The holiday season can be incredibly stressful. In fact, according to one study, a massive 88% of Americans find this to be the most stressful time of the year, with 77% reporting having a hard time relaxing during the holidays.
It’s easy to see why. Christmas comes with financial pressure, social obligations, and extra work. In addition, the cold weather and dark nights can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD or seasonal depression) for many people.
That’s why we consulted a group of experts in the fields of mental health, stress reduction, and wellbeing to find out how you can cut down on stress and feel better this holiday season.
“Fresh air can increase our endorphins to give us a natural feel-good boost,” says Tania Taylor, a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist. Though you may not feel like it due to the cold weather, getting outside for even a few minutes can make a huge difference to your mental health and wellbeing.
Ideally, go out in the middle of the day to maximize your exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D. Why not take a short walk during your lunch break?
Let Go of the Pursuit of Perfection
Many of us feel immense pressure to make the holiday season perfect for ourselves, our families and loved ones. But pursuing perfection is more likely to leave you miserable and stressed out.
Annabella Zeiddar is a Transformational Therapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist. “Perfection is unattainable because it simply doesn’t exist and is a highway to misery,” she says. “So let go of the self-imposed expectation that everything has to be just so and perfect on the day. Instead, relax and enjoy yourself!”
Embrace the imperfections of the holiday season, and you’ll be much happier. You may even find yourself able to laugh about them.
We all know the importance of drinking enough water for our physical health. But did you know it can impact your mental health, too? Natalie Louise Burrows, a Registered Nutritionist and Functional Medicine Health Coach, told us that hydration and stress are linked.
“When we're stressed, our body uses more water and sodium as the adrenals create more cortisol and adrenaline to help us manage,” she says. “This can lead to excessive thirst and a dry mouth, which is a sign of dehydration.” She suggests adding a pinch of mineral salt (not table salt) to your drinking water. “This helps your body to retain water at a cellular level as it acts as an electrolyte for the sodium-potassium balance in your body,” she explains.
Create a Positive Morning Routine
How you start your day can set the tone for the rest of it. Kate Oliver is a Chartered Psychologist and the author of Rise and Shine - How to Transform Your Life, Morning by Morning (to be published by Piatkus in January 2023.) She suggests setting aside 15 minutes at the beginning of the day and creating a self-care routine.
“When you awaken, take a couple of minutes to sit calmly and simply focus on your breathing. Try to breathe softly, slowly and gently, allowing your breath to flow down into your stomach and then out again. You might find it helpful to count to four as you breathe in and count to four as you breathe out,” she says.
“Then think about your day and set some positive intentions. What would make today really great for you? What is most important to you about the day ahead? It’s a good idea to write these down. We know that people who write down their intentions are more likely to see them through. Finally, reflect on what you can do to take care of yourself and rebalance your energy during the day.”
Stretch and Breathe
Our bodies can hold onto stress throughout the day. You might hold tension in areas such as your shoulders, back, and jaw. Regular stretching and deep breathing exercises can help you to shed the tension from your body.
“Stretching is a lovely way to wake up for the day,” says Burrows. “It's also perfect to do periodically throughout the day to keep the circulation moving around the body.”
As you stretch, aim to tune into your breath, too. You may find that your breathing gets shallow when you are stressed. A great way to combat this is to breathe deeply into your belly. You can also repeat the breathing exercises from Oliver’s morning routine at any time throughout the day.
Check In With Yourself
How are you feeling? During busy periods such as the holidays, it can be easy to focus on what others expect from you rather than what you need. Take a few moments every day to check in with yourself, your feelings, and your needs.
“Christmas is about love and kindness, and that includes showing that to ourselves,” says Vie Portland, who runs Discover You Love You CIC. “If people are demanding more, take a step back, ask yourself what you need, and do that.”
Boundaries are an essential part of self-love. Being there for others is admirable but you deserve as much love, kindness, and respect as you show to your loved ones. Portlands adds, “by setting boundaries and focusing on your needs, you’re giving others permission to set boundaries and be themselves, too!”