I've got a question for you. When you came across your first Christmas tree sighting or holiday sale this month, did you think, "how lovely, tis' the season!" or were you more along the lines of "bah, humbug! Why can't the Grinch just steal the whole darn thing already?"
As we move into the most hectic time of year, a little planning around your physical and mental well-being could make all the difference between merriment and meltdown. Holiday stress puts our health at significant risk while increasing our likelihood of turning to self-sabotaging behaviors in order to cope, such as overeating, reckless spending and heavy drinking. In fact, a survey on holiday stress found that comfort eating increased by over 10 percent among women toward the end of the year, when our perceived expectations are at an all-time high. Let’s face it, we have a tendency to be incredibly tough on ourselves during the festive season! Some women tear their hair out trying to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Other women force themselves, yet again, to shove a toxic family situation under the rug in the name of good cheer. And, the comparison trap can feel impossible to escape as acquaintances share updates about travel plans, gifts, and seemingly perfect families. Despite the metaphorical sacks of coal that many of us carry into the “silly season”, this time can actually become a season of SERENITY and a celebration of light, goodness and peace.
Take a minute to think about the roots of any stress you experience around the holidays. Are you agreeing to too much? Are you holding yourself to an impossibly high standard? Are you allowing feelings of guilt or obligation to control you and if so, where are those messages coming from? Do you keep thinking that it “should” be a certain way? Are you resisting what feels purposeful and sacred while holding onto traditions that serve no one?
If what I’ve written resonates with you, here are three surefire ways to greatly reduce holiday stress starting NOW:
1. Create the meaningful holiday that YOU desire. “But wait! Isn’t that selfish?” you might be thinking. What’s more selfish: being miserable and dishonest by spending time in situations that are harmful to your health, or joyously spreading holiday cheer by engaging in something that uplifts your soul? If guilt is weighing you down, there are many volunteer work options available during this time, like delivering gifts to children in need through non-profit programs, working with a local soup kitchen, volunteering at a prison or hospice, or signing up for a Habitat for Humanity build. If a well-deserved vacation is more your speed, consider planning something that keeps you active and engaged with others, or brings you to a country that could really use your tourist dollars. This can also be a time of spiritual connection and reflection, and a wonderful opportunity to finally go on a silent or religious retreat, or to experience pilgrimage to a sacred place.
2. Get Off Facebook. A recent study found that people who quit Facebook for a week were 55% less stressed than those who continued with their regular Facebook use. In fact, scientists have recognized for quite some time that Facebook increases depression and anxiety, as well as being a massive time suck, but if you’re on the social network, you probably know that from experience! During the holidays, we’re particularly prone to comparing ourselves with others and losing sight of the bigger picture. Equally, it's a time where many of us feel like we need to put up a mask, which means a lot of photos and status updates in your feed that will definitely not represent reality, as well as added pressure to share your own carefully crafted "highlights." If you're stressing out just thinking about it, consider quitting Facebook for the month of December. The gift of your full attention is one of the best you can give. (I'm on day 18 of my personal social media detox and all I can say is that the freedom of disengaging from something so unreal tastes even better than pecan pie. More on that later).
3. Recommit to fitness. If you’ve let your exercise routine fall by the wayside, now is the time to hire a personal trainer or coach, join a gym or yoga studio, and really make a promise to yourself to take care of your body. Exercise can actually be MORE effective than antidepressants for those prone to depression, and by kicking your endorphins up a notch, you’ll reduce stress while distracting yourself from worry. It'll also be easier to maintain your weight and keep your alcohol intake in check by increasing your mindful focus on well-being, despite the many temptations of the season. Don’t wait until you’ve made your New Year’s Resolutions. Encourage a fun and fit festive season by getting your blood flowing and drawing up an exercise plan of action now.
What proactive step will you take TODAY to reduce holiday stress? How will you create a Season of Serenity for yourself and your loved ones? If you think this post would be useful to someone, share it!