Stress Reducing Strategies for the Holidays

By Leo Shveyd, Co-Owner of Advanced Wellness

For some folks, the period from Thanksgiving to the New Year is a time filled with family, joy and laughter.  For others, it is a lonely time with increased stress and sadness.  The cool part is you actually have some control of how your holidays will go for you this year.  Let me start by saying that at Advanced Wellness, our approach to fitness and wellbeing is based on impactful strategies that are sustainable and based on each individual’s capacity to incorporate those approaches.  Therefore, we typically make final recommendations only after the client has chosen a preferred strategy from a variety of options that we have presented to them.  We believe that this empowers the client.

Below, we discuss some lifestyle strategies to better manage your stress during the holidays, so you can hopefully enter the new year in even better, overall condition than before the holiday season began!

Breathing Strategies

As the weather changes in the fall and winter, cold air has an impact on how we breathe, inducing shorter and more rapid breathing for some.  A more rapid rate of breathing and/or greater volume of air taken into your lungs can have a negative impact on your stress level.  While breathing is a topic broad enough for many blogposts post or even a book, we will not get into too many details here (we will write about it in the near future however).

The simplest advice on this topic:

  • Breathe through your nose, to your belly (think low). Some even advise breathing all the way to your toes. Avoid high–chest/neck breathing.
  • Envision a 360° expansion of your abdomen.
  • And make each breath light.

While this technique might seem simple, executing it is more challenging than you might think because it requires awareness; meaning you have to check in with your breath multiple times per day in order to make sure you are “nose, belly, 360° and light”.

Get Enough Sleep 

After breathing, sleep is the second most important component of the Advanced Wellness BETTER Pyramid.  7-9 hours of sleep is recommended for most adults.  However, poor breathing and/or increased alcohol and sugar consumption can contribute to poor sleep.  Sticking to a sleep hygiene list (keeping your room cool and dark, avoid exposure to blue light a minimum of one hour prior to bed time, getting to bed on time, etc.), will help ensure that you get both the appropriate quantity and quality of sleep.

The Right Amounts of Water, Food & Alcohol

Did you know that the average American gains 5-10 pounds during the holiday season? Gaining weight can make you feel bummed just as you start the new year.  At Advanced Wellness, we have some tricks of the trade for this time of year to keep you on track.

Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or non-caffeinated tea.  This decreases the likelihood of your body confusing thirst for hunger, which could cause you to eat more, adding calories to your diet.  Half your body weight in ounces of water per day is a good starting point.

With respect to alcohol and sugar, you can get in trouble in the following ways: frequency (too often), volume (having binge sessions) or a combination of both.  When it comes to food and drinks, it is best to have a strategy.  Setting limits on the front-end is one approach:  for example, consume half the amount of what you intended to consume or choose one over the other (reduced frequency or less volume).  In my personal experience, I have found that choosing alcohol (types that are low in carbohydrates/sugar, i.e. wine, hard liquor, etc.), while eliminating sugar is the best approach.  When I have tried consuming both despite setting limits, I am more likely to fail.  That is because alcohol lessens my self-control, making it more difficult to resist sugar leading to “just one more dessert”.  The opposite approach may also work best for you, if you don’t have a sweet tooth.   Regardless, setting limits or choosing alcohol over sugar (or vice-versa), then sticking to your plan will help limit the damage you do in any given day.

Move Every Day & Get Outside 

Maintaining your regular exercise schedule in addition to moving your body outside the gym is the ideal strategy for reducing holiday stress.  Based on our experience at Advanced Wellness, we have seen exercise adherence diminish by 30-40% during the holiday season, with some people dropping off completely.  If you can’t make it to the gym, at a minimum, keep moving.  Since daylight is at a premium during this time of year, many people don’t get enough sunlight and vitamin D.  This can lead to increased stress and feeling “bummed out”.  Kill two birds with one stone: get outside for at least 20 minutes a day and move (i.e. take a walk, walk your dog, go on a hike, go for a run, etc.).  Want to get even more stress relief?  Find your way to nature (visit Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, the Presidio, etc.), get some sunlight and keep on moving!

Healthy Environments & Active Mindfulness

Hanging out in poor environments (with toxic people) can induce stress.  Limiting your exposure to these or avoiding such environments is ideal.  Practicing mindfulness (through meditation for example) can help you deal with the stresses of life.

Meditation routines don’t need to be intricate.  Take five “nose, belly, 360°, light” breaths and be aware of the air going in and out your nose. Close your eyes for one minute focusing on your breath or a particular color. If it feels good, keep going. There are lots of approaches to practicing mindfulness. What is important, however, is finding one that you enjoy, so you will do it consistently, as that is where the benefits lie. Want more?  Practice some gratitude!

The stress management strategies discussed above are simple, but they become progressively more difficult to execute as holiday season wears on.  Because of the many social engagements we participate in over the holidays, there are plenty of opportunities to come “off the rails”.  Countless times, we have seen clients “throw in the towel” by mid-December with the “I will deal with this in January” attitude.  So this year, set some limits and perhaps ask a partner to keep you accountable.  That is one of the powers of the Advanced Wellness community—we keep each other focused and motivated during rough patches.   This holiday season, enjoy yourself, family and friends but keep it together.  You will thank yourself in January since you will have less work to restore your old self.

We hope you have a holiday filled with health, happiness and low stress!