Do the holidays leave you feeling more manic than merry? More stressed than jolly? You’re not alone. Nearly a quarter of all Americans face “extreme” stress during the holidays, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. This stress, which is also a leading health epidemic diagnosed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), manifests in many ways, from a shortened temper to severe anxiety to lack of sleep and more. Imperative to add to the mix: these self-care tips for the holidays.
Make Time for Exercise
“The constant, never-ending stress in our lives becomes “toxic” to our happiness and is harmful,” Dr. Amna Husain, MD, FAAP tells Parentology. “Prolonged stress negatively affects our emotions, mood, and behavior. It can worsen heart disease, affect our mental health, even reproductive health.”
Despite the added stress and the infamous indulgences throughout the season, exercise is often the first thing to be cut out of people’s busy schedules. However, exercise is key to reducing stress. As little as 10 minutes a day can alleviate stress and anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Linked to stress is another scary epidemic — heart disease — and the unhealthy factors that come with coping with stress (increased alcohol use and lack of sleep) lead to higher blood pressure. If you’re contemplating skipping the gym, think again. Your body and brain need it.
Ask any new mom and she’ll tell you — the only holiday gift she wants is more sleep. Whether sleep deprived from a new baby or holiday anxiety, lack of sleep more detrimental. According to experts at Harvard Health, over time, continued sleep deprivation raises the risk for a number of chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
If you’re like many working parents and can’t nap during the day, try to set a sleep schedule at night. Just an extra hour of zzz’s can improve your mental health. Who knew something as simple as hitting the snooze button could make it to the list of holiday self-care tips.
Give up Expectations
“There’s nothing like the holidays to have us conjuring up idyllic thoughts of family togetherness, the perfect gifts that everyone loves, and everyone joyfully carrying out family traditions,” Nicole Beurkens, PhD, CNS tells Parentology. “The reality, though, is typically quite different – and that’s totally normal. When we set the bar really high in our own mind, we set ourselves up for disappointment and upset.”
It may be easier said than done, but the best way to minimize stress is to give up expectations. This makes way for living in the moment and fewer negative comparisons.
Keep a Health(ier) Diet
This is probably the hardest tip on the list, as the season is swarming with sweets and indulgent treats. Pair the availability of high-fat, high-sugar sweets with the stress of the season and you’re more likely to overindulge.
According to the American Dietary Association (ADA), 33% of Americans who admitted to overeating did so in order to combat stress.
If you’re prone to stress-eating, keep healthy snacks around. If you have to munch, opt for almonds, avocados, bananas, citrus fruits or even dark chocolate, all foods linked to reducing stress, anxiety and high blood pressure.
Go Out with Friends
The holiday season may seem like it’s all about going out, parties and constant social interaction, but it’s actually one of the loneliest times of year, according to AARP.
Over 31% of adults in a recent study reported feelings of loneliness during the holiday season. Avoid the blues by going out with friends, an often-forgotten form of self-care.
According to Psychology Today, studies have shown older people with friends are more likely to live healthier and happier lives than those who don’t have many close friends. Not only that, older people without a close network of friends are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes and even depression.
However, not all friendships are created equal. Husain recommends carving out time for ones who uplift and inspire you.
“Make sure you surround yourself with people who make you feel like your best self,” Husain says. “Try to avoid criticism, if possible, as it can put a damper on self-care.”
Make Time for You
Probably the most important person to allot time for is someone you most likely think you don’t have any time for – YOURSELF. You’re the only one who can control your feelings and actions, so make sure you treat yourself as you would anyone else in your friend circle and family — with love, respect and forgiveness.
“Take time out for yourself, even when you think you can’t,” Beurkens says. “Whether it’s sneaking in 15 minutes in the evening to read a book you enjoy, taking a hot shower uninterrupted, or chatting with a friend – spending time by yourself doing something that recharges your batteries is necessary to avoid holiday burn-out.”
Self-care Tips For the Holidays — Sources
Psychology Today: Why Do We Need Friends? Six Benefits of Healthy Friendships
AARP: The Holiday Season: Joy, Love & Loneliness
Nicole Beurkens, PhD, CNS
Dr. Amna Husain, MD, FAAP, specializes in integrative family medicine
American Psychological Association