Holiday Survival Guide: How to Stay Chill During the Busiest Time of the Year

The most wonderful time of the year is officially upon us. But underneath all those warm, festive feels filled with mistletoe makeouts and late nights sipping eggnog lies an underbelly of stress. From packed party schedules to a packed house full of family, and growing credit card debt to growing waistlines, ’tis the season to get completely strung out. Yes, as much as the holidays can bring out the best in us, they can also bring out our worst. According to Toronto-based life coach Sharon Stokes, a lot of the dissatisfaction during December has to do with the pressure to make everything perfect. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to purchasing the perfect gifts, finding the perfect holiday outfit and creating the most amazing meal,” she says. “That perfectionism mindset can be a huge breeding ground for additional stress.” But you can manage get through December with your sanity in tact. Here’s how:

Keep moving
The minute our social schedules hit at an all-time high and our energy levels reach an all time low, what’s the first thing we sacrifice? Exercise, every time. The irony is, during the holidays we need to stay active more than ever, and not just because of our new stash of Ferrero Rocher. Stokes, who specializes in helping people find balance, happiness and life satisfaction, encourages her clients to be selfish when it comes to maintaining their regular fitness regimen. “As much as you’re giving to other people this season, don’t forget about you! Maintaining regular activity not only allows you to escape from the holiday madness, but it also gives you an opportunity to centre yourself and reduce stress levels.” Yes, we’ve heard it time and again, exercise is as integral for our mental well-being as it is for our physical health. It helps manage stress, boosts our mood and gives us more energy to combat the late nights and relentless schedules. Experts confirm that even fitting in a 20-minute workout, three times a week, is sufficient to reap the relaxing benefits. Try an on-the-go routine, rotating between low-impact and effective exercises like running on the spot, squatting, lunging, planking and crunching continuously for 20 minutes. Just keep moving.

Say No
So, this month I’ve already RSVP’d to 12 dinner parties, four brunches and one trip to the Christmas Market. I also agreed to make a batch of my infamous lemony potatoes for a potluck dinner on the weekend, and I don’t have a Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening free until the new year (oh, and I have four different people staying with me from now until the end of the month). The common denominator? Me agreeing to everything. But according to Stokes I’m not alone. “Since it’s the season of giving, it’s understandable that the word ‘no’ can be more difficult to voice.” She insists that learning to say “no” is critical. “It’s helpful to ask yourself where this feeling of obligation is coming from,” she says. “When you are able to truly understand your motivation for not wanting to do something, it becomes easier to say ‘no’ and free yourself from guilt.” And if the bad feelings persist, Stokes says it might speak to a bigger issue in that particular relationship. “If people are going to take offence to you saying no, ask yourself if these are people you really want in your life anyways.” #Preach.

Free your mind
“…and the rest will follow!” Not only is it one of the best R&B anthems of the ’90s (we are not worthy, En Vogue), but it’s also an important reminder to us all during the holiday season. During all the hustle and bustle, taking a step away from the noise to reset the mind is of the essence. Stokes agrees: “Being able to quiet the mind helps you connect back to yourself and frees your mind from future worries.” Sharon recommends a yoga class to take a mental time out, but if your to-do list is too intense to hit the mat, “Just spend a few minutes with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing,” she says. That’s right, studies show that less than 10 minutes of controlled breathing is enough to lower blood pressure and promote feelings of calm and relaxation. In my experience, it’s even less time-consuming than that. In fact, three to five minutes usually does the trick for me. To combat my wandering (read: anxious) mind, I find it always helps to put my hand on my stomach so I’m reminded of my belly expanding with each inhale.

Be present
It’s not all bad. The holidays are also filled with beautiful moments with our nearest and dearest. With all the focus on stress, we can often let the greatest memories slip away without being present to appreciate them. During a mindfulness meditation course last year, I learned that in order to snap myself out of autopilot I had to tap into my senses. What does it feel like to sit in front of the fire? What does my mom’s cooking really smell like? What does my fiancé’s laugh sound like? By asking myself these types of questions, I find it easier to be present, aware and grateful of the good things—making the season a lot more enjoyable.

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