How to Stay Sane Through the Holidays (It’s Possible!)

There’s a misconception that the holiday season should always evoke visions of peace, joy and goodwill — but you know it’s more complicated. All of the shopping, wrapping, planning, cooking, cleaning and family-seeing can be stressful. In fact, according to a recent Healthline survey, 61 percent of millennials, 62 percent of baby boomers, and 65 percent of generation Xers report increased amounts of stress during the holidays.

Every year, holiday consumerism becomes more and more omnipresent and unavoidable. This year, I saw a Christmas commercial in September! Both conscious and unconscious pressure to create a perfect and memorable holiday season for your loved ones can be burdensome and cause undue stress. (Don’t be tricked by rampant consumerism, though — your mantra for the holidays should be simple: “I am worth more than what I buy.”) Here are four very do-able tips for a mindful, peaceful, more sane — and less stressful! — holiday season.

Practice Hygge. Take it from the Danish who live in one of coldest, least forgiving climates, but were named the happiest country on earth (again) in 2016. “Hygge” (pronounced hoo-guh) loosely translates to “coziness” and involves a cultural tradition of enjoying the winter rather than dreading it. Hygge enthusiasts create cozy environments that allow them to relax and be mindful. Candles, dimly lit rooms, and warm drinks like hot chocolate or mulled wine are hygge essentials. Relishing your time either alone or with loved ones is the ultimate goal, and you don’t have to live in Denmark to become a hygge aficionado.

Don’t abandon your exercise routine. Battling sickness or fatigue during the busy holiday season is certainly not optimal. Between five and 20 percent of Americans are stricken with the flu each year, so if you haven’t already, visit your doctor or local pharmacy to get a flu shot. Another way to boost immune health is to keep up your exercise routine during the holidays. Not only will you help your immunity out and get a headstart on your health-based New Year’s resolutions, regular exercise can also help to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety thanks to the natural release of endorphins, endocannabinoids and other mood-elevating brain chemicals, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Be kind: Road rage seems to spike during the holidays. In fact, some research shows there’s an 18 percent increase in car accidents in the six days leading up to Christmas Day. Don’t risk your physical safety and mental well-being by engaging in aggressive driving. Practicing kindness and forgiveness on the road — and everywhere else, really — will put you “into the spirit” more so than becoming angry and emotionally hijacked every time an aggressive or careless person crosses your path.

Become more mindful (and quit rolling your eyes at the word mindful!). Though mindfulness meditation has grown in popularity in recent years, it’s an ancient, respected practice from several eastern religions dating back to 1500 BC. The American Psychological Association has outlined countless studies demonstrating the following benefits of the practice: stress reduction, decreases in depressive symptoms and anxious ruminations, increases in focus and working memory, decreases in emotional reactivity, increases in relationship satisfaction, and even boosted immune functioning. Do this quick mindfulness exercise to boost your sense of gratitude and appreciation during the holiday season. In terms of what to expect, mindfulness is not a miracle problem solver or euphoria inducer. It’s a simple tool to help center yourself and it becomes more effective with practice. You can do this exercise anytime or anywhere with your eyes opened or closed.

Take a moment to do nothing else but focus on your breath. Don’t try to change your breathing, just be aware of the sensations you feel as you inhale and exhale. Notice the rhythm of your breathing. As you breathe out, imagine yourself in a comfortable, peaceful place. As you continue to relax, imagine a beautiful box or intricate basket. Imagine yourself placing signs or symbols of things that you’re grateful for into that vessel — the clothes on your back, the home that keeps you safe, the loved ones in your life. Put as many things into your box as you like and continue to breathe. Focusing on things you’re grateful for will shift your mind from negativity and worry to positivity and peace. If you find yourself becoming distracted with unwanted thoughts, just refocus your awareness to the rhythmic pattern of your breath.

While everyone tries to give off the impression that they’re consistently cheery and bright, it’s normal to have mixed or ambivalent feelings towards the holidays. So take it slow, be mindful and treat your body right — your mind will thank you for it.

Dr. Laura DiCesare is a licensed clinical psychologist and Pennsylvania certified school psychologist with a private practice in Bryn Mawr. In addition to her work as a therapist and evaluator, she speaks at schools to both students and teachers about emotional intelligence, mindfulness and managing anxiety. You can check out her website or email her here .

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