It’s the time of year when most people find themselves busier than usual. Taking care of extended family. Shopping and attending holiday gatherings. Getting “end of the year” tasks accomplished. And if you’re like me, exploring novelty or learning as much as possible. As a coach with over 25 years of experience, below I provide expert tips for managing stress during the holidays. These tips are set against a backdrop of holiday lights photos from Woodland Park Zoo’s Wildlanterns display for 2023.
Prioritizing and Simplifying Holiday Tasks
If you wanted to, you could probably do something unique every day between now and New Year’s. And pay the price. Instead, figure out what’s most important to you. When shopping, think about what gifts you really need to buy and which you can put on a “perhaps” list. Plan meals ahead of time for those stretches when you’re crunched for time. Here are some additional tips to make things less stressful:
- Make a list of the most important things you need to do and focus on those first.
- For gifts, consider buying online to save time or choosing gift cards.
- Keep meals simple. Choose recipes that are easy and include ingredients you always have on hand.
- Double recipes so you have leftovers for multiple meals.
- Think about which holiday traditions are the most fun and meaningful. You don’t have to do everything. Just pick a few favorites.
Coach Court’s Favorites
One tradition I’ve had for over a decade is visiting Woodland Park Zoo’s light display. Wildlanterns replaced the popular Wildlights five or six years ago. This past week I visited on Thursday evening. It was a dark and stormy night… The precipitation actually provided nice reflections on wet pavement.
My other includes enjoying holiday music. A client of mine invites me to several of her choral performances each year and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I’ve added the Choir of the Sound holiday performance to my “must-do” list, even if I go alone.
Incorporating Physical Activity
Staying active is especially important during stressful holidays. Exercise helps reduce stress and helps you avoid adding extra pounds. Here are some ways to fit movement into a busy schedule:
- Try quick workouts at home. If you can’t find 30-60 minutes, try several 5-minute workouts. You can find short exercise videos online.
- Take a brisk walk in the morning or after dinner. It’s a great way to clear your mind and increase movement.
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park several blocks from work or in a far parking spot to encourage more movement.
- Do stretching or yoga before bed. It can help you relax and sleep better.
- Coach Court’s favorite: Movement is my best way of managing stress. Try walking or biking to do local errands. If I have to go anywhere under a mile from my home (including stores, library, and post office), I visit on foot. Often carrying a pack.
Remember, you don’t need long blocks of time to exercise. Give yourself permission to break up workouts if you need to. Even small changes can help lower stress and improve your mood. And if you visit Wildlanterns you can add an extra mile to your total.
Managing Stress with Relaxation Techniques
Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment and not worrying about the past or the future. After all, we live only right now. Here are ways to practice it:
- Try breathing exercises. Box breathing can calm your mind within a minute or two.
- Meditation is another great option. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing or try a walking meditation where you allow your mind to be still.
- Yoga combines exercise with deep breathing and can be relaxing.
- Coach Court’s favorite: Forest bathing, even in the rain, is a wonder way to boost spirits immediately.
These techniques can help you feel less stressed, especially during busy times like the holidays.
Healthy Eating Habits
Making healthy choices during the holidays can be tricky. Here are some strategies to help:
- Try to maintain a balanced diet. Include fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains in your meals.
- Drink plenty of water. Aim for your body weight in pounds divided by two for your target in ounces.
- It’s okay to have a treat but listen to your body. Enjoy every bite and notice how the food smells and tastes.
- Coach Court’s favorite: Watch for your ‘satiation sigh.’ This is a deep breath from your body that indicates it’s had enough. When you notice this, stop eating.
- Eat slowly and savor your food. Enjoy the taste of your treats without rushing or multitasking. Try saving some for later, as spiders do. You can always have more when you’re legitimately hungry.
You can enjoy your favorite holiday foods without overdoing it. Moderation is key. By staying healthy and feeling good during the holiday season, you’ll be raring to go come January.
Managing Stress: Just Say No
Set personal limits on what you can get done during the holidays. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything. Here’s how to set appropriate boundaries and say no when you need to:
- Be clear about what you can handle. Don’t take on too much.
- Use your “no” muscles. If someone asks you to do something extra, and you’re too busy, it’s fine to tell them you can’t.
- Be polite but firm. You can say something like, “That sounds fun, but I have a lot on my plate right now.”
- Remember, make self-care your top priority. You’ll enjoy the holidays more if you’re not stressed.
- Coach Court’s favorite: Think about the pros and cons of the activity. If the pros outweigh the cons, figure out a way to include it but then remove something else from your list.
By setting realistic expectations and saying no when necessary, you can keep stress levels down and have a happier holiday season.
Takeaways for a Stress-Free Holiday
To wrap up, remember these key points for a more enjoyable and less stressful holiday season:
- Prioritize and simplify your tasks. Focus on what matters most.
- Stay active, even in short doses, to reduce stress.
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques to keep calm.
- Eat healthily, enjoy treats mindfully, and listen for your body’s signals that it’s had enough.
- Set appropriate boundaries and know it’s okay to say no.
Try these strategies during the holidays. They can help you manage stress and make this time of year more fun and enjoyable. If you have favorite ways for managing stress this time of year, please share in the comments.