By Health & Wellness Editor Kathy Whelan
Remember how much we enjoyed holidays when we were kids? The rituals, the food, the anticipation, the gifts – it all happened magically, effortlessly, for us. And then we were adults and the magic ended.
I can’t know what it was like to be an adult back then, but now it’s traditional for adults to push ourselves beyond our limits. We socialize more, eat more, travel more and spend more than we do at other times of year. We write cards. We find gifts, then we wrap them, mail them and track them. And when we’re not doing these things, we’re worrying about getting them done.
Amid all the fun, the many “must-dos” and “should-dos” of the season bring with them a load of stressors, both physical and mental. Our bodies may give us signals to slow down, but in all the hustle and bustle, we might not pay attention. Like a driver who forgets to check the gas gauge, we could find ourselves running on empty, burned out, before year-end.
Fortunately, we can employ some strategies to keep our tanks full at this busy time of year. Here are some:
- Listen to your body. Do this while your body is speaking to you politely, before it starts screaming. If you usually tune in to your body signals, keep doing it! If not, you could try doing a brief body scan meditation. Among other benefits, a body scan can help you develop awareness of your physical sensations and how they relate to your emotions. Doing this regularly, you will notice changes as they occur and see stress as it begins to build. If you rely on a fitness tracker to assess how you are doing physically, be aware that such devices are not nearly as good at measuring mental or cognitive fatigue.
- Prioritize self-care. It’s easy to put ourselves last when we’re trying to do so much for others, but we don’t have to do that and shouldn’t. If you’re pressed for time, adjust your self-care practices to allow smaller doses into your busy schedule. Exercise for ten or twenty minutes instead of thirty or forty, for example, and give yourself full credit for doing so. If it helps, block self-care time into your calendar and accord it just as much importance as something you are doing for someone else.
- Be strategic with your time. Don’t feel you have to say “yes” to every invitation or request. Ask yourself not only what you feel you have to do but also what you want to do. Have some holiday boundaries that align with your own needs, priorities and limits. If your boundaries are too porous, you may end up feeling resentment instead of enjoyment, so be clear where you want to draw the line and stick to it.
- Review past experience. Think about what you would like to do the same or differently this year. If you want to do less cooking, make alternate plans for food. If you’ve spent too much money on gifts before, make a budget and follow it. You may even find that others share your feelings of relief when you make these changes.
- Be realistic. Don’t try to make the holidays perfect or replicate an idealized version of holidays past. Do what works, and only what works, this year. Keep track of your energy – how much gas is in your tank – and use it wisely. Ask for help when you need it!
- Check in with your feelings. If you feel sad or lonely during the holidays, allow those feelings. I have a friend whose mother died on Christmas Day, and she is bound to feel sadness alongside the joy she feels sharing the holidays with her children and grandchildren. Mixed feelings are part of being human, and we need to remind ourselves of that and accept our feelings, whatever they are.
- Breathe. My last suggestion is the simplest. Often, especially when we feel stressed, our breath is rapid and shallow. Taking just a few slow, deep breaths throughout the day brings calming chemicals into our bodies to counteract the hormones that are already circulating when we notice our stress.
By keeping your tank full at this busy time of year, you give yourself a well-deserved gift. In addition, as you manage your stress, you give a gift to everyone around you and set yourself up for a good start to the new year.
Kathy Whelan left a successful Wall Street legal career when her doctor warned that her lifestyle of overwork and lack of self-care were not sustainable. She had always been interested in the relationship between lifestyle and health, so eventually Kathy returned to her undergraduate alma mater Duke University to become a certified Integrative Health Coach, with additional training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Integrative Health Coaching is based in the neuroscience of behavioral change. Kathy calls it the missing link in addressing individual and national health crises. It’s the foundation of her unique health and wellness coaching for corporate and individual clients. Kathy’s work has been featured in media including The Boston Globe. Learn more at www.whelanwellness.com