'Tis the season we all have to cope with our families and their dynamics.
Dont fear! With just a little thought and planning, you can survive – and even thrive – during this holiday season.
Keep exercise essential
Physical activity is the number one thing I recommend to everyone I work with because it reduces stress, improves mood and concentration, and combats depression. When it comes to improving how you feel, getting regular exercise can be as effective as taking antidepressants. Decades of research shows that even just ten minutes of challenging exercise daily triggers the same hormones in your brain (serotonin and dopamine) targeted by anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. Regular exercise builds up levels of these important mood regulators, becoming a buffer for stress, anxiety, and depression. If you don't have time to go to the gym or take a long run, simply scale back. Go for a 10-minute walk or do some light stretching, rather than skipping your workout entirely because you don't have time for a five-mile run or hour long spin class.
"Decades of research shows that even just ten minutes of challenging exercise daily triggers the same hormones in your brain (serotonin and dopamine) targeted by anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications."
Protect your sleep
Very few things consistently screw up people's emotional and physical health like chronic sleeplessness and poor sleep. It leads to weight gain, additional stress, and irritability. Of course, most of us sleep less well this time of year whether from staying out late drinking at parties or leaving all the gift-wrapping until the last minute. Losing sleep over the perfect meal or present will not make you or your family happier or healthier over the holidays. But you know what will? Consistent quality sleep.
Cut back on caffeine (and eliminate it entirely after 2 PM), and lay off the eggnog before bed. Skipping naps, especially the ones that find you sprawled on the couch after a big meal, will improve your ability to fall asleep at night. And though it's tempting, take a pass on the goodies in the cabinet or leftovers in the fridge for at least three hours before bed. That way, heartburn, indigestion, or a sugar headache won't keep you awake.
"Skipping naps, especially the ones that find you sprawled on the couch after a big meal, will improve your ability to fall asleep at night."
Feel (don't eat or drink) your feelings
The holidays often bring up strong feelings for people around everything from family losses, new
relationships, to meeting the high expectations of visiting family. And most of us would rather avoid those strong emotions – through the time-honored holiday traditions of eating or drinking – rather than just accepting that it is natural to feel them this time of year.
In the short run, emotional eating and drinking can be an effective way to distract or disorient you from strong and sometimes painful emotions.
"Letting yourself experience a strong emotion and then adding a label or a context to it reduces not only stress, but also the likelihood of emotional eating or drinking."
But it doesn't work in the long run, leaving you with the same anxiety about difficult emotions, a potential dependence on alcohol or food to self-soothe, and (all too often) 5 or 10 extra pounds that won’t be easy to lose.
Letting yourself experience a strong emotion and then adding a label or a context to it reduces not only stress, but also the likelihood of emotional eating or drinking. So the next time you notice yourself reaching for something to eat or drink in response to a difficult feeling, try to make sense of what's going on instead. Are you angry with your partner? Are you grieving a departed relative or friend? Are you sad about a recent break up? The more you try to make sense of your emotions, the less scary and dangerous they become. And the easier it gets to sit with them rather than attempt to numb them.