It’s the most wonderful time of the year—with cocktails and presents, parties and performances, and family and fun. All is merry and bright, right? Well, yes and no. While the holiday season is abundant with opportunities for connection, the endless energy demands, disrupted routines, late nights, and financial strain may leave you feeling drained, depleted, and disconnected. Fortunately, the following tried-and-true strategies can keep your mind, body, and spirit healthy throughout the rush of the holiday season.
1. Be Intentional with Your Time
While it can be a delightful experience to reconnect with friends and family during the holiday season, an endless melee of activity can zap your energy and leave you feeling drained. Before committing to another party, gift exchange, or volunteer activity, check your intention. Are you doing something because it nourishes your spirit or are you doing it out of obligation? If it’s the latter, kindly communicate to the host that you are in need of some downtime but would love to schedule a time to catch up after the holidays. Then instead of heading out, head in: watch a movie with the family, sip hot cider by the fire, read a book, play board games, or engage in any other activity that lights up your heart.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness involves cultivating present-moment awareness. According to mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, this kind of awareness arises by purposefully paying attention and refraining from judgment. What do you pay attention to? Whatever is happening at the moment. Whether you feel overwhelmed, angry, joyful, or content, simply notice those feelings without judging them or trying to change them.
A particularly powerful mindfulness practice is to bring awareness to your body. You can do this no matter where you are or who you are with. Observe your posture, notice where you are holding tension, and pay attention to how deeply your breath flows. The body can provide useful information about your subconscious interpretation of events. After scanning your body, ask yourself what you need in order to relax (hint: it cannot involve another person’s actions). Perhaps you would benefit from a walk around the block, a little snack, or some rest.
3. Find the Blessings of Imperfection
Do you have visions of sipping cocoa with your dreamy-eyed children by the fireplace, singing carols around the family room piano, or creating the perfect holiday meal? If so, you may be harboring expectations that set you up for disappointment. Idyllic holiday hopes often turn out more like spilled cocoa, crying children, and overcooked casserole. By adjusting your expectations, you liberate yourself and others from the pursuit of perfection and allow yourself to receive the gifts in imperfection.
The spilled drink offers a spontaneously cleaned floor, the crying child reminds us that he is healthy and alive, and the food that catches on fire creates funny holiday memories. Daily life does not have to be flawless to be beautiful; it can be perfectly imperfect.
4. Eat Two Healthy Meals a Day
The holidays and food go together like Christmas trees and ornaments. During the holiday season, it can be easy to get carried away with indulgences. Yet those extra cookies, pastries, beverages, and meals may add inches to the waistline and a toxic burden to the liver.
To maintain your commitment to health without depriving yourself, focus on having at least two healthy meals each day. If you know you will be going out for a festive dinner, eat a breakfast and lunch loaded with fresh produce, fiber, and healthy fats. When your schedule boasts more than one food festivity in a day, decide ahead of time which venue will be your splurge. Then make healthful choices at the other by opting for veggies over crackers, berries rather than dessert, and hot tea instead of cocktails.
5. Maintain a Regular Sleep Cycle
Late-night parties, after-hours work functions, children’s holiday performances, and family events can infringe upon sleep hours. But sleeping less can do more than make you tired the next day. The short-term consequences of sleep disruption include increased stress, pain, and emotional reactivity, as well as decreased cognitive skills, memory, and performance.
To stay healthy in body and mind, it is crucial to prioritize your sleep. In addition to getting enough sleep, maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle will support your body’s natural rhythm of hormone production, which in turn will contribute to greater health and wellness. Of course, you will have some late nights but try to wake up and start your day within one hour of your normal weekday wake-up time.
6. Stay Active
A calendar full of festivities and special events can quickly squeeze out your regular yoga or gym hours. Yet your physical health is important, and working out during the holidays will do more than keep your weight in check—t can also tame stress, lessen holiday blues, and increase energy.
Don’t be afraid to spice up your physical fitness routine to accommodate a busy calendar. Perhaps you’d like to organize an office Jingle Bell Run, take your partner for a weekend ski trip, or surprise the family with an ice-skating evening. The key is to choose activities that keep you moving. As an added bonus, when you connect with others over physical activities, there will be fewer opportunities to overindulge in food and drinks.
Another holistic approach to nurturing your overall health and wellness is to meditate. There is an old Zen proverb that says, “Meditate for one hour every day, unless you are very busy, in which case you should meditate for two.” The moral of the proverb is that the busier you get, the more you need the benefits of meditation—namely stress reduction, anxiety abatement, and emotion regulation.
To fit meditation into the frenzy of holiday activity, it is best to schedule a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day. Even if you only have ten minutes, those few moments spent consciously breathing and settling into the present moment can set the course for your day or evening.
8. Pay Attention to What Really Matters
It can be easy to get lost in the holiday shuffle and lose sight of what is important. To stay aligned with your personal values, make a brief list of your top priorities in the areas of health, relationships, spirituality, and work/career. Then rank your values from most important to less critical. To make sure that the activities of lesser importance do not eclipse those of higher value, keep the list visible and refer to it when making choices about how to use your time. For example, if you must choose between attending your daughter’s Christmas pageant or making an appearance at a community event, refer to your priorities and remember the importance of your relationship with your daughter. Is family time or career-building higher on your list? There is no right or wrong answer. Just be sure to be intentional and conscious in your choices.
Cultivating awareness of how you choose to spend your time and energy will allow you to enjoy the laughter, connection, and, yes, even the treats of the holiday season, without compromising your health. The above steps toward self-care and intentional choice making will transform this season into the most wonderful time of the year!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
Want to learn how to stay energetic and balanced all year long? Learn Deepak Chopra’s simple practices to tune into the healing wisdom of nature and thrive, with our self-paced online course, Secrets to Vibrant Health. Learn More.