Chasing down the perfect gifts, attending holiday parties and family gatherings, and preparing delicious meals and desserts, on top of our daily professional and personal responsibilities can leave little time for self-care. Lost in the frenzied pace of the most wonderful time of the year is the time we take to care for ourselves. Saying no during a season full of yes can lead to a happier, healthier holiday season.
Focusing on your exercise, gratitude, mindfulness, nutrition, sleep and spirituality will result in more energy thereby leading to more fulfilling and productive days. The acronym DEER – drink, eat, exercise and rest – encompasses all of these areas in ways even the most ambitious holiday planner can fit into their schedule with some effort.
With food and treats at our fingertips, it is important to meal plan. One of the biggest challenges during the holidays is diet. A balanced diet, high in proteins, fresh foods, low in sodium and avoiding simple carbs and saturated fats can fuel us to keep going. Eating a small portion before a holiday gathering can make you less likely to over-eat and still allow you to enjoy the milk and cookies. Hydration is just as important. Enjoy your wine or eggnog responsibly and in moderation. Too much “fun” the night before often results in decreased productivity the following day.
It can be easy to stop your fitness and exercise routine during this time of year. Saying no to some of your holiday invitations can help you stay on track. The beauty of exercise is that you will experience an improved mood immediately following. Is the cold your excuse for not getting to the gym? Use YouTube for a workout or yoga class at home. If the cold is not an issue, and you just aren’t in the mood for the gym, a brisk walk can give you some healthy “me time.”
Gratitude is a staple of the holiday season. While it’s nice to show others how much they are appreciated, privately noting that for which you are thankful each day is another effective method in maintaining your well-being. Oprah Winfrey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Sandberg have said that they make daily lists of gratitude citing the many things for which they are grateful. Taking a few moments at the beginning of your day can keep you centered and help sustain a positive attitude. Likewise, if you have had a day best described as holiday overload, take a moment before bed to jot down what you are thankful for, which for some might include just being home.
The hustle and bustle can detach us from what we experience in the moment. Mindfulness is simply being truly present and cognizant of what is happening around you. If you are with family, put down the phone and be with them. If you are at work, skip the online shopping during lunch hour and use your time to recharge. The holidays offer us the opportunity to savor the moment with our loved ones and friends. If you feel overwhelmed or stressed during a certain moment, anchoring is an effective practice that can alleviate those feelings by focusing on something that gives you comfort. Visualizing or viewing a photo or symbol that is significant to you can be done as a way to stay grounded.
During the holidays, spiritually is not limited to religion only. For some, spirituality is expressed through prayer and going to a place of worship. For others, meditating, expressing their unique creativity through a hobby such as baking, cooking, arts and crafts, music, poetry, time with nature or volunteering allow us to focus on the well-being of the human spirit. While there are social norms associated with this time of year, there is no one-size-fits-all. You decide how to enjoy the gifts of the season, even if that means not participating at all.
The proverb “there aren’t enough hours in the day” rings as loud as jingle bells at this time of year. Wellness depends on getting enough sleep, which affects our mood and energy. This may mean skimping on that Netflix binge before bed and putting the phone and devices away about an hour before bed so you can decompress.
The most important person to take care of during the holidays and every day is yourself. I always tell my students that self-care and wellness should not be another item on their “to-do” list, but a way of life. While we all get sidetracked when the social calendar is full, we must give ourselves permission to say “no” to maintain our personal well-being.
Heather Cosimini, EdD, is an associate professor of psychology in the John Hazen White College of Arts & Science at the Providence Campus of Johnson & Wales University, a licensed clinician and certified holistic life, career and executive coach.