Maintaining Your Zen During the Holidays

While this time of year is known for merriment, with all the planning, shopping, family gatherings, travel, feasting and imbibing, it can easily become overwhelming. If you’re falling prey to the seasonal “too much of a good thing,” know you’re not alone. To help maintain calm during this happiest time of year, we checked in with five mental and physical health professionals for their suggestions on how to channel your inner Buddah. Take a deep breath and prepare to get the most out of the season in a well-balanced way.  

Movement as medicine. When schedules are packed, to-do lists are long and bathing suits are a distant memory, it’s easy to let your exercise routine slip. Natalie Strahorn, founder, CEO and instructor of The MVMNT Society in Alexandria, Virginia, strongly believes that if there was a “magic pill” in terms of better health, both mentally and physically, exercise would be it. “Making time to exercise and move your body should be non-negotiable, like brushing your teeth,” she says. But this doesn’t mean having to spend hours at the gym. If you want a high impact workout when you are short on time, she recommends 30 minutes of HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which is spurts of quick, targeted cardio.

Listen to your body, it knows best. While all of our experts recommend moving your body, the type of movement you engage in can vary greatly. “Changing it up based on what you’re feeling that day is the best approach,” shares Michelle Johns, owner of Transforming Wellness, in Germantown, Tennessee. “I recommend a movement-based practice that responds to the needs of your body and nervous system. Sometimes, we need a faster paced workout to allow excess energy to be expressed. Sometimes, we need a more nurturing workout with movement that is slow and intentionally grounding to allow our system to feel heard and respected.” This flexibility allows for your workouts to be adjusted based on what’s on the agenda for that day. Feeling stressed about a big holiday gathering with extended family? Perhaps a cardio class could help alleviate those extra feelings of unease. Exhausted from cooking and decorating? A gentle yoga practice may be exactly what you need.

In a pinch, try a basic stretch. We’ve established that movement is key in combating stress, but sometimes the to-do list affords little time for self-care. Gina Bruno-Dunn, owner of Pilates On Western, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, recommends the following basic movement that can easily be done at home or on-the-go to release tension when you don’t have time for a workout. Begin with your feet a little wider than hip-distance apart, chin gently relaxed toward chest, arms to your side, palms in, and gently start to lean forward, letting the top of your head roll toward the floor. Release the tension in the back of your body by softening your knees, holding that release forward for a few breaths and slowly, vertebrae by vertebrae, roll back up, head and shoulders being last. “This is a wonderful movement for spine and breath, and is incredibly calming,” Bruno-Dunn explains. 

Write it down. When stress is at an all-time high during the holiday season, or if you find yourself unable to truly be in the moment, Dr. Sara Smith, an intuitive life and wellness coach in Yorktown, Virginia, recommends the practice of journaling. “Journaling adds a moment of reflection to your day,” she shares. The holidays bring up a lot of emotions and taking the time to write down your thoughts can be a great release and a way to recenter and prepare yourself for the next holiday event on the docket.

Take a moment to “Om.” If you don’t already have a meditation practice, now is a good time to start. “Taking just a few moments out of your day to meditate can do wonders for your mental health,” Smith shares. She suggests the following practice that’s visual and fun: Stand with your feet apart and imagine you are holding a ball in between your hands. Visualize putting all of your stressors, emotions, and pressures into that ball. Take a big inhale in and raise the ball of pressure overhead. Next, quickly with a big exhale, then “throw” that ball in between your legs to release it. Return to center and start again. Do at least five rounds, each time placing any additional stressors or emotions into the ball and releasing until you feel complete. Looking for other guided meditations? Smith has a collection of videos you can view here

Be mindful about consumption. Tis the season for all things indulgent, whether it be that extra glass of eggnog or the bûche de Noël that’s calling your name. Stranhorn notes that being mindful about your consumption of processed foods and alcohol is important because diet can play a large part in managing stress levels. “The cortisol hormone, the primary hormone responsible for stress, is raised by a lot of food we tend to reach for this time of year: caffeine, alcohol, soda, high-sugar foods, and processed simple carbs like cakes and cookies.” She suggests adding more whole foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, whole grains, and healthy fats to your diet instead. Stranhorn notes that food as medicine is a long game, with no quick fix, but if you’re trying to relax and want natural assistance, then foods packed with magnesium are a good start to help naturally de-stress, such as pumpkins seeds or dark chocolate.

Stay connected to loved ones. There are a lot of expectations put on us around the holidays, whether that be from others or ourselves. Tammy Vaught, owner of Vitality Psychiatric Services in Midland, Texas confirms that the holidays are not always a joyous, exciting time for everyone. ”This time of year is hallmarked by high expectations, big mood swings, and anxiety has a tendency to rear its ugly head, making it easy to become reclusive and isolated, in order to avoid the merriment that doesn’t match how you feel inside,” she explains. If this is something that resonates with you, Vaught emphasizes the importance of staying connected. “Let those closest to you know you’re not feeling the holiday spirit and want to just lay low,” she advises. “Set the tone by letting them know what feels comfortable, whether it‘s a casual lunch, or just a weekly text or phone call to check in. Whatever feels right to you is fine, but do stay connected!” 

Photography by iStock.TSG Tip 448 from Natalie Strahorn, founder, CEO and instructor of The MVMNT Society in Alexandria, Virginia; Michelle Johns, owner of Transforming Wellness, in Germantown, Tennessee; Gina Bruno-Dunn, owner of Pilates On Western, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Dr. Sara Smith, an intuitive life and wellness coach in Yorktown, Virginia; and Tammy Vaught, owner of Vitality Psychiatric Services in Midland, Texas. The MVMNT Society appears in The Scout Guide Alexandria. Transforming Wellness appears in The Scout Guide Memphis. Pilates On Western appears in The Scout Guide Oklahoma City. Dr. Sara Smith appears in The Scout Guide Williamsburg & The Chesapeake Bay. Vitality Psychiatric Services appears in The Scout Guide West Texas.