Staying Healthy During a Challenging Holiday Season
A Holiday Season Unlike Any Other
The holiday season has a way of stirring up equal parts stress and cheer. We eagerly anticipate cherished traditions and festive gatherings while taking on a dizzying array of tasks—from shopping to decorating to making travel plans.
But this year, we’re not simply falling into familiar patterns of holiday stress. As experts urge us to limit holiday gatherings due to a new wave of COVID-19 infections, many of us are contemplating whether we should hold tight to our traditions or honor a simple holiday at home.
Here’s our best advice for coping with the stress of uncertainty and keeping the spirit of the season alive from home.
Lighten Your Load
The month of December is often rife with temptations to overcommit, overindulge, and overspend. This year, we have a rare opportunity to simplify our to-do lists and cut ourselves some slack. Rather than trying to do it all, find ways to incorporate your favorite traditions without piling on the stress.
If you love the spirit of gift-giving but feel stressed about the financial burden, you might try crafting homemade presents or setting up a family gift exchange. Similarly, if you daydream all year about the holiday meal but feel hopeless about cooking it yourself, consider supporting a local restaurant offering your favorite dishes to-go.
Make Peace with Imperfection
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create picture-perfect holidays. But our upcoming celebrations may look very different from past years. Challenge yourself to let this season be a little messy. Experiment with ways to keep your favorite traditions alive and cultivate the spirit of togetherness from afar.
Sure, you might burn your first attempt at grandma’s famous cookies, or your family video call might cut out, but try to see the beauty—and the humor—in this year’s small setbacks. After all, laughter has been shown to decrease stress hormones and positively impact overall health.
The holidays coincide with the darkest days and coldest weather of the year. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder triggered by the winter gloom that can cause depression, fatigue, and social withdrawal, despite the season’s insistence on holiday cheer.
If you find yourself with a case of the winter blues, research has shown that bright lighting can uplift your energy and mood. Try to expose yourself to sunlight every day. The sun’s rays stimulate the production of serotonin—a brain chemical known to increase feelings of happiness and well-being.
You may also want to consider stringing up your holiday lights, even if you’re not expecting company. Psychology experts confirm that brightly colored lights and festive decorations can have a positive effect on our mood.
Focus on What You Have
It’s natural to feel a sense of loss over missed family traditions, but try not to dwell on what this holiday won’t have. Instead, focus your attention on what you’re thankful for this year.
Expressions of gratitude cause our brains to release dopamine and serotonin, two mood-enhancing brain chemicals that promote feelings of pleasure and reduce stress. Whether you recount happy moments from your day or share appreciation for the people you encounter, remembering that good still exists during difficult times is a powerful stress reliever.
Prioritize Your Health
Limiting this year’s holiday gatherings is one way to prioritize your and your loved ones’ health. However, it’s also essential to make time for self-care practices that reduce the physical effects of stress.
In the short term, stress actually boosts the immune system. When our bodies are in fight or flight mode, we’re more prone to injuries that we need to heal quickly. It’s chronic stress that eventually puts enough strain on the body to have the opposite effect: increasing inflammation and reducing our ability to fight off infection.
Make sure to get adequate sleep, stay active, and eat well. Not only will these habits help keep your immune system strong, but they also support physical and emotional resilience. A deep breathing practice can help you lower stress hormone levels and boost your resistance to infection.
There are many deep breathing techniques, but the crucial element is to move beyond shallow chest breathing and allow the air coming through your nose to fill your lungs until your lower belly rises. You can practice while lying down or standing in line at the grocery store for an instant dose of relaxation.
Ring in the New Year in Good Health
Many of us are making difficult choices this holiday season. Just remember that we may be back to packed social calendars and travel itineraries by next year. The choices we make now will support many wonderfully chaotic holiday seasons to come.
We want you to stay safe and avoid long pharmacy lines this holiday season, so we offer free, contactless delivery with every prescription. If you have questions, our team is available 9 am - 9 pm PT Monday - Friday, and 10 am - 6 pm PT on weekends; reach out via phone, text, or the app.