People say the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but if we’re being totally honest, the season isn’t all candy canes and Hallmark movies. In truth, the holidays can be really stressful. Not only do you need to wrap up all of your annual goals at work, but you’ll also need to buy presents for all your loved ones, attend a boatload of parties, host family members, and eat a lot of unhealthy foods, all while trying to keep your normal, day-to-day routine intact. We have a headache just thinking about how busy the holidays can be, but the good news is they don’t have to be the craziest time of year. It's possible to enjoy the holiday season without feeling stressed to the max. To help, we asked three wellness experts, Erin MacDonald, Ilse Paanakker, and Sara Panton, to share their tips for staying balanced during the holidays.
Meet the Expert
Erin MacDonald is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a fitness expert who co-founded the nutrition-focused website URockGir. Ilse Paanakker is the founder of a fitness tech company called Habit House, which was designed to inspire and motivate its users to keep up with their fitness goals. Sara Panton is the co-founder of Vitruvi, an online retail destination for scents and essential oils.
We’re not going to sugarcoat it for you: The holidays can be a lot, and it’s easy to start to feel overworked and overwhelmed. Before you spiral into a pit of pure panic, take a breath. Literally.
“Every two to three hours, give yourself a two-minute timeout,” MacDonald advises. “Get near a window with sunlight coming through, close your eyes, and just breathe slowly and deeply. Inhale for a count of five, hold for a count of five, and exhale for a count of five. Do five rounds, and you’ll feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders.” Doing so will slow your heart rate down to a more normal level and make you feel a bit more centered.
If you want to make sure you stick to your breathing, set a timer or regular reminders on your calendar.
Snap Back To Reality
Whether we are knee-deep in gingerbread cookies or so busy traveling that our fitness routine goes out of whack, we're all prone to falling slightly off the wellness wagon once the holidays roll around. According to Paanakker, it's okay to indulge in the holiday spirit.
"Truly enjoy an un-routine week by planning ahead of time when you'll pick your healthy habits back up again," she says. "Don't become so regimented that you're unable to enjoy special moments. It's totally okay if you don't exercise or meditate as much as normal (or at all!) during the holidays."
The key is to enjoy the holidays as they happen—and knowing when to kickstart your wellness routine. “Before the un-routine week starts, identify when your usual routine (and healthy habits) will start again. Put this on your calendar and tell someone so they can hold you accountable. Then enjoy your week,” Paanakker explains.
Set the Mood
Whoever thinks hosting is a breeze has clearly never simultaneously entertained 25 people, cooked a three-course meal, and made sure everyone's glass was filled with a festive cocktail. Unless you're having a casual Netflix and pizza session, hosting can be a complete pain—and it can be difficult to keep calm and carry on.
For Panton, the key is to set the mood with scents. "When hosting large groups during the holiday season, I create a space in my home where I can recenter my energy during the chaos," she says. Sure, you can spruce up your home with a bevy of candles or fragrant room spray, but it's also important to create a space where you can decompress.
"Before guests arrive, I turn my bedroom diffuser on and add 20 drops of lavender oil. I close the door, and as I'm hosting, the room fills up with the scent of relaxation," Panton says. "Periodically throughout the evening, I'll quietly slip away to the bedroom where I take three deep breaths of the lavender-infused air. It reminds me of my intention to stay present and helps calm my energy and, in turn, makes me a better host."
Clock in Some ZZZs
Once the holidays arrive, you may get the urge to want to do it all—the late nights of binge-watching all three Home Alone movies, the cool afterparty your work friend is planning, and waiting up with your nieces and nephews trying to get a glimpse of Santa Claus. Sleep can wait, right? Not quite.
“I can’t stress how important sleep is for your mental, emotional, and physical health,” MacDonald emphasizes. Not to freak you out or anything, but a lack of sleep can have some serious lasting effects. If you’re looking to curb your sleep habits for the better, power down your electronics one hour before bedtime.
“Electronic devices emit blue light, which interferes with your brain’s ability to produce melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy,” she notes. “It takes at least an hour without blue or LED lights to produce ample melatonin, so when your head hits the pillow, it’s lights out in just a matter of minutes.” Sweet dreams!
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Put the Phone Away! 3 Reasons Why Looking At It Before Bed Is A Bad Habit. Cleveland Clinic. April 22, 2019.