By Kelly Cunningham, a licensed psychotherapist and health coach (Duke Integrative Medicine and Nutritious Life Certified)
Each December, do you catch yourself saying, I’m going to be more organized and less stressed next year?
Well, this year is that year, my friends. Because this year you have these tips to help you tackle the five most common stressors of the season before they creep up on you, so you can thrive during the holidays, not just survive them.
Take control of your schedule.
“I just can’t seem to get it all done” echos from house to house this time of year. But ‘tis the season for being in charge of your own schedule. Take a look at all your invitations from now until January 1, and empower yourself to say no to the ones that are the least important or bring you the least joy. Overcommitting your time will exhaust you.
Eat balanced meals.
Some of the best parts of the holidays are centered around food. Depending on where you are in your health journey, this can bring on added stress. The trick is to be intentional and balanced about your food choices. Combine your meals with healthy carbs, fats, and proteins, and if you suspect a gathering will be light on fruit and vegetables, offer to bring them yourself. Also important? Be careful about “saving” your calories for the party, as this can backfire and lead to overeating. Planning in advance goes a long way!
Keep conversations conflict-free.
This time of year is filled with family we don’t usually see, friends of friends we don’t know well, and co-workers we wouldn’t normally socialize with. Accept that some of this will be awkward or uncomfortable, but don’t expect the worst, either. This influences your mood and behavior before the event even happens—you want to walk into every room with an open mind.
But if you do get into a bind, remind yourself that the holidays are not the time to unpack issues from your childhood or to get into heated debates that will make you feel angry. If conversations are heading in a negative direction, gently reroute the conversation or excuse yourself to catch your breath.
Schedule some time for yourself.
Remember your calendar with all that non-negotiable time? Add some solo time to your schedule, too. Feeling your best requires giving yourself some attention, and that means workouts for more energy and meditation to reduce stress.
Try scheduling your self-care practices and workouts in the morning, when life is less likely to interfere with them. “Doing something for yourself right from the start of your day and then having it carry through for the rest––whether you’re at work or on vacation––it makes you feel better about yourself right from the start,” as trainer Christi Marraccini told us in Morning vs. Evening Workouts: Which Is Best for You?
Prioritize your mental health.
The holidays aren’t always a Hallmark movie, are they? For many, they’re a reminder of lost loved ones, family feuds, and tight budgets.
But you’re not alone. If you’re feeling down rather than jolly, reach out to those you love, even if you feel like isolating yourself. Surround yourself with those who will make you smile, and skip the events that might bring you down. This is also an important time to keep up with therapy or support group care.
Ultimately, the key to enjoying the holidays is to be aware of—and honor—your needs. Too often we get caught up with our to-do lists and hectic schedules that we fail to take care of our mental and physical health. That stops this year—consider it a very, very late New Year’s resolution.