Being well-rested helps you keep your cool in the face of yuletide pressures
Despite the madness of last-minute shopping, juggling visits with friends and family and trying to do it all, you can find peace – and rest – this holiday season. Yes, you can keep the “happy” in happy holidays and enjoy the “merry” in “Merry Christmas.” It just takes some smart strategizing to preserve your emotional and physical health in the face of multiple stressors. Thanks to expert know-how, you can not only survive the holidays stress-free but thrive, too!
Understanding & managing holiday stress in a few easy steps
1. Eat holiday treats in moderation. The holidays are characterized by hearty foods and sweet treats. Although you don’t have to avoid them completely, your waistline AND your sleep will thank you for enjoying them in moderation. “Indulging in sugary foods throughout the day can impact your sleep by causing you to experience sleep arousal, a less restorative form of sleep that can leave you feeling sluggish the next day,” says Morgan Statt, health & safety investigator, ConsumerSafety.org
Try to consume more fiber-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, during the day to improve your quality of sleep. Make sweets a treat, only enjoyed after a full meal to help with moderation.
2. Get outside. With shorter days, the lack of daylight can cause our Vitamin D levels to be lower than in the warmer months. This has been linked to daytime drowsiness, which can negatively impact your ability to get a restful night’s sleep. Try to get outside each day to boost your Vitamin D levels. If you work inside, consider relocating your desk to the nearest window. In a study on windows and daylight exposure, researchers found that those who were situated near windows during the day slept better at night.
3. Start journaling and “throw your thoughts away.” If holiday stress and planning worries are keeping you up at night, Statt warns against lying in bed and mulling over them. Instead, get up and dump all your worries into a journal and physically throw the pages into the trash. Research has shown this can help clear negative thoughts and lessen the impact of your worries.
4. Run as many errands as possible online. “It helps save my sanity and precious time in doing important chores and clearing up my mind of clutter, readying me for a sound sleep at the end of the day,” says Dr. Aditi Gupta Jha, head physicians at JustDoc.com.
5. Tap into the soothing properties of aromatherapy. To help put your mind at rest, consider aromatherapy. “I often light a diffuser lamp with a combination of a couple of drops of lemongrass and equal amount lavender oil so it soothes my mind, “says Dr. Jha. This creates a cozy environment to fall asleep rather than fret about the mountain of tasks on your to-do list.
6. Make a daily gratitude list. To put a cheery slant on the holidays, try writing down 10 things you’re grateful for – a suggestion from Kimberly Hershenson, a New York-based therapist specializing in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and relationships. Anything from your family, legs to walk on or reality TV. Focusing on what’s good in your life as opposed to what’s “going wrong” helps relieve anxiety. Read your grateful affirmations every morning to begin your day with a positivity kick and start your day in the right tone.
7. Start a meditation practice. Watch or listen to videos and podcasts to help slow your monkey mind in the evening.
8. Practice acceptance. Hershenson recommends making a list of what you can’t control (like family members who don’t get along) and what you can control (such as being able to separate them at the holiday dinner table). The key is focusing on the things you can control to make changes and accept those things that you cannot control.
9. Don’t oversleep. Come wintertime, some people have a tendency to hibernate and sleep too much. With less sunlight, it’s not hard to do. “Too much sleep this time of year leads to decreased motivation, depression and increased weight gain,” Marla Stone, a former social worker and owner of I-Deal-Lifestyle Inc, a lifestyle consulting and professional organizing service in South Orange County, Calif.
10. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night during the holiday season. “During the holidays, we tend to rush to prepare, rush to travel and rush to celebrate,” says Chris Brantner, founder of SleepZoo.com. We overeat. We over-imbibe. This can all leave us more physically and emotionally exerted than usual, even if we have time off work. All of this leads to exhaustion and emotional stress.” It’s critical to make sure you’re taking the time to get your 7-8 hours a night, especially during the holiday season. Even slight sleep deprivation can lead to stress. In fact, research has shown that most people would be happier and healthier if they got even one extra hour of sleep a night. Yet the holidays, which are some of the most stressful times of the year, tend to disrupt our normal sleep patterns.
11. Stick to your schedule. If you’re going to spend time at relative’s house, you’re going to find yourself in unfamiliar sleep territory. Brantner suggests that you prepare in advance by bringing some of your creatures comforts from home, such as your pillow (if you can) for the most comfort. If you’re expecting noise, consider downloading a white noise app. Pack a sleep mask – it can do wonders for blocking out light and the rest of the world.
12. Go easy on the booze. You’ll also want to keep an eye on eating and drinking before bed. Over-drinking, in particular, can really affect your quality of sleep. Even if it helps you fall asleep quickly, it will prevent you from getting the REM sleep you need.
13. Avoid negative people. Some friends and relatives are just plain miserable to come holiday time. Don’t let them throw shade on your festive spirit. Try to keep a positive attitude and avoid people who thrive on negativity, recommend Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist, specializing in children, families, and couples.
14. Skip the news. At year-end, there are always plenty of news programs summarizing the biggest events from the last 12 months. The gloomy stories can wreck your holiday mojo so limit your intake of news. Choose to read your news online so you can control what and how much goes into your consciousness.
15. Pay it forward. When you feel overwhelmed, reach out and do something nice for someone else. According to Dr. Walfish, being generous in words and actions creates positive feelings for the doer and gets your endorphins flowing.
16. Practice serious self-care. Taking seriously good care of yourself is crucial to your happiness. This includes what you eat, drink, think, how much you move your body and how much you rest.
17. Affirm what you want in your life. Take responsibility for what you hold in your mind. Keep a positive attitude and make seeing the glass half full a habit. Try this trick from Dr. Walfish: Get a rubber band and place it on your wrist. Whenever you recognize a negative thought or reactive fear, snap the rubber band. This moment of discomfort will take your focus off of the fear. This gives you the option to focus on your fear (of what MAY happen) and to replace it with a more optimistic view (what you WANT to happen).
16. Get regular exercise. It’s easy to put exercise on the back burner during the holiday season, but it’s crucial to treat it as a priority – right up there with sleep and making good food choices. “Regular exercise helps keep the sleep-wake cycle as regular as possible,” says Christa Gurka, a Miami-area based health and wellness expert who specializes in Pilates-based holistic wellness. “Besides helping us sleep better, squeezing in exercise during the holiday season will help reduce our stress levels (and keep off those extra party pounds).