The holidays are a magical time of year when we gather with loved ones, enjoy lavish feasts, and the aroma of cinnamon dusts everything, like a light sprinkle of snow.
The holidays can also be a minefield of triggers, so I’ve come up with my top tips for navigating the potential stress of the most wonderful time of the year.
These tips will help keep your nervous system regulated so that you can actually enjoy this holiday season—not merely survive it!
1. Consistent Meals
Being sure to eat consistent meals, even on days when you know you have a large meal coming, is important. Doing so can prevent blood sugar spikes, energy crashes, and unnecessary biological stress.
2. Gentle Exercise
Low-impact exercise also helps tremendously with stress management. Even if it’s a short and sweet 10-minute walk, it’s better than nothing. Even small amounts of intentional physical activity go a long way in keeping us feeling grounded and balanced.
3. Self Check-Ins
One of my favorite tips is to make checking-in with yourself second nature. When you’re at a family or work gathering that typically causes you anxiety, or if you know you’ll see that one person who low-key makes your skin crawl, be sure to carve out micro moments for yourself.
These can look like taking a minute to walk outside for a breath of fresh, crisp air, or a quick trip to the loo to pause and be alone. This is your time to check-in with yourself, tuning into your nervous system and assessing how you’re really doing. Ask yourself a simple question, like “How do I feel in my body now?”
Taking small breaks from social situations to check-in with yourself can be the difference between leaving the party when you’re ready to go and waking up with a hangover (social or otherwise) the next morning.
4. Recognize Triggers
We can also practice these brief pauses from social gatherings when we know we’ll be around a relative who is highly triggering for us. If you’ve ever struggled with emotional eating, disordered thoughts around food, or even addiction, you know how tricky it can be to successfully attend family holiday gatherings without engaging in old thought and behavior patterns.
For example, if your mother has a tumultuous relationship with food and/or her own body image, she may have an unspoken expectation that you will join her in dysfunctional behavior at Thanksgiving dinner.
Once you notice her become uncomfortable and feel her energy start to pull you in, go ahead and step away. Take a moment alone in the restroom to wash your hands and repeat a simple mantra to yourself, such as “This is not mine.”
Imagine washing off old, negative patterns that you may have historically shared with your mother. Then, create an energetic shield by imagining yourself surrounded by pure, white light, and rejoin the gathering as the self you’ve worked so hard to find.
We can hold our mothers or other loved ones in compassion for where they are in their journey without taking it on as part of our own. When a loved one tries to connect on the level of dysfunction, they are simply trying to not be alone in their misery. You can make eye contact and give their hand an encouraging squeeze without being sucked in.
Keep in mind that their highest self does not actually want you to be bogged down, but rather to thrive.
5. Plan Self-Care
Another great way to manage stress this season is to pre-plan your self-care rituals. Booking a massage or therapy session a few weeks out is a great way to ensure your self-care doesn’t go out the window just because you are busy with holiday plans.
6. Energy Management
Energy management is crucial this time of year. You may find it helpful to block off time in your calendar that absolutely does not get filled with holiday hustle and bustle. Instead, it’s time to just be at home without the pressure of gift buying, hosting, or decorating. Fitting in quiet time when you can is a practice your nervous system will thank you for.
Finally, my ultimate tip for managing stress around the holidays is to remember the reason for the season. Look for and celebrate the extra light that exists this time of year!
It can be all too easy to get caught up in perfectionism—making sure our home looks a certain way, our tree is trimmed exactly as we’d pictured, or our personal appearance matches an ideal in our mind. However, that just creates additional stress and anxiety, and only serves to take us away from being present with the people who love us.
This holiday season, try to remember that your peace is precious and worth protecting. Focusing on the bright parts that bring us joy—like the embrace of a loved one you haven’t seen in ages, or the feeling of giving generously—is what this beautiful season is truly all about.
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