The days between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day can be full of giving, gratitude, good cheer, gracious hosts, family, and friends. Not to mention the festive decor and seasonal treats. It's the most wonderful time of the year, right? The reality is that some of the things that make the holiday season one we look forward to can be slightly problematic when it comes to your health and well-being.
It's true, the last month of the year presents some special challenges. Finding the perfect gifts for family and friends often involves crowded stores, city traffic, and financial strain. Social engagements and obligations fill your already busy schedule to the max. Strained relationships may create stress or guilt at family gatherings. It's tempting to indulge in more treats and alcohol than usual. And if you suffer from seasonal depression, the longer days and darker skies can really put your mood in a tailspin. For a time of year that is supposed to be joyful, December can be hard on your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Luckily, there are some relatively simple steps you can take to cope with the challenges of the holiday season. Read on for some tips on how you can stay mentally, phyiscally, emotionally, and even financially healthy through the holidays.
Simplify. Sometimes we let glossy commercials and Pinterest set our expectations way too high for creating the "perfect" holiday. Gifts and celebrations need not be elaborate to be both thoughtful and meaningful.
- Hosting? Consider buffet style to eliminate the need for place settings and centerpieces. Have fun with bright paper goods like these instead of china that needs careful handwashing and storage.
- Entertaining doesn't need to take days of preparation or a million dollar budget. Watch how lifestyle guru Rachel Hollis throws a cocktail party with just a few hours and a few dollars.
- "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful," says another lifestyle expert, Myquillyn Smith. She shares tips for simple, cozy winter decor.
- Prioritize. Take time before the holidays are in full swing to decide which events and traditions are most important to you. It's okay to say "no" to a few things so that you can be present and enjoy time with loved ones without feeling pressured or frazzled. The same goes with people: be kind to yourself by limiting time with those who don't treat you well.
Finding and buying the perfect gift for everyone on your list can get stressful--especially when you worry about giving something that they'll use and love. It's safe to say we've all received our fair of gifts that become unnecessary clutter with a helping of guilt every time we think about getting rid of them. Consider the fact that many of your loved ones are in the same boat, and it might be possible to work together to eliminate some of that stress for one another. Here are a few ways that families and friends have done this:
- One neighborhood decided that instead of exchanging gifts, they would contribute what they would have spent on each other to a family in need. They donate almost $2,000 each year to a local sub-for-Santa charity.
- A large extended family decided that instead of exchanging gifts at Christmas, they would simply give cards and enjoy holiday festivities together without the pressure of gift giving. Instead, they put money they would have used for Christmas gifts toward a summertime reunion.
- Other families and friend groups enjoy drawing names for for a gift exchange, so they only need to give one gift each year instead of many.
- If clutter is a problem, consider giving an experience. Theater and concert tickets, a museum or zoo pass, or a spa certificate are great gifts that don't require storage.
Frequently, we let food and drinks be the stars of holiday gatherings. There's nothing wrong with enjoying traditional favorites, but it's okay to find ways to celebrate that don't revolve around meals or alcohol, too. You can also choose healthier versions of festive foods.
- Try some new traditions that involve movement or activity, like walking through the neighborhood to see festive lights, going on a daytime hike on New Years Eve, or meeting up with friends at a climbing gym instead of a cocktail bar.
- If wine will be part of your holiday festivities, look for sulfite-free vinos like these recommended by nutritional therapist Stacey Maedge. (These make great gifts for co-workers and hostesses, too!)
- Potluck parties are popular at this time of year. If you are watching what you eat, bring something that you'll be able to enjoy. If you are hosting, providing something your clean-eating guests can nosh on will be much appreciated. Salads can be a gorgeous addition to any festive table--here are 30 delicious options.
- Instead of giving traditional plates of sweets and cookies to teachers or neighbors, offer a healthy treat. Homemade granola, gluten free cookies, or fresh fruit are great options.
Our last suggestion for staying healthy during the holidays? Make time during the holiday rush for your own self care. This is especially important if your mental or emotional health is fragile.
- Whether your self care looks like a yoga class, a long run, a pedicure, or some time with a cheesy Christmas movie, you should actually schedule it and follow through with it. Keeping commitments that you make with yourself helps you to feel some measure of control during an otherwise busy time, and can give you needed breathing space.
- Make peace with the fact that you can't do it all. And sometimes, you might not be able to do any of it. If you are in a difficult space right now, choose the one thing that is most important to you this month, and make that your focus. Guilt tends to drive us to make poor choices, so give yourself permission to give some things up.