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The stress of this past year has been like none other. From the anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic to juggling working from home with homeschooling, 2020 has been a whirlwind. While December can be a difficult month for many people, even during a “normal” year, the 2020 holiday season may magnify stress even more. By focusing on the positives and life’s essentials, you can effectively manage holiday stress this month and ring in a happy and healthy new year!

Stick With the Basics

When life gets busy — as it often does around the holidays — it can be easy to forget the basics: sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and keeping up your workout routine are all key to beating holiday stress.

Get Your Z’s

If your holiday to-do list is pages long, you may have put sleep on the back burner. However, stress and sleep deprivation go hand in hand. Lack of sleep can cause irritability, affect how you function and interact with others during the day, creating even greater stress. [1] Getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night can help ensure you’re able to easily tackle the challenges of the day ahead.

Limit Refined Sugar

While it might be tempting to snack on cookies and candies throughout December, those sugary treats can actually reduce your body’s ability to cope with stress. Sugar can also increase your risk of depression and impair cognitive functioning. [2] Eating a healthy diet complete with foods that boost dopamine and serotonin, like leafy greens, nuts, avocados, and blueberries, is not only good for your body but your brain, too! [3]

Make Time to Move

Finally, no matter how full your December calendar is, make sure you still set aside time to exercise. Not only can physical activity reduce stress hormone levels, but it can also help you relax! [4] At-home dance party, anyone?

Be Realistic With Your Expectations

This year’s holiday season will be different for most families. It’s important to be realistic with your expectations to avoid creating unnecessary stress. Learning to accept things as being good enough just as they are can also help with warding off the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder. [5]

If social distancing guidelines prevent you from celebrating the season the way you usually would, this year can be the perfect time to start new traditions. Online holiday shopping, Zoom parties, and FaceTime dinners with loved ones are some good examples of ways you can still be festive with family and friends while exercising caution during COVID-19.

Simplify This Season

Often, stress results from trying to do too much — and spending too much. Overspending is also linked to depression. [6] Consider taking the opportunity this year to simplify the holidays by buying less and giving more in other ways. If your usual holiday travel plans or family gatherings have been canceled, spending quality time with family members in your household can be a great way to bond and create new memories. By simplifying the holidays, you can stress less and enjoy them more.

Refocus Your Mindset by Breathing

One of the best ways to de-stress this holiday season — and year-round — is by practicing mindfulness. [7] This holiday season, it’s important to accept imperfection and keep your focus on the things that truly matter.

Take a moment to do some mindful breathing this month! Mindfulness tools such as breathwork, as well as meditation, are proven ways to manage stress. [8] Studies have also shown that practicing gratitude and gratitude journaling can positively impact mental health and help boost your immune system. [9] By focusing on the positive, you can beat stress this holiday season and cultivate a healthy mindset for the year ahead!

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[1] Elizabeth Scott, MS. April 29, 2020. Stress and Sleep Deprivation. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/stress-and-sleep-deprivation-3144638

[2] Sara Lindberg and Erin Kelly. June 23, 2020. Your Anxiety Loves Sugar. Eat These 3 Things Instead. Healthline. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/how-sugar-harms-mental-health#worsen-anxiety

[3] Lisa Lillien. February 4, 2020. 8 Foods That Help Fight Stress. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/foods-that-help-fight-stress-4111678

[4] Mayo Clinic Staff. August 18, 2020. Exercise and stress: get moving to manage stress. Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469

[5] No author. No date. Seasonal Affective Disorder: What You Should Know. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/seasonal-affective-disorder-what-you-should-know

[6] Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella. September 27, 2020. Holiday Depression and Stress. WebMD. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/depression/holiday-depression-stress#1

[7] No author. No date. 4 Mindful Tips to De-Stress This Holiday Season. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/4-mindful-tips-to-destress-this-holiday-season

[8] J. David Creswell, PhD and Bassam Khoury, PhD. October 30, 2019. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness-meditation

[9] Bethany Fulton. No date. The Benefits of Gratitude and How to Get Started. Healthline. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-gratitude-practice#takeaway

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