If you’re like most Americans, you probably associate the holiday season with stress. From family tension to financial pressure, there’s no doubt that the holidays can increase stress. Some studies even suggest that American mortality rates increase during the holidays. Holiday stress is a serious issue.
Let’s talk about how you can use the holidays to boost your wellness. Taking time off from the daily grind, engaging in conversations with those you love, spending time with family, giving gifts, and strengthening ties with your social community are all behaviors that improve your quality of life — and prolong it, too.
Here are five ways to improve the health of your holidays:
If the holidays mean you will have a day or two off work, take an extra hour for yourself each day to unwind a little earlier and/or rise later. Sleep is one of the most important factors — if not the most important factor — in your health.
2. Indulge… In Home-Made Treats
Striking a balance between indulgence and restraint during the holidays can be tricky. “Expert” holiday food suggestions like this infographic printed by the Huffington Post are often unrealistic. While I agree with Ms. Gans’ assertion that portion control is everything, the “small changes” she promotes will not work for most people. Let’s be honest: A handful of pecans just isn’t the same as a slice of pecan pie! Ms. Gans also discourages “leftovers.” I believe it’s fine to eat your leftovers as long as you create clean, healthy dishes.
Attending holiday parties? At parties and holiday festivities, pass on store-bought and indulge in home-made goodies. By doing so, you will eliminate most of the toxic chemicals found in processed foods that can wreak havoc on your health. In addition, eliminating store-bought desserts will inevitably cut down on the calories you consume and save those calories for the more nutritious components of holiday meals.
Are you hosting? If your guests will be commuting locally, make it potluck and ask each guest to bring a treasured home-made recipe. You will be surprised by how much guests love potlucks (as long as they have advance notice) and the unique recipes/dishes make for great conversation as well! If your guests are traveling from afar, enlist their help in day-of cooking.
3. Give Cards, Letters, & Home-Made Gifts
Shopping doesn’t help anyone (except maybe the economy), but writing does. And so does reading expressions of love and gratitude! Choose cards and write notes to your loved ones. One of the most cherished gifts received this year by my mother, who works with children, was a postcard-size hand-drawn hand-written card from a family describing just how much she means to them. The children drew a picture on the front of the card. They dictated their thoughts to their mother, who wrote a note on the back of the card. My mother treasured their thoughtfulness.
If gifts are a tradition for your family, suggest a gift exchange. Each person or family member who would like to participate draws the name of another and purchases a gift for that person only. Everyone receives a gift and everyone has to shop for only one gift. Agree on a reasonable amount to spend, and stick to it.
Letters, cards, and home-made or home-baked gifts will all be cherished. It truly is the thought that counts. This year, as a guest at a holiday celebration, I made fudge and packaged it in holiday tins. I will post my simple 10-minute fudge recipe in an upcoming post.
4. Make volunteering part of your holiday tradition.
Donate time or money, whichever you have. Both help. You may be busy all year, but if you make volunteering part of your holiday tradition, you can squeeze in the extra time and feel good about yourself. Furthermore, volunteering for causes you value can increase your overall wellness.
One of my colleagues hosts a food-drive holiday party each year. She hosts the party, provides treats, music, and alcohol. In exchange, guests are asked to bring nonperishable food to donate. Then she carts the food to a charity organization. Be the conduit between friends and family who want to help, but don’t know how.
5. Take a hike or go jump in the lake. Really.
Incorporating exercise into your holiday traditions is a no-brainer. Take a long evening walk around the neighborhood to look at holiday lights. If you have older relatives, take a short walk. Or invite the young sprites over for an early stroll before older relatives arrive. Appreciate the beauty of the holidays — the lovely lights, the warmly-lit windows, the cheer of holiday decorations.
Do you have tension with your relatives and/or can’t convince anyone to join you? Take a stroll by yourself. Need an excuse? Suggest that Fido needs a break from the chaos.
6. Save the memories.
The years are passing quickly. If you’re lucky enough to have your family in the same place at the same time, take photos. Your holiday photos will bring you — and your children, and their children — happiness for many holidays to come.
Have photos? Use the holidays as an opportunity to reflect on them. Bring out the photo albums. Have older relatives explain the stories behind photos and name unidentified people in the photos; write down their stories.
I hope these suggestions improve the happiness and health of your holidays. Do you have additional suggestions? Please leave a comment below.
Wishing you and yours happy and healthy holidays from Wellness and Equality!