The holidays might be the most wonderful time of the year, but for some, packing in all that goodness can trigger a bit of stress, too. Whether it’s shipping delays or managing event prep, some people truly thrive this season, while others may need some extra support. If you’re in the latter camp, we’re here with a real gift: top tips from mental health experts that will help you focus on the magic of the holidays — not the madness.
Don’t overschedule — it’s not worth it.
First and foremost, Sharon Alexander, who has a Master of Health Science degree in mental health and well-being, says to be realistic with your schedule. “It is so easy to become overwhelmed by the many invitations to celebrate and gather, but it’s ok to say no,” she says. “There are finite hours in a day and few days during the holiday season. Be sure to prioritize with whom you spend your sacred time and be sure to schedule your own ‘me’ time.” (More on that last bit later.)
While it may feel difficult to turn down invitations, Alexander reminds us that sometimes it’s necessary for our own mental health. If you have trouble saying “no” in general, this can be a great time to practice. “Always express your gratitude for being considered and let the host know as soon as possible, so they can plan and budget appropriately,” Alexander recommends. “You can also extend your wish to gather on a later date when it is more convenient for both of you.”
Plan and schedule.
While you don’t want to overbook yourself, Alexander does recommend planning and scheduling your holiday essentials — and this doesn’t just mean parties. “Don’t procrastinate,” she urges. “Get your shopping done and holiday cards in the mail by early December. This will allow you to avoid the crowds and unsuccessful searches for the most sought-after gifts. You can apply the same thinking to meal planning and preparation. Plan your meal schedule out and shop for your non-perishable food items ahead of time.”
Thinking ahead also means being prepared for the parties you do intend to enjoy. With this in mind, Alexander recommends keeping a few generic (but great!) hostess gifts on-hand in your home. “That way, if you do go to someone’s home at the spur of the moment, you can grab a bottle of wine or candle from your collection and not have to scramble to find time to run to a store quickly on your way there,” she says. This can also apply to travel. By keeping travel toiletry kits packed and ready, it will take one less to-do list off your agenda come time to pack up and go.
And, speaking of agendas, it always helps to have a running to-do list, as well as important events marked in your calendar. “I use the calendar on my phone to keep track of appointments and I am big into checklists,” Alexander shares. “It feels very rewarding daily, not just during the holidays, to cross things off of a list. It also calms you down knowing that you do not have to rely on your memory alone to accomplish what needs to be done.”
Make healthy choices, most of the time.
The holidays are renowned for the many delicious dishes that punctuate them. Fresh-baked cookies, anyone? Whatever your holiday cravings and traditions are, it’s perfectly fine to indulge in them. Alexander just recommends being mindful of your portion size and servings (especially when it comes to sugar and alcohol), and to always make time for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. You don’t have to go to the gym — it can be a brisk walk with your dog or even by yourself — just get out there and get moving.
Make tasty seasonal foods to nourish your body.
Making healthy choices doesn’t mean you won’t still be able to eat delicious foods. In fact, with the right recipes, you don’t even have to save the tastiest treats for moderation — they can be the centerpiece of your meal. “This might seem relatively basic, but food is such a huge part of our lives and every day,” explains relationship, sex and mental health therapist Rachel Wright. “Plus, when we let ourselves indulge in yummy things, our brains literally release dopamine — which makes us happier!” With that in mind, she recommends making seasonal soups, chilis and cozy drinks, all of which are easy ways to nourish your body with warmth and fall and wintry flavors. “Self-care is a practice and is never something we perfect — and one of the best places to start is by being intentional about food and nourishment — trust me, your body will thank you,” she adds.
Keep a holiday gratitude journal.
Practicing gratitude in our daily lives is a powerful way to maintain perspective from day to day, whether times are good or a little tougher. Since the holidays can trigger stress, mental health-focused holistic health practitioner and Nourished Union founder Karen Brar says that beginning each day with purposeful reflection can be a great way to manage and potentially prevent such feelings from arising in the first place. “This powerful practice flushes out the stress hormones with endorphins, so you start the day feeling clear, energized and joyful, helping you to get into the true spirit of the holidays,” she explains.
Take time for yourself every day.
The holidays might be all about giving but Brar says it’s important to remember to give to yourself, too. Namely, in the form of down time. “The only way we can be truly present and bring our best selves to the holiday festivities is by first nourishing ourselves,” she says. “Ayurveda encourages a daily practice of self-massage, called Abhyanga, which benefits the body through improved sleep, circulation, strength and stamina, helping you to feel balanced and ready for the celebrations.”
Of course, taking time for yourself doesn’t necessarily require learning a new Ayurvedic technique. It can be as simple as committing to your daily skincare routine. And even that doesn’t have to be some long, drawn-out regimen. With products like bareMinerals SKINLONGEVITY Long Life Herb Serum (which is designed to boost radiance and minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles) and AGELESS 10% Phyto-Retinol Night Concentrate (which is formulated to improve texture and tone without causing redness, dryness or sensitivity), you’ll be able to give your complexion the clean, vegan TLC it deserves.
Allow your body and mind to rest and recover.
This holiday season, don’t confuse ‘me time’ with getting a good night’s sleep — you deserve both. For your best night’s sleep (during the holidays or any other time of the year), Alexander recommends aiming for seven to eight hours in a cool, dark room. “Meditating before going to sleep can help reset your mind after a busy day and can lead to more restorative sleep,” she adds.
Create cozy lighting for your home.
Speaking of cool, dark rooms, Wright reminds us that, as we’re nearing the winter season, colder, darker rooms (and not just your bedroom) can make for a very cozy home life, which in turn can create the ultimate place to wind down after a long day. But a little night is always necessary. “Lighting plays such an important part in making our environment feel safe, warm and welcoming,” she explains, noting that for winter, these wax, battery-powered candles make any day or night-in feel more comfy. “Plus — whether it’s for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or an average day, these lights make it feel like your place is decorated and intentional.”
Bring your holiday traditions into nature.
So often we think of holiday traditions as they relate to indoor activities. This year, though, Brar recommends taking things outside to create a greater connection with nature and the people you care for most. “Go for a walk with loved ones in the park or hike in the forest and fully immerse yourselves in the energy of nature, which instantly brings the mind and body to the present moment so you can truly connect with your loved ones in a meaningful way.”
Eliminate the perfection mentality.
Last but not least, Alexander says to ditch the perfectionist mindset — one can only do so much. “Many of us have a vision of the ideal holiday experience, but reality seldom matches that vision,” she says. “Be intentional about how you spend your time and with whom you spend it. While you are surrounded by all of the presents, make sure you remain grounded and fully present in the moment.” At the end of the day, that’s what the holidays are all about — and focusing on that might just save you a touch of undue stress.