The holidays are a great time to share special moments with loved ones, celebrate the year’s successes, and show gratitude for what you're thankful for. However, they're also incredibly stressful — especially so in this nightmare of a year.
Between financial strain, an onslaught of various holiday obligations, and the constant message of "be joyful" on repeat, this time of year can be TOUGH. According to the American Psychological Association, over one-third of Americans say that their stress level increases during this time, and a study from Healthline showed that stress levels were elevated in nearly 68% of people during this period.
To make this season more manageable, I've compiled a list of Spartan-approved holiday essentials. These six strategies, which I have been implementing for years, will get you through the holiday season with your mind at ease and your body feeling great.
1. Say No to ALL the Sugar
Listen, I get it. The holidays give you a perfect reason to fall off that diet, cheat, or just say "f*** it" altogether and go wild. 2021 is (thankfully) right around the corner, so why not wait until then to get your diet on track, right? WRONG.
Sure, it’s fine to enjoy your Christmas dinner and partake in some warm apple cider every once in a while, but DO NOT let the holidays be your excuse to fill your body with toxins and processed crap. Avoid the peppermint mochas and pumpkin spice bread. They are packed with sugar and unhealthy ingredients. Think about it: A Starbucks gingerbread latte has nearly 40 grams of sugar. That’s 9 teaspoons! All of this excess sugar negatively impacts your mind and body. It creates brain fog, reduces cognitive function, and increases inflammation in the gut. Just say NO.
Related: What Does Sugar Do to the Brain?
2. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is a toxin. Period. Yes, it might be fun to share a bottle of wine with your spouse or meet your friends for a few beers, but if you want a clear, sharp mind and a clean body to go with it, opt for sparkling water instead. Alcohol is a depressant. Not only does it impact your mood, but it literally slows down your body. Make a commitment to refrain from drinking and you'll feel a world of difference.
3. Keep Up With Your Workout Regimen
It’s cold. There’s snow on the ground. And you HAVE to grab those last few gifts on your list. So what do you do? You opt out of your morning run, midday bike, or evening yoga, and exercise becomes the first thing to go.
Exercise simply can't be sacrificed. It’s non-negotiable. Exercise helps to maintain all of those amazing chemicals — serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine — that keep you sane during this time. Regular activity also provides a pathway to resilience once stress does hit. A study conducted in 2014 showed that regular exercise actually acts as a preventative measure against the negative emotional consequence of stress. It literally makes you feel more capable and, in turn, you're less reactive to stressful events. Talk about building resilience!
Spartans know that no matter how busy you are, you can make time for exercise. If you're in a pinch, all it takes is 20 minutes.
4. Get Enough Rest
Rest is essential during these times, so do whatever you need to to get enough rest and maintain your sleep schedule. Why is it so critical? A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that those who experience sleep deprivation — which they identified as 4.5 hours of sleep a night — felt more stressed and mentally exhausted. When those same participants increased their hours of sleep to 7 hours, they reported dramatic improvements in their mood.
Create a solid bedtime routine, hit the pillow early, and put your phone AWAY! Here are a few more great tips to ensure that you get enough rest.
Everything can feel essential and necessary during the holidays. Prioritization is key for managing your stress level, because when everything feels critical, that's the minute that you start to drown. I always have a ton going on — pretty much everyone around me argues that it's too much — and I tackle it by prioritizing, strategically deciding what task needs the most attention.
In time, eventually, all of it manages to get done.
Not everyone can be our first priority, and not every task can be the first thing that demands our attention. Recognize what's urgent and what's important, and make a list of all that needs to get done. Put each of these tasks in the appropriate category. It will completely change your life and level of productivity.
6. Focus on What's Going Well
When times are tough, I tell myself that it could always be worse. We tend to have tunnel vision about the things that are creating that stress. One of the best ways to transition out of that tunnel is to bring into focus what you can celebrate, and what gives you joy.
Gratitude has power. It helps you gain perspective, and it also builds up your tolerance and resilience.
You’re a Spartan, so you’ve got the resilience to get you through the holidays unscathed. Focus on these tips and you’ll be able to enjoy this season in the way you were meant to.