When I saw my doctor for my annual physical a few weeks ago, we got on the topic of how much we both “don’t love” the holidays.
“It’s so funny,” she remarked, “pretty much everyone says how stressful the holidays are, and yet it’s supposed to be this happy time.”
Sounds about right.
Holiday stress has been at the top of the list of what I’ve been working on with my clients. While we can’t control many of those things (travel delays, nosy relatives, less access to our favorite healthy foods and exercise options), we can take steps to help us feel calmer and more confident in how we respond to what comes up. Here are my go-to tips for stressing less during the holiday season.
How To Stress Less Over The Holidays
Eat To Stabilize Blood Sugar
Hanger management is key this time of year. Making it about stable blood sugar supports stable energy levels, which is essential for maintaining a stable mood.
The short version of the story is that carbs raise our blood sugar when we eat them and they break down into sugar in the body. Adding protein and/or fat buffers the breakdown of that meal or snack so we don’t experience as sharp a spike and then dip. Fiber in complex carbs like whole grains, beans, and starchy veggies like sweet potatoes will also get you a lot further than simple carbs like white bread and sugary holiday treats. It’s not that you can’t have a cookie, but consider having 1-2 with a small glass of milk rather than 4 cookies on an empty stomach.
Translation: balanced meals and snacks help you stay full longer, which keeps you from turning into a hangry beast. Even if you’ve got a big meal planned for later, don’t try to “save” your calories. Have a protein-rich meal or snack. It will help you make more mindful choices and have more peaceful interactions with the people around you.
Don’t Overthink The Food Piece
A little planning can simplify your life (for example, bringing or picking up some of your staples). Bring a few snacks if you’re traveling so you’re not at the mercy of whatever might be available on the road or at the airport.
Meals can be challenging, but a simple formula that helps dial down the drama for my clients is to aim to fill half the plate or bowl with veggies, a quarter with protein, and the last quarter with carbs.
Also, if you suffer from food allergies or have any dietary restrictions and will be staying in someone else’s home, let them know ahead of time. It might feel awkward in the moment, but it will save both parties so much stress and anxiety—not to mention scrambling—later.
Pay Attention To Digestion
Bathroom stuff can feel awkward to talk about, but the truth is that almost all of us deal with some kind of digestive discomfort during times we may be traveling, eating different foods (especially when they’re richer and lower in fiber than we’re used to), or are under a lot of stress. Happy holidays!
Constipation is the most common issue but diarrhea isn’t unheard of either, especially if stress sets you off or you have food sensitivities that trigger diarrhea. I typically recommend taking a probiotic supplement (doubling up if you usually take one anyway) with multiple types of bacteria and to be intentional about drinking enough water during this time to keep digestion moving.
If you’re dealing with constipation, a packet or up to 2.5 teaspoons of Natural Vitality Natural Calm magnesium citrate powder in warm water at nighttime can help. It’s also helpful for soothing muscle tension like headaches. If diarrhea is an issue, take it easy on stuff that’s hard to digest (some common culprits include sugar, red meat, and fried foods) and alcohol. Sipping coconut water or eating easily digestible stuff like bananas and chicken soup can help. If it gets really bad, see a doctor.
Be Intentional About Exercise
A lot of people fixate on the calorie-burning part of exercise, but the mental benefits are just as important. Those endorphins produced during exercise can help us feel calmer, less stressed, and it may even help with our sleep and digestion.
Bring whatever clothes or gear you’ll need or look up options where you’re staying if you’re traveling. While you may not be doing the exact same things you usually enjoy, this can be a great opportunity to try new workout classes, visit a gym in another part of the country or the world, or experiment with online resources. I talked about this in my self-care gift guide (LINK), but I’m a big fan of at-home Pilates, yoga, and barre workouts since you don’t need a ton of space or equipment. Of course, body-weight exercises are also great. Gentler stuff like walking has lots of benefits too! Going alone it can be a great opportunity to clear your head, but walking with a family member gives you time to connect.
Reframing your thinking is also key. When you tell yourself you’ll “try” to exercise, this sets you up for not doing it and getting into a cycle of feeling bad about yourself. Instead, plan out what you plan to do and which days you plan to do it. If you’ll be with other people, see if anyone wants to join you for an activity—a walk, a gym visit, or a workout class with family or friends offers not just a chance to be active but also a chance to connect.
To ease muscle soreness, foam rolling can be so helpful! I love this foam-rolling course from Lauren Roxburgh for mindbodygreen. You can do a lot of these exercises on a mini foam-roller too!
If you’ve been with me a while, you know I’m a huge fan of journaling (I even wrote about it for SHAPE). A lot of my clients use a food journal to track what they’re eating and make connections between their mood and food, but you can also just use a journal as a safe place to write down what’s on your mind and in your heart. Sometimes seeing our thoughts and emotions in our own handwriting can unlock valuable clues and insight to help us untangle tricky situations and bring a sense of calm. You can use a free-form approach or a few daily prompts like starting your day with a few things your grateful for and ending your day by noting a few things that went well.
Make It Easy To Get Back On Track After The Holiday
For so many people, the hard part is getting back on track after the holidays. I wrote about this a lot in this blog post because it’s a big one. Make it as convenient as possible to eat well and exercise post-holidays. A few of my favorite ways to do that:
*stock your freezer with frozen produce. Frozen fruit and veggies make it easy to whip up a healthy meal and you don’t have to worry about spoilage if you’re away or your schedule is erratic. For example, a smoothie bowl (LINK) or a veggie and grain bowl.
*have some shelf-stable go-to items handy. You’d be amazed and what you can come up with when working with things like beans, lentils, canned tomatoes, whole grain or legume-based pasta, and things like tuna and sardines. Nuts and needs are also convenient to have on hand.
*schedule a grocery delivery for the night or the day after you get back from a trip.
*plan out your workouts in advance for the week you get back into it so you have a plan to follow and don’t need to figure it out in the moment. If financial accountability helps you, book classes with cancellation fees. You can also coordinate with a friend if having a buddy helps you stick to plans.
Give Yourself Some Grace And Some Space
I say this to my clients a lot and practice this with myself during times I know I’m more prone to feeling off or overwhelmed. Be patient with yourself—it really does help you be more patient with others and helps you respond more calmly to stressors. Acknowledge that you may be out of your element and that flexibility is part of how we live our life.
It’s also okay to ask for space or carve out some alone time where you can. You can let loved ones know upfront about stuff like needing time to be active or need to take little “me time” breaks so you can recharge. Remember, your end goal, should be to have a good experience—something that’s easy to lose sight of this time of year!
What stresses you out during the holidays!
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