As enjoyable as the holidays are — time with family, plenty of excuses to wear sequins, an entire season of love-to-hate-them made-for-TV holiday movies — they can also be stressful as hell. A busy alcohol-soaked social calendar mixed with family drama and a growing feeling of angst about your New Year’s resolution is a recipe for holiday burnout.
Think of the holiday season as a marathon, says Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT, a therapist in New York and Connecticut — you have to prepare to stay healthy. “You have to think of it like: this is my body, it gets me through the day and I’m really appreciative of this body, but how can I treat it so that it’s going to help me during this period of extra exertion?” she says.
To stay mentally and physically healthy in a season of stress, we asked wellness experts for their survival tips for the holiday season.
1. Practice mindful eating
The healthier option? Mindful eating. “Mindful eating does not mean avoiding eating your favorite holiday foods,” Ansari explains. Instead, mindful eating is about bringing more awareness and enjoyment to the foods you eat. “Eat foods you enjoy but do so while savoring the taste, texture and characteristics of the food,” she says. If you’re craving one of your grandma’s famous gingerbread cookies, eat it and enjoy every damn bite. But also be aware if you’re mindlessly popping caramel corn into your mouth. “If you are eating a food that’s higher in unhealthy ingredients, find ways to boost its nutritional profile,” adds Ansari. “Maybe you add a side of fruit, veggies, protein or some fiber-rich whole grains.”
2. Prioritize sleep
Sleep is often the first thing to go during a busy holiday season. “The demands of the holidays often interfere with the ability to get consistent, sufficient, restful sleep,” says Franklin Porter, Ph.D., a therapist in New York. “Especially when holiday parties enter the mix, with alcohol”— which disrupts sleep — “flowing freely.” Poor sleep, especially over a period of a few weeks, leads to poor functioning: It impacts your immune system, ability to concentrate and your mood — all things that make you even more stressed out. In other words, it’s a vicious cycle.
“Sleep is one of the most important things that we can do to help our moods,” says Hendrix. “When you’re worn down because you haven’t had enough sleep, you’re more likely to be irritable or pick up on negative vibes around you. You attract stress like a magnet. The more sleep you get, the higher the possibility that you’re going to stay on the positive side of things.”
To avoid getting super stressed out (or sick) during the holidays, prioritize sleep when you need it. If you have holiday parties three nights in a row, consider skipping one to give yourself a night off or at least give yourself a curfew so you can make it home in time to put on a face mask and get to sleep at a decent hour.
3. Stay moving
Exercise is an excellent way to destress and practice holiday wellness. But “don’t worry if you miss some of your gym sessions,” says Alissa Rumsey, R.D., C.S.C.S. The holidays are always busy and making your regular 6 a.m. Pilates class the morning after the office holiday party probably isn’t going to happen.
4. Anticipate family drama
As much as we love them, spending time with family during the holidays can be taxing, whether you have outright conflicts or simply the growing pains of coming back to your childhood dynamic as an adult. “When we go home for the holidays and we spend an extended time back in our family unit, we tend to easily slip back into old roles,” explains Hendrix. “That role could be the peacemaker in the family, it could be the sensitive one that gets their feelings hurt or the one who debates and disagrees.”
The best thing you can do, Hendrix says, is to be aware that this might trigger stress or conflict and have a plan for when it does. “That could mean going outside and taking a walk and just shifting your energy a little bit. That could mean doing a little bit of meditation in your room or in a place where you have some privacy. That could mean having a rental car so you can step out and go to a yoga class when you need to,” she says.
5. Do not compare yourself to others
“Everything — all of the pressures that we’re putting on ourselves and the ways that we see things — is exacerbated around the holidays,” says Hendrix. So when you run into someone who just got married, and wrote a book and launched a side hustle, it can trigger anxiety about your own life.
6. Make healthier New Year’s resolutions
That philosophy will save you a lot of stress when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. “People often use other’s lives, curated through social media, as a benchmark from which to evaluate their own accomplishments,” says Porter. “This often leads to resolutions that are unrealistic.” For example, you probably shouldn’t quit your day job to become a travel influencer if you have no idea how influencer marketing works.
When you make a resolution for the year, remember “you are not competing with another’s ‘perfect’ representation of their body or their family or their vacation. You are competing with yourself to become the best version of you,” says Porter. “Attainment of a goal doesn’t have to be all or nothing; perfect is the enemy of good, or good enough.” Maybe your resolution is to visit a new country and start a blog about your trip.
7. Deal with depression
An estimated 10-20 percent of people deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder — aka seasonal depression. It can cause low energy, moodiness, problems sleeping, irritability and feelings of hopelessness. “Consider purchasing a lightbox or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) light therapy lamp,” says Porter.
8. Practice extra self-care
Whenever stress increases, so should self-care, says Hendrix. Practicing self-care is one of the most important holiday wellness tips. “Maybe it’s an extra yoga class, maybe it’s more meditation,” she says. “It’s important to know your top five self-care go-to’s and make sure that you have access to that during the holidays.”
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