Start Now and Stay Healthy Through the Holidays

The holidays have a way of throwing everything out of balance. Here are six tips to help you tackle stress to stay healthy through the holidays.

No matter how much we love traditions and gatherings, the holidays are stressful for so many of us. If you have a chronic illness — like diabetes, high blood pressure, hidradenitis suppurativa, even insomnia related to hormonal changes — your body may react to stress more acutely. But what if you could take action right now and build health-promoting habits to help you stay healthy through the holidays?

 

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Candice Norcott, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist with UChicago Medicine. Photo credit: UChicago Medicine

Candice Norcott, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in reproductive health at the University of Chicago Medicine, reminds us that stress can make an existing condition feel worse.

“What we do know about chronic pain is that there is a correlation between pain and stress,” says Dr. Norcott. Often, she says, people with chronic pain are referred to a mental health practice, but that doesn’t mean the pain is in their head.

What is in your head, says Dr. Norcott, are the keys to unlocking coping strategies. Learning how to cope with stress — both everyday and holiday varieties — can help you feel better overall. This year, create a goal to enjoy the holidays the way you want, rather than spending time in your doctor’s office.

6 tips to help you stay healthy through the holidays

Dr. Norcott shares her top six tips for building stress-busting habits, even before the holiday season is in full swing. Reframe holiday stress by incorporating these habits into your routine right now.

1. Maintain healthy eating habits

“The first thing that happens during the holidays is people tend to start eating differently. We don’t appreciate how the way we eat impacts our mental health,” says Dr. Norcott.

While it may feel comforting to indulge in holiday treats that are all of a sudden in abundant supply, it’s important to consider the connection between your brain and your digestive system. Is the sugar you’re eating adding to holiday-induced stress?

“Recognize the times you are feeling your best, maybe coming off summer when you are eating fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking water. Maintain some of those habits during the holidays,” recommends Dr. Norcott. “You don’t always have to drink (alcohol), especially if you don’t typically drink during the week. If you are someone who is planning parties for your family or friends, are you planning around sugary sweets and alcohol? Or healthier things?”

when-we-are-misaligned-we-start-feeling-sadder-and-more-anxious

2. Stock up on ingredients for your wellness recipe

Maintaining good mental health during the holidays involves planning ahead, says Dr. Norcott. If you’re experiencing a seasonal mood dip right about now, think about the ingredients needed for your personal “wellness recipe.”

“What ingredients in your recipe are most vulnerable or most likely to be in short supply?” she asks.

If healthy outdoor time becomes harder to access, shift your wake-up time to take advantage of morning sunlight and go to bed earlier to reduce your overall exposure to darkness. If you spend daylight hours in a room with no window, plan ahead to get 15 minutes of sunlight when you can.

3. Practice saying no

Spending time with family during the holidays can be comforting…or it can be stressful, so carefully consider what you must say yes to, and what you can forgo.

“What are the maybes that you make into yeses because you feel obligated?” If you set the intention to politely decline, you’ll be more likely and able to do so on the spot, suggests Dr. Norcott.

And, if you travel to visit family, absolutely save a day for yourself, rather than packing your schedule. “Is there a place you can take a yoga class? Look ahead and plan on it,” she says.

4. Reclaim your time in a healthy way

Ever find yourself pointlessly scrolling on your phone when you should be doing something that positively contributes to your health, like sleeping?

This could be a subconscious attempt to reclaim your time.

“When you feel like the bulk of your day is not your own, you may sabotage your sleep by texting and revenge scrolling,” says Dr. Norcott, adding that it may be your brain getting back at your daytime work by saying “This is my time!” Unfortunately, “you are martyring your rest,” she says.

Consider banishing your device to another room overnight or setting some healthy boundaries around nighttime phone use to commit to the rest you deserve. Build the routine now and it will be a habit before the holidays begin.

5. Resolve to live your values

Instead of setting a grand intention in January, scale back. Start now and set intentions for your day or your week. “Explore your values and ask yourself how you can sprinkle your actions toward your values throughout your day, week and month,” Dr. Norcott suggests.

If you value feeling productive and healthy, touch back to these to help you stay consistent and aligned. “This is powerful because when we are misaligned, we start feeling sadder and more anxious,” she says. “You don’t have to wait until you feel distressed.”

Instead, take your “values temperature” regularly. “Go back to your wellness recipe and if that includes working out four times a week, eating three meals a day and watching your sugar intake, that’s a direct line to your mental wellbeing.

It’s not a surprise when you feel crummy if you don’t work out, but now you will know why. It takes the interrogation out of the equation. You know how to remedy it.”

6. Proactively connect with energizing people

Think well beyond the holiday season to January through May, which can be long, cold and lonely. Actively plan to spend time with people who energize you.

“Identify the people in your life you like to spend time with and ask them to show up for you,” says Dr. Norcott. “Say ‘Hey, I really love spending time with you, so let’s get things on the calendar so we don’t go through the winter and not see each other.’”

Spending time with people you care about feels good, but it can also keep you accountable to your own health, Dr. Norcott says. “It’s easy to engage in healthy habits when no one is looking. Connecting with others gets you out, spending face time with supportive people.”

Short on friends? Think about activities you like that you can do with other people.

“A group knitting hour at your local yarn shop? Join a book club, spend time in your local library,” she says. “Even if you are reticent and new to connecting with others, you can explore this. It’s worth the risk.”

Expertise brought to you by UChicago Medicine. Visit UChicagoMedicine.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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