‘Tis the season to celebrate peace on earth, but it sometimes feels more like stress on earth as we get swept up in the holiday whirlwind. “Normal life is busy enough, but when you add in holiday obligations such as shopping, hosting family and attending special events, it can be overwhelming, and a season meant to be savored can be rife with disappointment and frustration,” says Michael Stouder, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Mission Heritage Medical Group in Foothill Ranch.
Dr. Stouder suggests the following dozen “do’s” for a holiday season that’s more fun than frantic. “Consider them a gift to yourself.”
- Do take a breath. “Take five minutes in the morning, or whenever you feel things are getting harried, and do some deep breathing,” Dr. Stouder says. “Inhale through the nose and let the air travel down to fill up the abdomen, and then exhale all that air through your mouth.”
- Do hold on to your healthy habits. “It’s easy to skip exercising if you are travelling or your calendar is full of activities, but it’s a proven mood booster and stress buster,” Dr. Stouder says. “On days when you feel overly tired, try some yoga poses to refresh and restore.” And while cookies, candies, holiday cocktails and lavish feasts are tempting, remember to indulge in moderation. “You’ll avoid holiday weight gain and won’t feel sluggish from overeating foods that aren’t healthy.”
- Do crank up the Christmas carols. “Studies have shown that listening to music you like not only boosts mood, but your health too, by improving cardiovascular function,” says Dr. Stouder.
- Do be realistic. The desire for a “perfect” holiday can create anxiety if you feel pressured to live up to too-high expectations. Don’t make life difficult for yourself—no one will think any less of you if you buy the cookies for your child’s class holiday party instead of baking them from scratch.
- Do rethink your gift list. If the thought of shopping for everyone gives you (and your wallet) hives, get creative. “Have your family members draw names for gift giving—that way each person only buys one gift, instead of several,” Dr. Stouder says. “You can also do a white elephant or regular gift swap, or, if you feel like you have to get something for everyone on your list, commit to a maximum dollar amount. You can also give of your time—a handmade coupon to babysit your niece or take your parents out to dinner and a movie is not only thoughtful but a present that surely won’t be re-gifted.”
- Do give to others. Make time in your holiday season to serve others, which can be as simple as donating cans of green beans to a food drive. “Generosity has health benefits, makes you happier and can help you stress less because you’re not focused on you, but on someone else,” Dr. Stouder says. “Don’t overcommit and try to do too much—there are lots of opportunities to help others during the holidays so pick something that fits your schedule and won’t be a source of stress.”
- Do take a time out. If your workplace gives you extra days off around the holidays, take advantage. “Don’t feel like you have to go into the office anyway, or fill the day off with to-do items,” Dr. Stouder says. “Instead, play hooky for the day and do something fun—see a movie, go ice skating, take a little day trip. It’s a chance to recharge the batteries.”
- Do sleep in heavenly peace. Lack of sleep makes anyone fatigued and cranky, and it’s harder to focus during the day. “Seven to eight hours of sleep is a great goal to shoot for each night,” Dr. Stouder says. “To make it easier to fall asleep, shut down electronics about an hour before bedtime, keep your room dark and put a couple of drops of lavender oil on your pillow, as it’s known for its calming properties.”
- Do give thanks. Studies have shown that an attitude of gratitude makes people happier and healthier than those who don’t count their blessings. “Spend time at morning or night reflecting on something you are thankful for, or jot it down in a journal,” Dr. Stouder says. “A lovely tradition is to have the family go around the dinner table and share what they are thankful for that day—it’s a great time of bonding.”
- Do say “no.” Take a serious look at your priorities for the holiday season and only do the things that are important to you. If your schedule isn’t jam-packed you’ll breathe easier and truly enjoy those things you’ve opted to do. “Don’t try to pack in all the parties—pick only those gatherings that are important and don’t feel guilty about saying no to the rest,” Dr. Stouder says.
- Do treat yourself. Whether it’s an hour-long massage or an evening cup of your favorite tea, find a little bit of time for yourself every day. “Just stepping out of the hectic holiday pace for a few minutes can be restorative and nip stress in the bud,” Dr. Stouder says.
- Do share your feelings. If the holidays leave you feeling down or depressed, don’t keep that to yourself and try to bury it in a rush of activity. “Talk to someone, whether it’s a trusted friend or family member or a therapist, and let them know how you are feeling,” says Dr. Stouder.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.