Some practical tips to stay healthy during the holiday season
The holiday season is a time for family, food and festivities. Countless songs on the radio tell us that we’re supposed to be feeling joy and good cheer at least until the New Year. For many people, however, the holiday season is filled with holiday stresses both big and small. There are meals to make, houses to clean, presents to buy, and families to entertain. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic only added to this list of worries.
If this time of year feels exhausting to you, you are not alone. The American Psychological Association reports that 38% of Americans feel an increased sense of stress during the holiday season. At Sesame, we want to help you de-stress to protect your mental health during the next few months. We’ve put together a quick list of practical tips you can use to maintain your wellness and celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with loved ones.
We’re not here to tell you NOT to eat that slice of pie, but overindulgence can cause guilt and add to stress. Don’t let holiday meals turn into a free-for-all. Keep up your daily routine of healthy habits to maintain your overall well-being. Try these suggestions:
Find time for exercise: A daily exercise routine can help improve your decision-making throughout the day while also serving to boost your mood. Aerobic exercise has been shown to release endorphins – neurotransmitters that improve mood and regulate stress hormones. You don’t have to crush a half marathon every morning. A short walk or jog will do the trick. Take time for exercise during the day to manage your stress levels during the holiday season.
Eat clean: Balance out the butter and sugar in traditional holiday meals by sticking to healthy snacks throughout the day. A snack of fresh fruit or vegetables throughout the day ensures that you are getting the nutrients you need while also minimizing the risk that you’ll overeat at dinner.
Avoid excessive alcohol use: Between holiday parties, get-togethers with old friends, and luxurious meals, the holiday season is rife with opportunities to drink heavily. Alcohol is a depressant and can actually add to the stress you feel around this time. Moderate your intake of alcohol to ensure better sleep and a better mood throughout the season.
Getting enough sleep is a crucial part of self-care. This can be challenging when your to-do lists are actually making more to-do lists, but take time for yourself to unwind and get the rest you require. If you have a hard time winding down at the end of a long day, we recommend turning off your screens at least an hour before you head to bed. This helps you disconnect from the stressors of social media. You can also take a hot bath, read a book, and practice some deep breathing before you close your eyes to let go of tension.
The healthy habits listed above can also help you fall asleep. Consuming a heavy meal, a sugary dessert or drinking alcohol shortly before bed can negatively affect your digestion and metabolism, which can make your sleep fitful. Eat your last meal at least three hours before you head to bed and refrain from alcohol consumption right before you go to sleep to improve your rest and set yourself up well for the next day.
Spending time with your family members and friends is a hallmark of the holiday season, but it’s important that you carve out a little time for yourself. This ties into many of the ideas listed above. Put on a podcast and take yourself on a walk to recenter yourself and reduce holiday stress. You might also consider going to see a movie by yourself, reading a book quietly, or treating yourself to a massage. Schedule some “me-time” every few days to relieve tension and stress.
Conversely, if the holiday season makes you feel lonely or isolated, there is no better time to reach out to those around you. There are several support groups available to help individuals struggling with depression and seasonal affective disorder during the holidays. These groups offer connection and community, both of which play a key role in mitigating symptoms of depression.
You might also consider talking to a mental health professional about how you are feeling. Sesame – along with many other telehealth platforms – offers affordable video chats with counselors and psychiatrists across the country. Even if it’s just for the holiday season, professional help can help you manage feelings of depression, isolation, and stress you might be feeling.
Going into the holiday season with a plan can help you manage your stress down the road. If you’re hosting a holiday party, create a shopping list to minimize your time in a crowded supermarket. Be mindful of the number of parties, get-togethers and functions you elect to attend. If you can avoid planning multiple gatherings on the same day, you will save yourself the stress of running between events (and not making time for yourself and your own well-being).
Another example of planning ahead comes in the form of budgeting. Money is a leading cause of stress for many Americans during this time of year as we struggle to make ends meet between gift-giving, traveling, and entertaining. Making a concrete budget for how much you want to spend on gifts, for example, can help minimize the sticker shock that we often feel around this time. Plan how much you want to spend on your gifts, food, and travel, and stick to that plan. This will save you money and stress as the season goes on.
No matter how you celebrate, the holiday season is a time to connect with yourself and the people around you. If you’re feeling alone or overwhelmed, we highly recommend that you reach out to a mental health professional to touch base about your mental and emotional wellness. Use these stress management tips to maintain your own well-being during this time of year so you can enjoy – rather than worry about – the holidays.