Ahhh …the holidays …a time for friends, family, fun, parties, food, shopping and gifts. A time to enjoy some much needed time off and, unfortunately, for many of us, a time of great stress. The holidays can be a wonderful time of year but they can also bring plenty of stress. Unrealistic expectations, a perceived lack of time, worries about finances and family squabbles all contribute to one of the most stressful times of the year. This is also a time when we are less likely to maintain our physical activity routines, a time when we are more likely to indulge in high fat, high carbohydrate foods and a time when we are more susceptible to sleep disturbances, all making us less resilient to stress.
Here are some tips to help you have a positive experience this holiday season.
- Manage your expectations. Not feeling happy during the holidays is more common than we might think and pretending to be happy when we’re not can actually make us feel more sad. By acknowledging our true feelings we can respond to them in a way which is productive and helpful. Tara Brach, psychologist and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC suggests practicing RAIN. She describes RAIN as “an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion using the following four steps: Recognize what is going on; Allow the experience to be there, just as it is; Investigate with interest and care; Nurture with self-compassion” (Brach, 2013). You can read more about the technique here or, if you prefer, you can listen to a guided meditation using the technique here.
- Manage your time. We all know that we cannot “make” time. We all have twenty-four hours in a day and that’s all we get. What we can do is allocate our time. Consider what and who are most important to you this holiday season and allocate your time accordingly. If you need to say no, here’s a great way to do it courtesy of Neghar Fonooni, Crossfit athlete and health coach. “I appreciate the invitation, but I’m energetically depleted and I need to fill my cup. I hope you have a great time, and I’m thankful that you understand my need to decline”. By saying yes when we really want to say no, all we do is build resentment and deplete our energy.
- Practice self care. Times of stress demand good self care but this is when many of our routines fall by the wayside. Consider practicing the minimum effective dose (MED). The MED is the “smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome” (Ferriss,2010). When life is easy your exercise routine might be sixty minutes five times per week and your diet might be whole, non-processed foods. You prepare meals in advance. You get eight hours of sleep per night. You drink eight glasses of water a day. What is the MED you can do during the holidays to support consistency and prevent you from being on the “on/off” plan of self care? Perhaps it’s fifteen minutes of high intensity exercise or the seven minute workout. Perhaps it’s choosing the salad over the burger at lunch. The purpose of the MED is really just to support consistency and be a bridge to when you can get back to your regular routine.
- Take advantages of resources to help you cope. During this holiday season, remember that it is okay to feel unhappy or overwhelmed. If you or a family member need some support to manage the overwhelm, Cigna and our school’s EAP programs are here to help. To find our more about EAP, go to your school’s human resources page. If you prefer the anonymity of virtual support check out iPrevail or Happify.
The holidays can be a wonderful time and we’ve got to keep in mind that our experience depends largely on our attitude and our choices. Remember what’s most important. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take care of yourself and enjoy.