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The holidays can bring joy and excitement, but for many, they’re also quite stressful. Whether you feel pressured at work, overwhelmed with family commitments, or exhausted juggling both, it’s common for people to feel extra tense this time of year.
Healthy habits can help you manage stress and enjoy the holidays.
1. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
Poor sleep is linked to physical and mental health conditions, including your ability to effectively manage stress and anxiety. This holiday season, try to stick with your normal sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This is also beneficial for children who are home from school over holiday breaks.
Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night, while children and adolescents should get eight to ten hours, depending on their age. A predictable and firm bedtime will ensure everyone gets sufficient sleep and sustains energy and mental clarity through holiday festivities.
Additionally, a consistent sleep schedule will help school-aged kids easily transition back to their classroom after the break.
2. Eat three, well-balanced meals every day.
Food should be enjoyable, not stressful. This holiday season, don’t skip meals (or entire food groups) to “save” room or calories for a big event or gathering. Instead, make time to sit down and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, incorporating a variety of food groups on your plate. Maintain a well-balanced diet by eating a vegetable (and fruit), protein, and carbohydrate at each meal, which will also prevent you from getting hungry in between meals. Most importantly, prepare nutritious food that you actually enjoy eating. It’s easier to make better choices when it tastes good too, especially over the holidays.
3. Move your body everyday (and find ways to get outside).
Everyone thrives with exercise, but you don’t have to try a new sport or join a gym to get active. Go for a walk, get outside with your kids, or find fun ways to participate in activities that get you moving. (And don’t forget to wear supportive, well-fitting shoes!) Kids especially benefit from opportunities to stay connected with their peers over the break from school, and it’s a great way for the whole family to get physical exercise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderately-intense exercise every week, along with two days of strength training. Studies show that active adults experience improved concentration and mood, less anxiety and depression, and better problem-solving abilities.
4. Prioritize connecting with your family.
The holiday season is a perfect time to make plans for quality time with those you love. Making time to connect with one another can help to reduce stress levels, especially with small kids around. Your children would love to help plan time together too, so give them options, whether it’s picking out a favorite movie or meal. Consider suggesting inclusive activities that everyone can participate in, regardless of age or abilities. Perhaps you can try a new board or card game, or learn a new way to participate in sports, leisure, or recreation with adaptations that help everyone participate.
During this time together, try to give your kids as much positive feedback as possible. Children thrive off routines, but travel and disrupted schedules can make it hard for kids to maintain their best behavior. Focusing on the positive can help encourage and motivate them to do the right things with a good attitude.
5. Unwind with a podcast.
If you're feeling stressed with the holidays approaching, try relaxing with a podcast. Over 50% of Americans subscribe to a podcast, and there’s a genre for everyone. From comedy, sports, and pop culture podcasts to true crime stories and news, there’s something that will match your interests. If you think you’re pressed for time, consider listening on your way to or from work or even while you’re doing something at home, like cleaning or getting ready for the day.
6. Try a breathing exercise to quiet your mind and body.
Amidst holiday parties and family gatherings, don’t forget to take a moment for yourself. If you find yourself feeling mentally or physically tense or stressed, a relaxation breathing exercise can help you decompress. And, it doesn’t have to take long. Try the following:
- Inhale for 4 seconds
- Hold for 4 seconds
- Exhale for 4 seconds
- Pause for 4 seconds
Repeat these breaths several times to quiet your mind and body, even if you’re busy. One round takes just 16 seconds.
7. Stay healthy by practicing hand hygiene.
Getting sick is never fun but it can be especially miserable over the holidays. Ward off illness or infection by regularly washing your hands and teaching your kids to do the same. Make it fun, easy, and convenient for little ones to keep their hands clean, which can help keep the whole family healthy. Additionally, don’t forget to stay up-to-date on any preventative vaccines which will protect you from harmful diseases in case you come into contact with them.
8. Don't forget to laugh.
Something will inevitably go wrong this season, whether you burn the ham or your awkward uncle arrives way too early for dinner. Expect that things won’t be perfect and don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Instead, choose to enjoy your company and laugh through the imperfections. It can help to remember what each holiday means to you and just be present with whatever unfolds in front of you.
For more healthy tips this holiday season, watch MedStar Health's 12 Days of Wellbeing series below: