Emotions do not exist in a vacuum. They are influenced by our thoughts and our behaviors. As we contemplate healthy living during the holidays, the following tips and tools are designed to enhance our holiday experience and avoid a physical or emotional breakdown.
Tip #1: Own Your Feelings
How should you feel during the holidays? The better question is, “how do you feel during the holidays?” Maybe you struggle with sadness, loneliness, or depression throughout the year. Those feelings don’t necessarily go away just because it’s the holidays.
Or perhaps this particular time of year just impacts your emotions in a negative manner. Ignoring or denying feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression not only is counterproductive, it often leads to unhealthy choices to cope with those feelings. Give yourself permission to acknowledge your feelings. But own them. Take responsibility for your feelings. And allow others to do the same. Allow them to acknowledge their own feelings, but do not take responsibility for other peoples’ emotions.
You are not responsible to make people happy and cheerful. You are also not to blame for other peoples’ sadness, irritability, or depression. Unwanted or unpleasant emotions are not the enemy. How we respond to our emotions and others’ emotions is where the payoff or pitfalls lie.
Helpful hints for all: Talk ahead of time with others about your emotional state. Get professional help if you need it. Don’t be embarrassed or feel guilty for needing a little extra support around the holidays. Monitor your balance between social interaction and solitude.
“Emotions do not exist in a vacuum. They are influenced by our thoughts and our behaviors.”
It is known that social support and connecting with others is crucial for our emotional health and wards off unhealthy withdrawal and isolation. But make sure it’s with supportive people. Nothing aggravates unpleasant emotions more than being with people that cannot handle or understand unhappy feelings or give unsolicited advice to fix it.
Tip #2: Maintain Basic Self-Care Activities
The holidays have become, if nothing else, busy for everyone. And the busier people get, the more likely their basic self-care activities suffer. Exercise, diet, and rest – the trifecta of physical and emotional self-care – the ground floor for healthy living. If you sacrifice any or all of these three for the sake of holiday gladness, you will experience holiday madness.
Exercise – It often gets set aside when we get busier. Sometimes people’s regiment gets lost when the days get shorter or the weather becomes inhospitable. Either way, healthy levels of activity helps warm the body, release stress, impact appetite, and positive influence rest and sleep.
Helpful hints for all: Exercise with others. Build in relational accountability. Carve out time midday to go for a walk about the neighborhood, or around your office. CLIMB STAIRS at work! Change up your regimen for the season. Switch to yoga or another type of exercise class if you normally engage in outdoor exercise. On dry weather days, park further away from work and get a few extra minutes of walking to and from work.
Healthy Diet – changes in diet, sugar intake, caffeine intake, alcohol consumption, fat, and carbohydrates – they can potentially throw off your metabolism, contribute to mood swings, weight gain, changes in depressive feelings, increase feelings of anxiety, and increase weight and decrease energy. If you are not mindful and disciplined in your eating and snacking, the office parties, neighborhood parties, and the holiday sweets and treats will take a negative tool on you.
Helpful hints for all: Stick to a balanced and healthy diet. Eat three meals a day, to reduce overeating in the latter part of the day, which often leads people to not be hungry or eat in the morning. Include fruits and vegetables. Be the person that brings the fruit or veggie platter to the holiday get-togethers. If you increase your hot beverages when the weather gets colder, purchase decaffeinated coffee or teas, and switch after 10:00 am. And watch your McRib consumption over the holidays!
Rest – Lack of sleep increases the risk of over-consumption of caffeine, impulsive eating and turning to sugar, increase in stress, irritability, and risk for getting sick. A good night’s sleep needs to continue to be a priority, for the whole family.
Helpful hints for all: Don’t close down the parties. Give yourself a reasonable curfew for the holiday outings. You don’t have to be the last person to leave a gathering. Schedule in naps, rest periods throughout the day. Monitor your early morning or late evening activities over the holidays.
Tip #3: Relax and Enjoy
Build in relaxation time. There is a difference between idleness, zoning out, and relaxation. Idleness and zoning out, may not be bad in and of themselves, but they may not provide as much rejuvenation as relaxation activities. Don’t have your holiday season filled with obligations, tasks, or being around people that might emotionally drain you.
Make sure there is “me” time. This may also be the area that highlights the importance of friendship and people outside of family. Don’t make the holidays exclusively about family. And don’t minimize the value of unplugging from obligations, responsibilities, and tasks.
Helpful hints for all: Do something special for yourself, something for enjoyment’s sake. Take 15 minutes here and there throughout the day. Read a poem or a book. Breathe, meditate, or pray. Do something that isn’t on your to-do-list. Get a massage, a pedicure, or manicure (or all three!). Go shoot some pool with the guys. Catch a film that’s coming out for the holidays.
Tip #4: Monitor Your Indulgences
We’ve already addressed healthy diet to promote healthy holidays. But there are two additional areas that overindulgence during the holidays contributes to holiday madness; excessive use of alcohol, and excessive spending.
Alcohol Consumption – Alcohol is a common companion to celebration. It is more readily available at parties, and it is more socially acceptable to drink at parties and get-togethers. Folks who might otherwise practice moderation and restraint throughout the year overdo it during the holidays. Be wary of your alcohol use.
“The holidays have become, if nothing else, busy for everyone. And the busier people get, the more likely their basic self-care activities suffer.”
Not only is alcohol a depressant, but it disrupts sleep, certain beverages contain heavy amounts of sugar, and negatively impacts your overall judgment and decision-making. Also be wary of drinking to cope with negative feelings you experience around the holidays. Drinking to escape sadness, loneliness, or stress from spending time with family will not help any part of the situation.
Helpful hints for all: Experts recommend limiting your alcohol consumption to one or two drinks a day. Or don’t drink at all. Limit your time around alcohol. Arrive later to parties and leave earlier to help prevent long periods of socializing where drinking is one of the key components.
If you are planning on drinking, do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Plan ahead of time to have a designated driver, carpool with others as well, or plan ahead of time to arrange for a taxi. Bottom line, don’t let alcohol intake sabotage your or anyone else’s holiday.
Finances and spending – Just like people’s drinking patterns, the holidays represents a time of the year where financial restraint and discipline is thrown out the window. Americans report financial pressures as a key contributor to holiday stress, regardless of financial hardship or the state of the economy. So fight the urge to blindly and indiscriminately spend and purchase.
Set a budget and stick to it. Ask people what they want instead of having the pressure of getting the perfect gifts. Shop early, or online, to avoid the potential stress of going to stores and malls during the holiday season.
Don’t fall into the trap of having to have every gift be expensive, special, or meaningful. It actually isn’t the meaning that counts. It’s not even the gift that counts. Remember, it’s the relationship to the person that counts.
Helpful hints for all: Start going online now to take advantage of purchasing and shipping gifts to family members across the country. The earlier this is completed, the more likely you can choose a low-cost, or free, shipping option. Avoid having to go to the post-office or UPS and paying enormous shipping costs for presents. Purchase online gift cards. Set a goal to have 90% or all your holiday shopping accomplished two to three weeks prior to your holiday celebration date.