BY DR. JULIE MILLER
Although the holiday season can be a time of joy, excitement, and connection, it can also be a source of heightened stress in our lives. Whether this is financial stress, family tension, a greater awareness of a loved one that is no longer with us, or just spreading ourselves too thin, this stress can negatively impact our health and wellbeing. This includes physical symptoms such as poor sleep, weight gain, fatigue and an exacerbation of current health issues as well emotional manifestations such as anxiety and depression. Consider the following strategies and how they can be implemented to bring more peace and ease to the upcoming holidays.
- Create a budget; set a limit and stay within it.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in buying presents for family and friends but the cost can quickly escalate. Consider homemade baking or I recently discovered that you can have your photos printed on a stretched-canvas frame for an affordable price (I use www.bestcanvas.ca and have no affiliation with this company). Drawing names for gifts, rather than purchasing gifts for everyone, is another option to reduce spending.
- Take time for yourself.
Although it’s easier said than done, especially during the holidays, taking time for yourself can be key strategy for successfully managing the extra stress and pressure. This may look like scheduling some down time between get-togethers or trips visiting family or even carving out a bit of time each day to read, meditate/pray, go for a walk, or have a relaxing bath. Letting go of perfectionistic tendencies and unrealistic expectations can also help to promote more peace and relaxation. To avoid being overextended, remember it’s also ok to say or to ask for help.
- Keep moving and enjoy nature.
In addition to elevating mood, reducing stress and anxiety, and supporting healthy metabolism exercise, when done in moderation, boosts the immune system. Move your body in a way that you enjoy and for added benefit, go outside for some fresh air and sunlight. Winter activities such as skating, tobogganing, snowshoeing, and skiing (or my preferred, snowboarding) can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors while spending time with friends and family. Alternatively, a walk out in nature can also offer an opportunity for some quiet time and reflection.
- Practice moderation; the key is not fall completely off the wagon!
If you have food intolerances or are trying to limit certain types of foods for metabolic reasons, such as sugar and refined starches, eating a snack before you go out to a party or dinner can facilitate making healthy choices. If you do overindulge, don’t let feelings of guilt add to your stress or fall into the all or nothing mentality of “I overindulged today so what’s the point of trying for the rest of the holidays”. Tomorrow is another opportunity to reach for balance. Furthermore, having certain dietary restrictions can add to stress when eating away from home in that we don’t want to be a nuisance or hurt anyone’s feelings. Conversely, it can bring on criticism and pressure from family and friends who don’t understand. Just kindly express that for you, avoiding those foods improves how you feel.
- Acknowledge your feelings and remember to breath.
Joy, excitement, gratitude, peace, love, and connection can all be used to describe the spirit of the holidays. However, this time of year can also elicit feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, and overwhelm. As one of my favorite movies, Inside Out, reminds us, it ok to feel these difficult emotions. Don’t be afraid to reach out or to give yourself the space to acknowledge and process what is coming up for you. One of my favorite mindfulness-based tools that I share with my patients to help them work with these emotions is the RAIN acronym:
- R: Recognize what is happening (without judgement, seeing the truth in our inner experience)
- A: Allow life to be just as is (letting go of resistance and accepting the present moment reality)
- I: Investigate inner experience with kindness (eg. Why do I feel this way? What do I really need right now? What actions, if any, can I take to nurture and support myself and/or others? Its ok if the answers don’t come right away.)
- N: Non-identification (the concept that we are more than our thoughts and emotions and they do not define us)
Even if you are a relaxed person with healthy habits, the holidays can be a challenging time. The above strategies are a reminder of how we can navigate through the complexities of the holiday season with more ease, peace, and contentment.