The holiday season is a paradox: it’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times. It’s the best of times because everything is so festive and beautiful.
But the holiday season creates anxiety for many people, whether it’s getting together with family that you don’t see eye to eye with or running around all over town buying last minute gifts.
In the cold weather months, you’re more likely to get sick than you are in the summer. Yes, some of that has to do simply with weather; viruses thrive in colder weather and are able to circulate and replicate in stagnant, indoor air. But stress is just as much of a contributing factor, if not more so.
So what can you do to manage your stress this time of year? Follow these 5 tips for surviving the holiday season…
Take Mini Meditation Breaks
Not much of a meditator? Does keeping the mind free of thought seem like an impossible task? The good news is that you don’t need to be a Zen master to quiet your mind. And you also don’t need to meditate for hours upon end to become one with the universe. All it takes is a few minutes of consciously focusing on inhaling and exhaling. Stress managed! It’s really as simple as that.
And if while you are sitting still (a chair is fine; you don’t have to go into deep Lotus pose), thoughts creep in, that’s fine. Just bring your mind back to your breathing. Five long seconds inhaling, and the same on the exhale. Try to inflate your chest and belly like a balloon on the inhale. Deflate on the exhale.
Still thinking about all the bills you have to pay while you’re breathing? It’s fine. Do try and not let those worries consume your thoughts. But just remember the name of the game is not to rid your mind completely of thoughts. Rather, the goal is to focus on your breathing. Because breathing is healing.
Take Mini Exercise Breaks
Some people make the excuse that they don’t have the time to go to a gym or take a class because they’re so busy. But nobody should be so busy that they can’t take the time to take a mini-exercise break.
Something fun I recently started doing is dancing for 3-5 minutes in my home while listening to a song on Pandora or Spotify. I also have a standing desk/desk riser and while I’m pecking away on my laptop, I sashay my hips from side to side. Yes, shaking your groove thing is possible while working.
As the saying goes, sitting is the new smoking. Standing all day while working is impossible. And like sitting all day, standing for several hours is also bad for circulation. But alternating between sitting and standing several times a day is ideal for good blood flow and keeping the spirits high.
You can also set a timer and do a three-minute yoga routine every 90-120 minutes. The bottom line is that you don’t need to exercise for a long time in order to manage holiday stress. You can do a few mini movement sessions per day and reap the same benefits.
Eliminate Processed Carbs
This might be the holiday survival tip you dread. If you struggle with eating too many carbs, the good news is that you don’t have to completely quit carbs. I’ll explain in a sec.
But first, let’s take bread as an example. For people who follow a low-carb lifestyle (Keto Diet), bread is a no-no. Eating bread raises blood sugar levels and puts more demand on the pancreas to release insulin.
The more bread and other processed carbs you eat, the more insulin your body needs to keep blood sugar levels steady. If you keep eating bread, bagels, muffins, cereal and other baked goods made with white flour (wheat flour isn’t much better for blood sugar levels), your cells will become resistant to insulin. This places you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
But not all bread is created equally bad. About 99% of supermarket breads are empty carbs. But artisanal sourdough bread contains beneficial bacteria for your gut. You can also buy 100% whole rye bread which contains a lot of fiber. When you see that a bread contains at least a few grams of fiber, it means that the blood sugar spike won’t be as high as bread with little or no fiber.
If you’re at brunch and you’re considering getting a stack of pancakes, think of the pancakes as a giant bowl of sugar. Foods prepared with white flour break down very quickly, metabolizing into sugar.
The problem with this is that sugar suppresses the immune system. Eating a tiny piece of cake at a holiday party is no problem. But if you have trouble controlling your portion sizes, it’s better to just say no than to indulge. Studies have shown that consuming sugar puts your body’s infection-fighting white blood cells to sleep for several hours!
So instead of eating refined carbs, eat whole grains like wild rice, farro, emmer wheat and quinoa (technically, quinoa is a seed but let’s not split hairs).
Take A Social Media Detox
If you’re feeling anxious this time of the year simply because it’s the holidays or for whatever other reason, consider putting your phone down.
Make a phone call, text if you have to, but in order to feel more peaceful, I recommend chilling out on social media for a while.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that recent studies reveal that social media damages teenagers’ mental health. Even if you’re not a teenager anymore, chances are that keeping up with the Joneses or Kardashians on social is negatively impacting your life. Unless you’re using social strictly for work, consider a 3 Day Cleanse. (And if your body needs to physically detox, check out Chef V’s Cleanses.)
In the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness book, one of his tips for being happy is not to compare yourself to anybody else. When you’re on social media, it’s hard not to compare yourself to others.
No News Is Good News
Tip #5 for surviving the holiday season is much like my advice to do a social media detox. Unfortunately, news and politics have made us divided and no more is that evident than on social media. In addition to detaching from social media to avoid the news, do the same from cable news, newspapers, talk radio and magazines.
And last but not least, under no circumstances should you discuss news and politics with family who don’t share your point of view. It’s not worth the energy. The more you get triggered, the more stress hormones circulating through your bloodstream. When stress hormones flood the blood, digestion slows down. And when digestion becomes impaired, you’re more likely to pack on the pounds. In light of that metabolic fact, is it really worth arguing about who should be president?
Hopefully these tips will come in handy and make you a happier, healthier person for the holidays…