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Holiday Stress: How to Plan and Maintain Mindfulness

Posted by DaVinci Healthcare Expert on Nov 24, 2021 12:57:26 PM


The holidays should impart joy and merriment as the year draws to a close, but they are actually a notoriously stressful time. As the holiday season draws nearer, you may be facing the challenge of managing stress while also enjoying time with loved ones. If the holidays create a sense of pressure or anxiousness for you, you’re far from alone.

This year might look different than usual, since many families cannot gather and instead must plan to celebrate virtually. Whatever your situation, finding ways to maintain mindfulness during the holiday season is undeniably beneficial to your physical, mental, and emotional health.

We‘ve compiled some tips and tricks for enjoying this time of year by practicing mindfulness and self-care.

Prioritize time for yourselF

If you can gather in person with family and friends, the onslaught of energy and activity that accompanies these events can be draining—especially if there is already tension or difficult dynamics at play. Taking physical and emotional space for yourself each day, even just ten minutes, can significantly affect your mood and emotional state.

Alone time might simply mean finding a few moments for silence. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Silence offers opportunities for self-reflection and daydreaming, which activates multiple parts of the brain. It gives us time to turn down the inner noise and increase awareness of what matters most. And it cultivates mindfulness — recognition, and appreciation of the present moment.”

Figure out which approach will work for you and your holiday plans. Perhaps you already have a meditation or yoga practice, or you can focus on deep belly breathing for several minutes a few times a day. There is no one-size-fits-all method of self-care, so find what helps you feel most grounded and calm.

Learn How Hyperstimulation Stress Response Can Impact Health. Get the guide.


Set daily intentions

Setting a daily intention in the morning establishes the tone for your day and can help keep you grounded and on track. During the holidays, it’s especially common to feel pulled in multiple directions and pressured to say “yes” more than you’d like. Many people feel as though their energy and time become over-extended at this time of year, which naturally leads to stress and exhaustion.

As you set your intentions over the holidays, consider how you want to spend your valued time that day. Try shifting any notion that prioritizing yourself is selfish, and instead plan to set time aside for yourself and the people in your life that matter. Choose what you want to do and who you want to see, and commit to being mindful and present during those gatherings. Nourish your sense of wellbeing by setting clear intentions and staying mindful of them throughout the entire day.

Approach holiday eating with flexibility

Holiday eating can be a huge struggle for many people. For those who have difficulties associated with eating throughout the year, this season can be especially challenging. Holiday parties and events usually involve large quantities of tempting, often highly processed foods, which might be a trigger for you.

If so, it’s important to allow yourself some flexibility over the holidays—don’t beat yourself up if you overindulge. That said, if you don’t want to stray too much from a healthy eating plan, the following strategies can help.

Recognize the food-pusher

You’re not the only one facing the challenges of holiday eating, and it can be draining to constantly explain why you’d rather avoid certain foods—you might feel pressured to eat foods you otherwise wouldn’t. These food-pushers are usually well-intentioned, and it can be hard to say “no” when a loved one says something like “You don’t like my cooking?” or “Not even one bite?” 

Be confident in politely, yet firmly, declining foods you don’t want to eat, and consider having a conversation with someone close to you to address the real issue at hand if the pressure persists. See this as an opportunity for honest communication about your health and wellness goals.


plan ahead and come prepared

If you host a holiday meal, you’ll have much more control over the menu. As a guest, you can prepare one or two dishes that you know you’ll be able to enjoy and share with others. For example, if you prefer to skip the pumpkin pie, bring a healthier dessert option free of refined sugar. This allows you to participate in the dessert portion of the meal, without compromising your food values or goals.

No matter what food choices you make over the holidays, be flexible and forgiving as you enjoy those once-a-year treats while also tuning into your hunger and fullness cues. Eat slowly, put your fork down between bites, chew thoroughly, and allow your body enough time to signal when you are satisfied. Don’t skip snacks or meals that will help you feel satisfied and nourished, and prevent overeating. 

According to Shelagh Mirgain, Ph.D., a distinguished psychologist with UW Health’s Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation: “Mindful eating can allow you to savor the treats you eat without overindulging. It’s about focusing on the emotions, thoughts, sensations, and eating experience to nourish the mind and body to allow them to flourish.”

Stay committed to bedtime

Sleep deprivation has a profound impact on every aspect of health, and the holidays can set you up for several nights of disturbed sleep. Whether you’re over-committing to holiday events, eating big meals late at night, or consuming too much alcohol, you might find yourself sleeping worse and less. Honoring bedtime routines is essential to a regular and balanced circadian rhythm, and studies show that an irregular bedtime has a profound effect on daytime sleepiness and fatigue.1

Poor or inadequate sleep can increase the risk of irritability, anxiousness, and slowed reaction time. It can also contribute to an increased appetite and weight gain.2  Avoid falling off of your bedtime routine and you’ll have the energy needed to face the holidays.

Set boundaries

Last, but certainly not least, confidently setting boundaries is crucial to maintaining mindfulness and caring for yourself any time of the year, but especially during the holiday season. The holidays are enveloped in expectations, so making sure you define and communicate your boundaries actually benefits your relationship with yourself and others. It’s okay to say “no” to specific events or commitments, and to recognize your own needs, wants, and capacity. 

Boundaries help us remain aware of ourselves and our relationships. Without setting clear boundaries, loved ones won’t understand your limits or know what you are (and are not) okay with. 

Final thoughts

The holiday season can be a joyful time shared with loved ones. However, if this time of year brings you feelings of stress, anxiousness, sleeplessness, or guilt, consider approaching the holidays differently this year. Keep these tips in mind, and speak with your integrative practitioner about supplements that might help manage stress hormones and maintain a sense of calm.*

sleep supplements

[1] Kang, J. H., & Chen, S. C. (2009). Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan. BMC public health, 9, 248. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-9-248

[2] Chaput, J. P., Després, J. P., Bouchard, C., & Tremblay, A. (2008). The association between sleep duration and weight gain in adults: a 6-year prospective study from the Quebec Family Study. Sleep, 31(4), 517–523. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/31.4.517


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