Holiday Survival Guide

How to Stay Sane
and Stress-Free
This Season

Prioritize your health, both physical and mental, this year

The Family Stone movie

It's the most ... wonderful ... time of the year. Or so the song goes, right? But in reality, we all know that while this is a time of good cheer, there's plenty to bring us down. And cookies, booze and gift cards can only do so much. Mental health and fitness app Total Brain released a survey recently outlining the stressors behind the holidays. And while holiday parties, exchanging gifts and other yuletide traditions sound cheerful in theory, the reality is that stress can really dampen the relaxation that should come with a holiday break. Nearly 40% of Americans said they'd take a pass this year on the holidays due to being too stressed out to deal with it. So to help you manage the pressure and tension, we consulted some experts for their go-to advice on keeping calm.

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Your Holiday Stress
Game Plan

Set your priorities
and your limits

When you try to be the good son, the dutiful friend and the dedicated employee, you end up aiming to please everyone. Sometimes you succeed. Other times, you don't get everything accomplished—and even if it was obviously too much, you still feel like you failed. Most of us try and try and then end up exhausted by the fist week of January. This year, before you get overwhelmed and agitated by too many demands, family requests and social invites, take some time to decide what is most important to you. What are the non-negotiable things you'd like to accomplish this season, who do you want to see and what traditions do you want to honor? Once those priorities are set, you can more easily eliminate any activities that aren't on that list or engagements that you know will ultimately drain you of energy and "holiday spirit."

Every moment is an
opportunity to reset

"You may have had too much bubbly the night before or you may have eaten too many of the holiday cookies at work—or both," says Joy Puleo, M.A., PMA-CPT, of Balanced Body. "Give yourself permission to enjoy, but do not let the indulgences accumulate without some modulation." Her suggestion? After drinking the night before, wake up and have a healthy breakfast and drink lots of water and start the day fresh. There's no guilt about downing all that egg nog when you book a fitness class for the next day. "Balancing indulgences with doing something healthy will help you keep your mental and physical equilibrium," she says. And bonus: It gets you out of the house and offers a way to work out any pent-up aggression.

Give yourself the gift
of sleep

Staying active is an imperative this time of year, but so is getting enough proper rest. "Sleep provides the brain an opportunity to heal, process and support the intellectual and mental work you do all day long," says Puleo. "Sleep also provides the body an opportunity to heal, process and support the physical work you do all day long." When you shortchange your sleep—especially during times of stress or environments with a lot of germs—you'll no doubt shortchange your overall health.

The Family Stone movie

Protect your heart
... literally

According to a 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal that tracked more than 283,000 heart attacks between 1998 and 2013, your heart attack risk is 15% higher than usual on Christmas Eve, 37% higher on Christmas day, and 20% higher on New Year's day. Stress and travel, along with rich food and plenty of alcohol, certainly contribute to this phenomenon, but they tend to effect those with more plaque in their arteries. So the lesson is: if you're relatively healthy, try to keep the bad behavior in check. But if you smoke, have high cholesterol, diabetes, or are overweight? Then you definitely want to cut back in order to stay out of the ER during your holiday break.

Go outside for
some vitamin D

When you feel the stress creeping in and squeezing you from the inside, it's easy to reach for some cookies or another drink (or two). Puleo recommends taking a walk first. "Whether you're at work or back at home with family, going outside for a walk will help you reset your mind and keep you active during the day," she says. "Getting outside in the sunlight will also expose you to vitamin D, which by the way is a must for your bones." An added, and often overlooked benefit, is that by drinking in the cool fresh air, you actually trigger your metabolism to bump up its calorie burning potential in an effort to keep you warm.

Embrace any and
all shortcuts

The holidays can be a marathon of sorts. Do what you can to go the distance with as little pain as possible. Instead of cooking for everyone, order food from a local gourmet shop. Skip the lines (and wrapping) by ordering and shipping your gifts online. Streamline your gifting by choosing a versatile present that can be given to multiple people on your list (perhaps it's a bottle of wine from a vineyard that's special to you). Obviously some tasks will be more personal and more important to you than to others. The key is to identify which to-dos on your list are running you ragged or stressing you out and cut them. Or, at least, delegate them to someone else or pay a little extra to have them done for you.

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