by Cricket Wingfield, MD

It’s that time of year when lights and carols fill the air, and whether you love the holidays or dread them, here they come. Managing all the normal activities of life with added holiday pressures and social events can be exhausting, so here are a few practices to care for yourself to fill the season with more joy and less stress.

Your Mental Health

First, consider what you actually enjoy about the holidays, and what parts cause you stress. You can choose to make this year work for you. If nothing else, COVID has given us a time to reflect and realize there are ways to opt in where you want to participate, and opt out where you don’t. See what you can do to eliminate the parts you don’t enjoy. 

If gift giving has been a tradition and you feel stressed by it, whether from the expense or the time and energy required, change it up! If you let your usual recipients know ahead of time that you’d like to opt out, or simplify by choosing a name from a hat or some other arrangement, it’s less likely to lead to hurt feelings. Family traditions (read: expectations) can be hard to change, but if you make it sound easy and like fun, renegotiating ahead of time can work for everyone. If you feel the pinch, others probably do too! Having a fun game, swapping recipes or photos, or other activities, can make a family gathering be enjoyable with fewer or no gifts. 

Decorating is optional, too, so try an experiment and do as much or little as you choose. If it’s fun, and adds to your sense of festivity, go for it! I did almost nothing one year because I just didn’t feel like it, and realized I missed the little white lights, and a few decorations to feel seasonal at the solstice and into the New Year, so now I do some. It’s all optional. Your family will survive if you pare down, and might enjoy your new holiday vibe that’s less crazed!

Whatever you choose to do, take a little time to organize early in the month, make a plan, and get it in your calendar! My mother actually had a book for the season, with recipes, shopping lists and a week-by-week to-do list to prepare for the winter holidays. I made a copy of it for me and my sisters, and I still refer to it. She pre-dated Martha Stewart, and loved the winter holidays; made it fun for all of us because she wasn’t a stress case. Psssst . . . organization and it’s accompanying lists reduces stress!

Your Physical Health

The holiday season often means holiday treats, more sugar, carbs, and alcohol than usual. If they don’t make you feel good, consider an alternate plan ahead of time. How much of all these treats do you really want to consume? Keep healthy foods around so they’re easy to choose, and consider passing some of your holiday “goodies” along to someone else who would enjoy them.  

Last year I did a crazy thing a cleanse for the first three weeks of December, so I actually shed a few pounds, enjoyed a few days of holiday cheer, and felt great! Once I’d decided, it was much easier to stick with my program and pass on the sugary options. You might not want to go to that extreme, but consider how you want to feel, and choose from there. 

Get outside and breathe some fresh air. It will make you feel good to get your blood moving, and give you a nice mental refresh as well. And, do your best to get plenty of sleep. I notice my cranky pants get a little tighter when I’m running on fumes! Exercise and sleep help me stay more balanced when things get busy.

Your Emotional Health

Think ahead about what you need to feel good during the holidays. A few minutes a day to breathe, meditate, journal, vision, play. I use my Living Vision Board to pre-pave how I want to show up, attending to the state of mind and emotions I want to embody. I write things like kindness, open hearted, full hearted, clear boundaries, patience, loving, inspired, engaged . . . ways I desire to be in my life. This practice is especially helpful when I know I’m heading into a situation that might trigger me.

If I’m prepared and committed to how I want to be, I’m less reactive. I remember to choose my state, not be a victim of my circumstances . . . or Uncle Fred’s political views!

Tending to yourself over the holidays will keep you more balanced, with less stress and more ease, even when it seems there’s more to do. It’s always a choice.

Happy Holidays, however you choose to spend them!!