manage holiday stress

Your Guide to Thrive This Holiday Season

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” We can hear the melody of that song in our heads and, while it’s true in some ways that the holiday season is filled with fun and joy, many of us also have a little bit of angst and anxiety this time of year.  So many extra obligations, more travel, get togethers and parties, financial stress, sometimes family drama… It can be a lot. 

I’ve found that implementing and practicing these five things has helped me manage the chaos that can be the holiday season.

My top five tips to beat holiday stress and thrive:

  • Have a mindset of gratitude
  • Adjust expectations
  • Focus on inclusion instead of exclusion
  • Prioritize your sleep.
  • Don’t go to parties starving

Practice Gratitude

Sometimes the holiday season feels like an extra set of chores with all of the holiday cards you decided to send, gifts to buy, parties to attend, family to see, travel to endure, etc. 

But ultimately, all of these things represent that you are engaged in a very full life. Try to cultivate a mindset of gratitude for the many roles you have with different people in your life (rather than feeling overwhelmed by all of the to-do’s these roles bring). 

Take a moment at the beginning of the season (and maybe throughout the season) to feel gratitude for the people in your life that make it rich and colorful – even if they also make it extra busy. 😉

Adjust Your Expectations

Adjust expectations for yourself by prioritizing and doing only a small list of self-care actions everyday; allow yourself a little more grace.

When we try to continue ALL of our normal day-to-day activities of self-care (intentional meal planning, cooking at home, exercise routines, meditation or gratitude practices, intentional hydration, supplements to support health, etc.) and then try to add the extra holiday activities on top, we are setting ourselves up for burn out or failure.

There is only so much time in a day, so we need to be able to recognize that something has to give.  

Why?  Because if we try to do it all, inevitably we will start falling behind, and then our mindset can become negative. If that happens, sometimes we throw out ALL of our best self-care strategies and tell ourselves we’ll pick things back up after the new year. In the end, we are worse off than if we had just adjusted expectations from the onset, and stayed consistent with a few high-priority self-care actions with the most impact. 

This is giving yourself some intentional, short-term grace on a few things which will help you have better success, long term. So, think about the things that bring you the most peace and prioritize just those. It might be taking a walk outside everyday. Maybe it’s your daily gratitude practice. Maybe it’s focusing on hydration or sleep. Pick 2-3 things that have the most impact on your health and be consistent about them throughout the holiday season; and make sticking to just those things define success.  

That way, you can still support your health, but make time for the extra to-do’s and not feel like you’re completely falling off the wagon. 

Inclusion > Exclusion

Emphasize what you want to be intentional about keeping IN your diet/lifestyle rather than everything you want to restrict.

It’s tempting to approach the holidays from a fear-based, “I don’t want to let the holidays get the best of me” mindset. But usually when we focus too much on what we want to restrict from our diet, we tend to crave it more. It’s the ol’ pink elephant trick – “whatever you do, don’t think of a pink elephant” – and then you immediately picture a pink elephant in your brain. 

So instead of coming up with all kinds of rigid rules about what you’re going AVOID or RESTRICT over the holidays, it’s better to focus on everything you want to CONTINUE and INCLUDE.

If you’re attending a party and can’t choose or influence the menu, focus FIRST on trying to get some protein and veggies/fiber. Is there a veggie tray with hummus and olives? A charcuterie plate with some interesting protein options?

Emphasize getting those foods FIRST, and then if you’re still hungry and a holiday-inspired dessert catches your eye, decide how much of it you want to try, put that amount on your plate, and be mindful after the first bite. Is it delicious?  Or maybe too sweet? Is it worth finishing? If so, savor every bite and enjoy the gifts of not only the food provided, but the company you’re eating it with. 

And speaking of company, remember – that’s what parties and get togethers are really all about – not the food and drink, so make sure you’re getting enough socialization time and be present with the true purpose of you being there.  

Here are a few things to be intentional about each day: 

  • Drink water first thing in the morning and stay hydrated throughout the day (we recommend drinking about ½ your body weight in fluid ounces, daily – more if you exercise)
  • Get 30 different types of plants (including nuts/seeds, herbs, spices, veggies, etc.) each day
  • Optimize protein intake
  • Be intentional about getting movement everyday
  • Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep
  • Stay connected to things and people that make you feel grounded each day

Make Sleep a Priority

Sleep is foundational to health – it supports immune function, metabolic health, mental health, detox, is essential for energy, and more.

During the holiday season, our bodies can be put through a lot of extra stress. Traveling through different time zones, sleeping away from home, eating different foods more often, missing out on normal self-care activities – all on top of extra bugs and germs being shared (not just gifts and cheer).

So, while there might be some late nights visiting with family or celebrating with friends, do your best to prioritize your sleep as often as you can so your body can get the recovery and rest it needs.

Eat Before Events

Have a small salad or serving of veggies at home as well as some protein before you go so that you won’t have to rely on whatever is being served as your entire meal. 

Having some veggies (fiber) and protein before you go will help satisfy basic nourishment needs so that when you get to the party, you can choose a few things that look the best to you and enjoy a small amount, allowing you to stay on course with your health goals, but still enjoy new foods and feel really present at the party.

There will be a lot of desserts, drinks, foods, etc. to choose from – try to have an abundant mindset rather than a mindset of missing out. Just because it’s being served does NOT mean you have to eat or drink it. Does it appeal to you? Would you have made that dessert or drink for yourself to eat if you saw it as a recipe? While it might be tempting (or feeling like high-pressure) to eat everything served, stop and ask yourself what your body actually wants and don’t worry about having to try everything. 

If you were at home (rather than, say, at this huge potluck), you would not have so many choices – and while choices are fun, they can also be overwhelming.  So simplify things by reminding yourself that just because it’s being served doesn’t mean you have to eat it.  Have some fun with it and take your time. Choose maybe the one or two things that really look the best to you and then allow yourself to really taste its flavors, and don’t worry about the rest of the options…there is always next year, right? 

In Summary

The holidays are wonderful, busy, hectic, full of joy and tradition, exciting, overwhelming, and well – just a lot. But, the take home message is: be present for them and don’t be afraid. Savor the traditions and memories.

Commit to a few self-care activities that bring you the most peace and sense of well-being. Trust your body’s resilience. Don’t be afraid that your health will be completely derailed over the holiday season because, in the end, your health is the outcome of your most consistent behaviors over time, and it won’t be derailed by one “off” meal, one missed workout, one terrible night of sleep, or one “extra” dessert.

Even if you have several “off experiences” over the course of many weeks, there are still many MORE opportunities than not for you to make decisions that will support your overall health goals.  

Hoping these tips make a difference this year – and for years to come.  Happy Holidays!

holiday stress guide

About Dr. Maren

Christine Maren D.O., IFMCP is a board-certified physician and the founder of a virtual functional medicine practice in Colorado, Michigan, and Texas.  She is best know for her work in thyroid, gut and reproductive/ preconception health. Dr. Maren is board-certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner (IFMCP)

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