this is the time your body is telling you to slow down. You may need to break out the essential oils and candles for a nice bubble bath. Not your thing? Maybe you just need to give yourself a break, be a bit more compassionate towards yourself and realize you can’t do it all in this moment and that’s perfectly okay. Take out the journal and write the first thoughts that come to mind. Make sure they’re kind! Maybe you decline an invitation, so you can spend less time traveling from one place to the next. Let go of any guilt you may feel by doing so. Ask for help if you need it or talk it out with a great listener. Maybe all you really need is just one family member to take on making the casseroles this year, or watch the kids for a bit while you relax with your favorite hot chocolate by the fire. That’s a lovely feeling to sit in peace and quiet, with a good cup of cocoa.

Be mindful and breathe

Before we begin to truly immerse in the beauty and true meaning of the holidays, slowing down is key. During times of stress, we may forget what makes the holidays so special, and taking a moment to breathe can be just what you need. When you become mindful of tension in your body or a fast heart rate, take a step back and use the 5-5-7 breath as a way to anchor yourself.

Sit comfortably with a straight spine. With a slow and steady rhythm, inhale through the nose for a count of 5 seconds and hold for 5, then exhale through the mouth for 7. Repeat for at least two minutes or as many times as needed to slow the heart rate. The counting not only distracts you from your thoughts, but slow, deep breaths send a signal to your parasympathetic nervous system to turn off your sympathetic nervous system and “fight or flight” responses, and activate the relaxation or “rest and digest” response. (This is also helpful right before a massive holiday meal for slow, mindful eating!)

The good thing about the 5-5-7 breath is that you can use it anywhere, at any time; while sitting in traffic, at the holiday dinner table (no one will even know!), or right before bed. Taking time to breathe, if even for two minutes, will help reduce those stressful feelings and instill calm when you need it most.

Focus on gratitude

Gratitude has a slew of benefits. Research has shown it can strengthen your immune system, improve sleep, enhance your experience of optimism, joy and pleasure, and boost your generosity towards others. What better time to experience these benefits than at the holidays, spending time with family and friends or volunteering at the soup kitchen? Gratitude strengthens relationships by helping you to be more pro-social, giving and kind, not just in your personal relationships, but with your community.

We tend to easily say “thanks” in everyday moments, but are you really grateful? Building a gratitude practice will help you notice those moments when you are truly grateful, and more likely to express sincere thanks and kindness toward others. Here are a few tips from the ALV coaches to help build your gratitude practice:

  • The Gratitude Jar – Write down one thing daily you are grateful for or made you smile and place the note in a mason jar. At the end of the week, go back and re-read the notes. – Coach Eden
  • The Bullet Journal – Write down two things you are thankful for each day in a journal and track your progress throughout the month. – Coach Ngoc
  • Morning Mantra – Every morning when you wake up, reflect on three things you are grateful for, big or small. This will start your day with hope, excitement and gratitude. – Coach Niteesha

Gratitude allows us to remember and fully embrace the true wonder of the holidays, appreciating all that we have in life, even the simple things, and with whom we get to share it. We have an incredible promotion coming available this Friday for a one-time gratitude coaching program. If you’re worried about maintaining your sanity this holiday season and want to work with me on practicing gratitude, you can pre-register here.

So take a deep breath, open your heart and give thanks, for this truly can be the most magical time of year.

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