The season to eat, drink and be merry is upon us. But for some people, the holidays can also be a time of family drama, budgeting presents, or schedule overload. This stress of daily living can easily build up during this busy time of year, causing some people to use the holiday spirit as an excuse to indulge in their weaknesses. So how can you head this off?
We can and should let lose a little bit and reward ourselves during the festive season – within reason. The issue isn’t that you have a glass of wine, it’s if you’re using that wine to numb your feelings. If you’re feeling stressed out because of a snarky comment from your mother in law or hearing your kids squabble over who got the bigger piece of pie, consider reaching for a glass of soda water with a squeeze of fresh lemon instead of another glass of eggnog. You will find that your response is likely much more measured than it would be a few glasses in.
We all have triggers, and the holiday season can be for some people a veritable minefield, so it’s important to consider what may create stress or cause a reaction and come up with a way to prepare. For example, if the thought of spending time at a crowded shopping mall sends you over the edge, consider pre-planning and ordering gifts online. In many instances you’ll get better savings, and spare yourself the headache of battling the masses! Another trigger for many people is their family. Sure we love them, but when your uncle starts talking politics at the table, it can be enough to set the whole room off! Come up with a code word with your husband, favorite cousin, or a sibling that you can both use when the situation becomes a little too intense. This will signify to the other that you need to step outside or into the other room for a breather, and by enlisting a partner allows you to feel less like “you’re in it alone.”
We all know the one-to-one plan by now, alternating a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage you consume, but sometimes that can be easier said than done. I like to spice my alcohol-free beverages up by creating mocktails for easier and more festive drinking (not to mention, they significantly reduce peer pressure as they look like booze-filled treats). One of my favorites is a glass of soda water with some fresh squeezed limes and a splash of cranberry or pomegranate juice, another is a splash of lemonade, soda water, and a sprig of rosemary or some fresh mint. And while we’re at it, be sure to fill up with a protein and vegetable heavy meal before getting to the party to avoid drinking anything on an empty stomach – this only exacerbates the effects of alcohol. At the party itself, reach for stress-busting foods like deviled eggs (eggs are rich in B vitamins and protein, shown to reduce stress), mixed nuts or seeds (high in magnesium), and dark chocolate (which is loaded with antioxidants known to lower anxiety).
One of the best ways to combat stress is to maintain some of the healthy, stress-busting, habits that you have throughout the rest of the year. For me, meditation is a critical part of this. No matter how busy I get, I set aside even just 5 minutes first thing in the morning to meditate. There are some great apps now that are available as well, Calm for example, has short “emergency” meditations that are no longer than 90 seconds for those real SOS moments. Others like Simple Habit and Headspace have commuting meditations so you can listen while you’re driving over to the potentially stressful holiday event. Another great anxiety-reducing habit is breaking a sweat. Whether it’s a brisk walk with a friend, a music-thumping soul cycle class, or a series of solo sun salutations in your bedroom, getting your heart rate up and your endorphins pumping will immediately lower your anxiety. Plus – as we all know, making one healthy choice often has a trickledown effect, helping you to make smarter choices throughout the remainder of the day or evening.
It’s so important to remember that the vast majority of events during the holiday season are optional. Sometimes things are out of your control. It’s not always practical or possible to get the support you need, so it becomes critical to focus on what you can control and choose the events one attends. Make it easy on yourself by opting to go to the events that are least likely to be stressful. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing your health and sanity – and anyone who is truly important in your life will understand.