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Managing Stress For a Healthier (and Happier) Holiday

December 22, 2022

The holidays can be a joyful time, but they can also be tremendously stressful for many people.

For some, the stress can become overwhelming and lead to mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Fortunately, there are steps that anyone can take to relieve that stress, or even avoid it altogether. To understand how we can stop this stress in its tracks, we need to look at where it comes from.

The holiday season is an extremely busy time, with many feeling the burden of expectations around showing up for a myriad of events, being the perfect host, tracking down great gifts, and baking a sleigh full of goodies. The solution to all of this can be summed up in a couple of words: setting boundaries and expectations.

We all need time to take care of our personal needs, like sleep, exercise, relaxation, and getting nourishing meals. Creating boundaries around how much time and energy we put into events and tasks around holidays makes space for those needs to be met. If you’re someone who, say, needs nine hours of sleep per day and an hour of exercise, then you block off the 10 hours you need and say no to holiday activities that would take up that time.

Many of us over-commit ourselves to showing up for events, cooking, hosting, etc., and instead, we should set reasonable expectations with friends and family around what can and can’t do based on the time needed for self-care.

So, what does it mean to properly care for yourself? Sleep is critical to this, as a good night’s sleep leaves you refreshed and energized, whereas forgoing sleep prompts many to reach for caffeinated beverages, which have the effect of increasing feelings of stress and anxiety, and can keep us from getting a good night’s sleep. Caffeine comes in many tasty holiday-themed drinks, and these also tend to contain a lot of sugar. Holiday-themed alcoholic beverages are also rich in sugar and carbs and, in the long run, heavy use promotes feelings of anxiety, depression, and worsens sleep quality. Sugar and carbs not only fail to provide you with consistent energy, necessitating more of them when you crash, but they also increase inflammation, which contributes to feelings of depression.

Sleep deprivation itself also causes depression. Instead of a load of carbs and sugar, a balanced meal with healthy protein and fats will keep you full and provides more consistent energy without crashes. Some evidence suggests a low-carb diet rich in good fats and proteins is anti-inflammatory, which can help fight depression.

Making time for exercise can also improve your energy in the long run, not to mention it also helps to blow off stress and can reduce feelings of depression. Physical activity is important to help keep you energized and invigorated, but so is making time for rest and relaxation. And I don’t simply mean crashing on the couch and scrolling through social media or news. Our relaxation time should be intentional and actually leave us feeling more relaxed, whereas the aforementioned activities frequently make us feel more depressed or anxious.

Mindful practices like meditation, breathing, and yoga promote relaxation and fight anxiety, stress, and depression. These effects can be amplified when these practices are combined with focusing on feelings of gratitude and thinking of the things we’re thankful for.

The time we spend with others should also be intentional, rather than showing up for superficial interactions interspersed with time spent looking at our phones. Making focused quality time for the people who matter the most to us will be a much more satisfying and enriching experience, and can themselves be a form of self-care. Like with all of the self-care items mentioned already, we need to make time for the things that matter and that keep us healthy, and just say no to the rest.

Saying no to things around the holidays and making time for ourselves can be quite a shift and a challenging concept for some to embrace. However, doing so is critical to maintaining health and wellness, and fighting the stress that comes from trying to do so many things that are frankly a departure from what the holidays are really about. If you’re struggling to achieve this balance, give us a call. Our doctors and staff here at TLC are here to help you make the changes you need to keep your holiday season healthy and joyful.