The season to be merry and bright can sometimes seem anything but. Schedules are jam-packed, expectations are high and money might be tight. In the interest of mental health and self-help, here are some tips adapted from Health.com to fight stress during the holidays.
Taking a half-hour walk every day can reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and “have a tranquilizing effect on your brain,” says Ann Kulze, MD. Workouts can even boost your mood for up to 12 hours.
Ditch old traditions
If certain customs no longer have a place in your life, they can take a tole on your well-being. Old family traditions can create a sense of loneliness in isolation or even impede the grieving process if they were shared with a passed loved one. Cathy Frank, MD, medical director of the Henry Ford Behavioral Health Outpatient Center, suggests abandoning these old traditions and experimenting with new ones.
Your holidays don’t have to be picturesque to be enjoyable. Donna Schempp, the program director for the Family Caregiver Alliance, advises to “focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life” instead of stressing if dinner is on the table a few minutes late.
Stick with your regular schedule
Don’t nudge out the things in your routine that give you structure. Prioritize your workouts and regular meetings and events to keep from feeling overwhelmed by your holiday agenda. “Don’t try to squeeze in more holiday than you can handle,” says Katherine Muller, PsyD, an assistant professor of psychology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. And remember: it’s okay to say no.
Appreciate the little things
Laughing at your aunt’s jokes, enjoying the company of friends, and thinking positive thoughts are all little things you can do to impact your mood and stress levels.
Get your fruits in order
It turns out that the scent of citrus fruits and mangos—fresh or jarred—can boost feelings of well-being and alleviate stress by increasing norepinephrine levels. Mangos can even boost your blood chemistry and send a wave of calm over your body.
A lack of sunlight during winter months can be surprisingly detrimental to mental health. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) impacts millions of Americans each year, says Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. To reduce symptoms, get your daily dose of vitamin D with time outdoors or near a window on sunny days.
Get out of the house
Too much time in the same place can make anyone feel anxious. Consider taking a drive (if the roads are safe) or having a dinner out to alleviate that boxed-in feeling.
This plant extract — available in capsules at most drugstores — is thought to increase serotonin levels, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep. If you already take antidepressant medications, talk to your doctor before trying 5-HTP.
Eat your way to stress-relief
Spicy foods, honey, and caffeine can all have an effect on your mood and stress levels. Spicy foods can trigger the release of endorphins, the natural chemicals that make you feel good, and honey has antioxidant and antibacterial properties that may improve your immunity. Caffeine on an empty stomach should be avoided, as it can cause blood sugar levels to spike, causing irritability.