Take The Pressure Off For a Stress-Less Holiday

What do I give my father-in-law? What can I make for the office party bake-off? How can I get the time off work to see my family? How am I going to afford all those gifts? Where is exercise going to fit into this schedule? How am I going to resist all those tempting cookies? Along with the parties and the holiday cheer, this time of year can get seriously stressful!  

If you’re like me, one of the best parts, yet also one of the most anxiety-provoking, is all delicious treats. I’m all too familiar with that I-enjoyed-the-food-a-little-too-much-now-I-feel-fat-and-guilty feeling. Amidst all the celebrations, our health routine can get derailed, producing anxiety and guilt. This stress and shame is often more detrimental than the lack of exercise or overeating!

In a recently published study, researchers in Boston explored the impact that anxiety has on our health behaviors- particularly diet and physical activity. They found that high anxiety and stress caused women to eat an additional 171 calories, on average. They also found that overweight adults exercised less when faced with high anxiety, whereas normal weight adults increased activity in response to stress and anxiety.

First things first, take a deep breath.  A day, or even a week, of over-eating and under-exercising is not going sabotage our health. In fact, sharing laughs and delicious food with people you love may be just what the doctor ordered. With that balanced perspective in mind, we can learn from this research that there are healthy ways to cope with stress. If you find yourself reaching for that cookie jar to make yourself feel good, experiment with heading out for some fresh air instead.  

For me, the secret to managing pressures of the holiday season is remembering to treat myself with kindness and compassion. This is not a prescriptive formula and may look very different from moment to moment. Sometimes it may look like letting myself sleep in when I know my body needs rest. Other times, it may involve saying “No thank you” to the cake I am too full to really enjoy. It is a constant process of checking in. Rather than slipping into autopilot at the dinner table, methodically shoving food in as though this is the last time I’ll ever eat, I try to pause and ask myself, “What is really going to make me feel good?” and “How can I best take care of my body?”

Being kind to ourselves is a moment by moment practice.  Practice is the key word. It does not come naturally to many of us and it takes time to get good at it. The benefit to this practice is the ease of mind knowing that in each moment, we chose to nourish and care for ourselves. Imagine, a less-stress, guilt-free holiday! 

Below are a few more tips that I find helpful for managing stress and prioritizing health this holiday season, and beyond. 

Tips for a less-stress holiday season:

  1. Get your Zzzs. Adults need at least seven hours of sleep. Make time to recharge each night to keep your mood and metabolism on a steady track.
  2. Stay on schedule (most of the time). Keeping up your health routine, including regular meals and daily exercise is the best way to stick to your goals. Letting yourself get too hungry is a recipe for over indulgence, which then snowballs into unnecessary stress and guilt. Give your body the energy it needs to enjoy those holiday parties by fueling well all day long and staying active.
  3. Talk about it. If feeling overwhelmed, try reaching out and sharing your experience. Research shows that connecting with others releases oxytocin, the hormone responsible for that cuddly, “feel good” feeling.  This human connection is a powerful stress reliever.

Finally, check out this fantastic video by researcher Kelly McGonigal. She opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on how to embrace and manage stress. 

Share with us any tips you use to stay happy and healthy over the holidays!