Holidays are usually the happiest time of the year because we have additional quality time with family and friends and often share in meals and other uplifting social functions. But at the same time, the added scheduling pressures, sometimes indulgent eating, and other departures from our normal routines adds stress that can be difficult to balance without a bit of planning. Here are 10 simple diet and lifestyle tips to help get you through while keeping you sane at the same time.
1. Don’t over-commit
As much as it seems like you want to attend every holiday social, party, and dinner, sometimes it is absolutely overwhelming to do it all and still manage your daily life. Select those things that matter most and politely decline the things that don’t, and you will thank yourself later. No one expects you to do it all, so don’t expect it of yourself.
2. Plan downtime
If the joy and chaos of the holidays really does overwhelm you, then schedule some planned downtime. Set time aside to take a walk, read a book, get a massage, or engage in a quiet activity that lets you reset and gather your energy.
If you engage in a regular practice of meditation or prayer, then keeping time scheduled for these activities is even more important when holiday stress is at its peak.
3. Maintain as much routine as possible
Holidays are terrible for routines. While a few can just go with the flow, most of us rely on regular structure to keep our lives manageable. If you stick to the basics of your routine (when you get up, when you eat, when you exercise, etc.), then you will have more emotional and physical energy to manage the holiday chaos. Sticking to #1 (don’t over-commit) is helpful in this regard.
4. Don’t neglect sleep
When it comes to schedules and routines, the most important routine might be sleep. If you neglect sleep, then everything else will be more stressful and harder to manage.
So stick with your regular sleep schedule as much as possible. It might get disrupted by a party or two, or holiday travel, but if you can keep a regular bedtime and a regular waking time on as many days as possible, your body will better tolerate the stress that comes your way. If you have trouble sleeping due to stress, there are natural products you can take to promote better sleep.
If you regularly struggle with poor sleep, then you might consider gifting yourself a sleep test to see what could be contributing to your poor sleep and what you can do to get your sleep back on track in the new year.
5. Don’t kill your budget
According to the American Psychological Association, more than 60 percent of U.S. adults report being regularly stressed about money.1 This increases during the holidays if we put pressure on ourselves, such as giving beyond our means or planning expensive travel. One thing that can help is to set a budget and stick with it.
Planning in advance for what you can afford will not only create less stress during the holidays, but also afterward when you aren’t faced with huge credit card statements and other bills.
6. Stay active
Exercise is recognized by experts such as those at Mayo Clinic as an important stress-management tool that can keep your body and mind more stress-tolerant all the time.
Too often at the holidays we let regular exercise go by the wayside (eh-hem routine…) along with the rest of our self-care. Keeping exercise on your calendar is challenging but still very important.
Consider inviting a friend to take a walk, or go to a group fitness class so it can be a social activity. If you are traveling, then check your destination for a gym or studio you can drop into as a guest. Most hotels have exercise facilities and will often provide you with a running or walking map when you ask at the front desk. Don’t have a regular exercise routine? Why not just start at the holidays and get a jump on your New Year’s resolutions!
7. Indulge…but not too much
When you think about the holidays, you think about food, don’t you? You are far from alone. Most of us associate the holidays (from Halloween to Hanukkah) with the indulgent foods we wait all year to enjoy.
Our favorite treats usually come with positive memories and associations, so depriving ourselves of indulging in them can actually be more stressful and decrease the beneficial enjoyment of a celebration.
Although, on the flip side, if we overindulge, we can feel sluggish, struggle with negative emotions like guilt, and find ourselves with post-holiday weight gain we have to later struggle to manage. The strategy: strike a balance!
Toss or donate the extra Halloween candy on November 1, and don’t keep your home and refrigerator stocked with eggnog and Christmas cookies for two months. If you stick to your regular healthy diet on most days, that extra slice of your aunt’s pie or the second helping of stuffing will add to your fun and not to your stress. Here are some tips for controlling those holiday cravings.
8. Watch your alcohol intake
Alcohol is a common part of many holiday celebrations, and is something we often associate with a sense of relaxation – so you might wonder why it’s on this list. You feel more relaxed when you drink because alcohol both mimics the effects of the chemical in your brain that relaxes you (GABA) and inhibits the stimulating/excitatory chemical (glutamate) that makes you feel more anxious.2
This is great in the moment, but as soon as the alcohol is out of your system you can experience a rebound effect with low GABA and high glutamate that can last hours, or even days. The solution is moderation. Hold back having a glass or two of your favorite drink until the office holiday party or New Year’s Eve, but also hold back from drinking too much and too often.
The other plus of this strategy: no hangovers to struggle with! You can also naturally support your stress response and promote healthy GABA levels* without the alcohol by supplementing with a safe product like PharmaGABA.
9. Support stress with some extra nutrition
Even if you follow the best lifestyle advice, sometimes you need a bit more support for your mind and body during times of stress.* Key nutrients, like the B vitamins and magnesium are supportive, as are several amino acids and specialized botanicals.*
If you find that stress is something you struggle with all the time – not just during the holidays – then you might want to consider taking our stress test to better understand how your hormones might be playing a role and to get customized recommendations based on your results.
10. Add some extra support for immune function*
Are you one of those individuals who always gets sick during the holidays? Immune function and stress are a double-edged sword. When you are under stress, some aspects of your immune system might not function optimally to protect you from common germs.
Being sick when you want to be celebrating with family and friends is always stressful, and is something we all would rather avoid. If you know you are the one who always gets sick during the holidays, then you should take extra care to wash your hands frequently and also add some vitamin D or immune-supportive supplements to get you through the season.*
Managing holiday stress is an important part of getting the most enjoyment out of the entire season. Diet, lifestyle, and nutritional support are great tools to help you manage seasonal stress – and stress at any time of the year.
By the numbers: Our stressed-out nation. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/12/numbers. Accessed October 28, 2019.
Banerjee N. Neurotransmitters in alcoholism: A review of neurobiological and genetic studies. Indian J Hum Genet 2014;20(1):20-31.