The first post in our “Healthy During the Holidays Series” focused on physical health. Because emotional health is SO important, we’re giving this topic its own post rather than one measly bullet on the physical health list.
It’s common to feel stressed, rushed, anxious, and even sad during the holidays. Here are some practical ways to stay emotionally healthy and to enjoy the holidays, despite the challenges life may throw at you.
Focus on Gratitude
This is an “oldie but goodie.” Every one of us has challenges and struggles, and we all have things to be thankful for, too. Whenever I focus on my many blessings I’m reminded of just how lucky I am. I’m lucky enough that my life essentials are covered, and that virtually everything I might want is a bonus – icing on the cake. My life may be simple compared to some, but I’m living in a lovely fantasy land compared to many, and I do not take it for granted.
Lower Your Expectations
It’s easy to imagine the perfect holidays – where everything goes according to plan, everyone gets along perfectly, and you’re able to make that elaborately-decorated gingerbread house you’ve always longed to make. Unfortunately, perfect seldom – if ever – happens.
We run late, burn sugar cookies, and our darling children sometimes rush the stage and interrupt an older sibling’s holiday pageant. It’s okay! Life is messy, and while we try to see to all the details and make things lovely for those in our lives, best-laid plans sometimes go awry. Do your best to shrug it off and move forward with a loving and relaxed attitude.
Take Slow, Deep Breaths Daily
If you have time to meditate, even for a minute or two, great! If that’s not your cup of tea, even taking 10 or 15 slow deep breaths can help you calm down. Calming breaths are a great way to focus and relax, whether you’re fighting off shopping cart “road rage” in a packed store, or are feeling anxious about all that you still have to get done.
Speaking of feeling anxious about your to-do list, why not drastically cut it back? Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies. If you’ve convinced yourself you need to make 20 types of cookies and buy exactly 25 presents for each of your three children – and it’s stressing you out – you can re-write your plans. You can change and modify your way of celebrating.
Consider simplifying your menu, your shopping list, how many activities you’re involved in – everything. There should be very little “have to” and lots of “I choose to” in your life – if not, you may want to rethink and revise your plans.
Enjoy the Moment
I love the holidays, and there are some things I mindfully choose to do each year.
- Smell fresh-cut Christmas trees
- Decorate our (faux) tree
- Listen to the Nutcracker soundtrack
- Bake (and eat) a special family cookie recipe
- Visit with family
- Drive around to see holiday light displays with my husband
These are the holiday practices I treasure most. They’re simple but they bring me great joy, so I allow myself enough time to do each one during the month of December.
Be Kind to Yourself & Others – the Holidays Can Be a Sad, Lonely Time
If it seems odd to you that the holidays can be a sad and lonely time, you’re one of the lucky ones. It’s very common to feel sad and depressed. Financial worries, unrealistic expectations, and depression are often exacerbated. For those who have lost a loved one at this time of year, or who may be estranged from family members, a season full of alleged merriment may seem like a cruel visitor instead of a welcome friend.
If you’re personally struggling with any of these issues, be gentle with yourself. Reach out to positive friends and family, and don’t be afraid to seek assistance from medical professionals if you need a hand. If you’re feeling well, but have friends, family members, or even acquaintances that you think may be struggling, make an extra effort to connect and engage.
Final note: You’re allowed to avoid toxic people year-round – even if they’re blood relatives.
Brighten Someone Else’s Day
It’s so easy and fun to brighten someone’s day and so it’s also important. We often forget how powerful a simple gesture, a kind word, or a good deed can be, but acts of kindness can literally – and without you ever knowing – save someone’s life. You may choose to focus your good deeds on a needy family, a senior citizen without family, a stranger on the subway, or your mail carrier. Some of my favorite December do-good activities include:
- Donating food to the local food bank
- Buying gifts for a family in need
- Giving a few lottery scratchers to a stranger
- Buying a meal for veterans sitting nearby in a restaurant
- Baking homemade cookies for friends and family
- Donating gifts to children in foster care – in a group home
If you’re low on money, a simple hug, a sincere compliment, or an offer to give your time shows you care, too. I promise that while you’re lending a hand to others, you’ll nurture your own heart, too.
These tips focused on emotional health. Another major key component when it comes to being healthy is your physical health, so be sure to read Part 1 in our series if you missed it: Tips for Staying Healthy During the Holidays Part 1: Physical Well-Being. We hope this is your happiest holiday season yet!