The holidays encompass all things but the concept of balance. We generally spend this time traveling, hosting, celebrating, cooking, entertaining, shopping, and — of course consuming. In short, the holidays are a time when we experience increased levels of stress. The stress is not all negative, but it is chronic from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Further, the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the packed schedules do not encourage much time for rest, recovery, and self-care. So how do we focus on creating balance? Is it possible? Is it realistic?
Yes. To all of that. We just need to channel some creativity and implement thoughtful strategies to keep us balanced as we close out one year and welcome another.
Strategies to Consider
1. Schedule time for movement.
Movement does not have to be structured exercise. It can take the shape of a leisurely after dinner walk or a restorative yoga session. Prioritizing movement during the busy bustle of the holidays will improve mood, sustain energy, and promote better sleep. Schedule time and make this one of your non-negotiables.
2. Schedule time for self-care.
We are always “on” during the holidays — whether that is because we have the responsibility of entertaining, preparing meals, shopping for gifts, or we are stimulated by the chaos of traveling (add kids to the mix and the stress level can skyrocket). Just as you would schedule time to move mindfully and practice self-care in the form of recovery. This might mean you set a timer for 10 minutes to read each day, or meditate for 5 minutes, or even practice a few yoga poses before bed. A hot bath or shower will also do wonders for promoting better sleep (which can be hard to get during the chaos of the season).
3. Set a boundary between work and personal life.
We cannot give 100% to all facets of our lives, which is why making good faith efforts to balance the many dimensions of ourselves is crucial for wellbeing. Because we live in a digitally dominated world, we are always connected to work, which can create what I call a “notification nightmare”. Set your phone on do not disturb during mealtimes and in the evenings (or the times that you are and need to be focused on family and other personal activities). You can also set a schedule of availability to answer work-related emails, messages, and calls. Limit this to a specific window during the day and give yourself permission to unplug.
4. Prioritize personal activities.
No doubt we all get a significant number of invitations to attend concerts, plays, pageants, parties, and celebrations. If we forget to set limits, we are swimming in chronic stimulation and stress that makes it difficult for us to determine which direction is forward. It also makes it a challenge to unwind at the end of a long day. Select which activities to attend and which to decline. You do not need to explain yourself to those you decline. A simple “thank you but I am not able to attend this year” is sufficient. That’s setting a solid boundary and respecting the energy and mental space you have to give.
5. Practice gratitude regularly.
There is so much guilt around food and the holidays. We can experience guilt for eating too much or overspending on gifts or for neglecting chores. Here is where we have the power in shifting our mindset towards a more productive method of thinking — being grateful. A challenge to try this season is to record three things you are grateful for each day. This exercise takes about 3 minutes total and can be integrated into a self-care routine. What you feel grateful for does not need to be extravagant. Instead, focus on the simple things, the small pleasures such as enjoying a cup of coffee in front of the holiday lights, or engaging in a quick catch-up phone call with a friend. Think about what brings you joy and what you look forward to and jot them down in a journal or an electronic note system.
6. Avoid labeling foods in dichotomous ways.
Diet culture is famous for labeling foods as “good” and “bad” or “can’t have” and “can have”. This does little more than nurture a negative relationship with food. This also results in guilt and shame around eating foods that you enjoy that may be richer in calories than in nutrients. Adopt the moderation mentality that encourages a more positive relationship with food. Guilt is not an ingredient in any recipe and should not take up mental space in your mind. Enjoying some of the richer foods around the holidays will not derail your progress or result in total failure. Instead, focus on eating food in a combination of protein, healthy fats, and fibers to stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings and constant snacking.
Balance, just like health, means different things to different people. What works for you may not work for someone else. Listen intuitively to what you feel you need in the moment and honor that need. It’s not possible to pour from an empty cup, so fill yours first and you will be in a better place mentally and emotionally to give energy to others.
Dr. Erin Nitschke is a professor of exercise science at Laramie County Community College. She holds certifications including NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1. Erin is an editorial author for IDEA, NFPT, where she writes regularly on topics related to personal training and health coach skill building, behavior change, and career success.