While time off is typically seen as relaxing, the holiday season can also prove quite stressful for many people. Think travel delays, hectic family visits, and fighting busy malls. But, we also still have work, money and other sources of stress–all of which can quickly pile up.
Research from the American Psychological Association found that overall, people enjoy the holiday season. However, more than half also report increased fatigue, stress and irritability, with higher rates amongst women. Top stressors include limited time and money, gift giving, family, sticking to diets and travel.
Remembering to prioritize your own well-being during the holidays not only makes it easier to cope with stress, in also helps prevent it and make the season more enjoyable.
Why Sleep is Important for Happier Holidays
Business health platform Virgin Pulse surveyed people on holiday habits. They found 46% of people reported worse sleep during the holidays, between busy schedules and plenty of stress. Sleep and stress have many interconnections, and sleep quality plays a role in things like food choices and mood as well.
46% of people reported worse sleep during the holidays.
Without adequate sleep, research shows people may experience higher levels of stress, find daily tasks more difficult, have reduced ability to regulate emotions, get in more fights, and even have a diminished sense of humour. It’s easy to see how this combination might make someone less than cheery during holiday gatherings.
Tired people are more likely to reach for high-calorie, high-fat foods, also not ideal if you’re trying to stick with healthy eating. Another good reason to sleep? It helps your immune system stay strong and reduces your vulnerability to common colds– a big plus during the winter.
Essentially, when you stay well-rested, your brain better manages stress and makes healthy decisions. Not to mention, you generally look and feel your best, too.
The Role of Exercise and Nutrition
One of biggest stressors for Americans during the holidays remains gaining weight, according to a 2014 Consumer Reports survey. They found that 37% of people worry about packing on extra pounds (second only to crowds and lines).
The holiday bulge is a well-known phenomenon during a season that brings plenty of sweets and rich meals, as well as less time for the gym. The Virgin Pulse survey also found that over half of respondents report difficulty maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits during the holidays.
You may not have the opportunity to make to the gym, but walks and small workouts when traveling prove better than nothing. Even a 10 minute cardio or quick yoga session a few days a week still provides stress-reducing benefits. Small moves like packing healthy snacks when travelling (baby carrots and nuts are a good pair) and being mindful of portion sizes during big meals helps. Also, consider watching caffeine intake, and making sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. Little things can go along way toward feeling your best.
Making Time for Yourself
In addition to making time for sleep, staying active, and eating well, a few other ways to manage and reduce holiday stress include:
- Plan out holiday meals and gift giving in advance to limit last minute pressure. Enlist family members to help when needed.
- A survey from travel website Orbitz found that nearly half of people aim to reduce stress by planning holiday travel and activities in advance. Allow your family plenty of time to pack so you can get a good night of sleep before traveling. use a checklist to avoid surprises, and set out early so hiccups and delays won’t derail your day.
- When gatherings start to feel stressful, make time to take a break in a quieter area of the house. Pop on headphones for a quick escape with a favorite podcast or song. Or, take a walk to get some mood-boosting sunshine.
- Schedule some “you” time at the beginning or end of each day. Stretch, journal, watch a favorite show, or decompress in your preferred way.
When you feel holiday stress building up, having a couple go-to tools can be very helpful. Try proven relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation, deep breathing or mindful movement such as yoga. These strategies help with holiday stress. And, regular practice brings year round benefits for your brain, physical well-being, sleep and more.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.