I will never forget that January 2nd, when I woke up with chest pains, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, and pain in my jaw.
The holidays had been full of comfort and joy, yet I could barely see out of my right eye due to a cyst on my inner eyelid. I’d attended two funerals. The priest at one passed on his blessings as well as his cold. I was teaching more classes and seeing more private yoga and coaching clients than ever. Now, chest pains. My body was trying to tell me, “Enough!”
It wasn’t the first time I was sick at the holidays. My annual holiday illnesses were dependable. I had come to expect that I would be sick around that time of year. Usually, I got “normal” upper respiratory infections. One year it was whooping cough. (Yes, you can still get this illness. I thought it only happened during the times of Little House on the Prairie and prior…until I got it.)
Though my heart ended up being fine that early January morning, I knew I needed to make some changes. I had to face the fact that as joyous as the holidays are and as much as I love them, I neglected my self-care in favor of doing it all.
The next time the holidays rolled around, I decided it was time to do them differently.
I decided it was time to stop sacrificing my self-care as the only way to make it through them and get everything done. I decided it was time to stop bombarding my body with too much running around and sugar. It was time to stop stressing about getting the perfect gift for everyone. It was time to feel more peaceful and grounded. It was time to take better care of myself so that I could feel more connected to and show up better for my loved ones at the holidays.
I also wanted to enjoy the holidays. I knew that following a super strict diet and exercising even more wasn’t the path. Been there, done that, and got sick. I knew that meditating for hours at the expense of getting my gift shopping done wasn’t the key. I knew simply putting events in my calendar wasn’t enough if I was getting stressed rushing from one thing to the next. I didn’t want to be so caught up in managing the chaos that I didn’t take time to savor what makes the holidays special.
Is it just me or do you feel this push and pull between enjoying and surviving the holidays too?
I had a feeling it wasn’t just me. So I put together these simple steps to help you stay happy and healthy during the holidays.
1. Set an intention.
Sometimes it feels like the holidays just sneak up on us and we’re thrust into them whether we’re ready or not. We start off right away feeling out of control. Instead, consciously decide how you want your holidays to be, and let that intention guide your decisions and actions through the season. For example, if you decide your intention is to feel calm, then you might want to turn down the midnight lineup for Black Friday deals or that Santa pub crawl. In yoga, we call intentions sankalpa. If it works on your mat, why not off it too? It’s never too late to set an intention and change the trajectory of your life.
2. Identify your holiday stressors.
The medical community is now acknowledging just how big a factor stress plays in contributing to illness, especially big ones like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. So, it’s super important to become aware of and address the things that cause you tension, in general, and with all the demands of the holidays, especially then. What extra strain do you put on your body and your schedule during this time of year? What weighs on your mind? What relationship pressures do you feel?
3. Attend to your body.
Sure, maintaining a healthy lifestyle when peppermint brownies, fudge, and so many other goodies are tempting you not to can be tough. I could give you lots of general guidelines like eat less sugar, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, exercise, etc. However, magic happens when you ask your body what it needs in relation to your intention, and then do that instead of what others say you “should” do.
For example, if your intention is wellness and you’re feeling depleted from a busy work day and overbooked schedule, doing a restorative yoga practice or even going to bed early instead of going for a run might be more in line with your intention and what your body needs in that moment.
4. Create space.
Part of why we suffer during the holidays is there’s more to do. Whether it’s gift shopping, holiday parties, dinners with friends, family obligations or travel, your already busy schedule gets pushed to its limits. The first thing to go tends to be self-care practices like sleep, eating well, and moving your body. It’s a lot tougher to keep your physical environment clean as well. Whether it’s lighting a candle to create sacred space despite the fact that you haven’t vacuumed, leaving extra time between events so you’re not rushing, using an app to manage your gift buying, or something else, choose systems and solutions that support your intention.
5. Set loving boundaries.
Relationships can get complicated during the holidays, and setting boundaries helps you keep things clean, especially if they support your intention. Examples of setting boundaries include declining an invitation when you know you’re already mentally maxed out, speaking up when someone says something inappropriate, choosing not to answer your work e-mail after a certain time, limiting your time around a toxic person, or releasing the need for your gift recipients to love your gift (when you give the gift, it’s no longer yours, and what the other person feels about it is up to them). If your intention is wellness, then you might say no to an invitation when you’re feeling depleted. If your intention is connection others, then you might still go, even if you’re exhausted. The boundary depends on your intention.
6. Take care of your mind.
A lot of extra things can weigh on your mind at this time of year: deadlines, financial stress, expectations of happiness, figuring out gifts, and the pressure of the looming new year. Because there is so much more going on at the holidays, the mind is working in overdrive. If you keep coming back to your intention to guide your decision making, that alone will cut down on some of your mental chatter.
One of the most important things you can do, at the holidays and anytime, is to give your mind a break. Whether it’s through meditation, an artistic endeavor, making or listening to music, walking in nature, journaling, or some other mindful act, it doesn’t take a lot of time to reap a big benefit.
If you’ve been wanting to try meditation or are looking for some ways to jump start your practice, check out my guide Making Meditation Possible.
Wellness includes way more than just eating healthy and exercising, and these steps can help you beyond the holidays as well. It’s never to late to choose a new way.
Speak Your Truth
What are your biggest holiday stresses? What’s your biggest challenge to enjoying and staying happy and healthy during the holidays? What intention would you like to set for the holidays? What helps you manage the chaos of the holidays the most? Let me know what you think in the comments or with a quick reply. I’d love to hear from you!