The holiday season is a time to be merry and bright! But we know all too well that too much of a good thing can be less than joyful. It’s important to be mindful, among the carols and gifts, gatherings and trips, to take time for yourself too.
Not doing so can have devastating effects on your own health and overall mental wellness during the most wonderful time of the year.
Hark! There's light at the end of the tunnel. We spoke to a number of health and wellness professionals who are experts in getting you on track to have the holliest, jolliest holiday season ever. It’s up to you to leave that blithe spirit behind.
Don’t Skimp on Sleep
If there’s any time during the year to lose mass amounts of sleep, it’s certainly around the holidays. ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton tells us to “make 7-9 hours a priority.” From final exams or visiting family, to making it to every holiday party invite possible or staying up late to wrap presents in secret while the kids are sleeping, it’s easy to lose sight of how much sleep you’re actually getting. If you need extra reinforcement, Dr. Ashton recommends an app that tracks sleep, “so you really know how much you are getting.”
Dealing with family in a time where so many of us can’t agree on issues politically, makes this holiday season prime for making meditating a necessity. Worry and stress brought on by money-woes and logistical stress of everyone getting together or making it to a destination on time are also part of the myriad array of things being thrown at us all at once over the holiday season. Meditating can help reset your brain and keep your emotions in check. According to 'GMA Weekend' co-anchor and resident meditation guru, Dan Harris, mindfulness meditation is a “simple, secular, scientifically validated exercise for your brain.”
As the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of “10% Happier,” Dan (de)stresses that you “don’t have to: light incense, chant, or believe in anything in particular. There’s nothing to join, no special outfits to wear.” Meditating doesn’t take much time and you can do it pretty much anywhere. Even better: it’s free. Speaking of, here’s a 90-second exercise from "10% Happier" you can try right now wherever you are.
Reach out to Mental Health Pros
Talk it out. Nothing quite heals the soul like putting words to feelings. Dr. Ashton reminds us that “talking to an expert in understanding your emotions and reactions to this time of year can make a huge difference.” Opening yourself up will not only make you feel better, but it will also remind you that you aren’t alone in your holiday havoc.
For mood disorders, Dr. Ashton adds, “talk-therapy is not an 'either/or' to medication, it should be an AND, as they accomplish different things.” So don't be afraid to talk to a doctor if you feel that your emotions become more than just symptoms of holiday stress. Don’t let stigma or fear of discrimination when it comes to mental health deter you from reaching out for help. Health & wellness professionals help keep your mental wellness at bay and they exist for a reason.
Exercise It seems like a no-brainer but physical fitness is a huge part of self-care over the holiday season. It's a time to not only get away from the clamor and blur of the holidays, but it's also a time to truly unplug and release any pent up frustration that can build in silence. Working out releases chemicals in our body that help us to react to situations more rationally and with better focus. It can be as easy and simple as a short run, or a max-effort group class. Set aside some time during the peak times of holiday stress to take a time out and sweat it out.
Barry's Bootcamp Chief Curriculum Lead and instructor Josey Greenwell says exercising particularly during this time of year, really helps with holiday indulgences too: "Sometimes sugary/greasy foods make you feel sluggish and tired," Josey tells us, "so staying active can help release well needed endorphins again. It’s also a great way to bond with a family member or friend you haven’t seen in a while. With that said, sometimes the chaos of the holidays can add unwanted stress with delayed traveling and cold weather, so adding in a quick sweat session whenever possible is a great stress reliever."
No gym? No problem. There are also a number of apps out there to help you stay on track with fitness goals during the toughest time of the year such as this.
“Love, me.” “It adds humor and levity to a stressful season,” Dr. Ashton says when it comes to self-loving. She adds, “when shopping for others, maybe add in a gift for yourself - complete with a note that says, ‘you rock and you deserve this!’” While some call it "retail therapy," know that it doesn't have to be products you need to by for yourself, but feel free to shop experiences. And they don't have to be for right now. Taking advantage of a travel deal or spa treatment post-holiday season can be something you can look forward to and work towards through the stressful times of the season.
Make a Self-Care Plan
Make a list of what your triggers are and set personal boundaries before you visit your family or friends. A list that includes ways you can calm down also helps. Joie Adam DeRitis, LMSW, Senior Trainer for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention for LGBTQ+ youth told us "these plans and checklists can look different and are highly individual, but one way to think about it is to understand that you may need care, affirmation, and strategies for coping before, during, and after the holidays - and to plan accordingly." She adds "for some, the holidays can feel affirming and supportive; for others, they can feel painful and overwhelming; and for many, they can be feel like a complicated mixture of the two.
Creating a plan for self-care can be a great way to support yourself if things get tough." Know yourself well enough to have a game plan in place for when your stress or social anxiety is triggered to a point to that it begins to show. A self-care list can also be a list of phone numbers or names of people who can support you in trying times.
Joie also points out, "one thing that can be helpful is to come up with a phrase or affirmation to repeat in your head if you feel yourself getting nervous, upset, or overwhelmed. It can be something like 'My existence is not contingent upon my families' ability to see and understand it,' 'I am deserving of love,' or something more simple, like 'I am valid.'"