How to Practice Self-Care Through the Holidays

Here, three Boston-based fitness professionals offer their two-cents on prioritizing self-care through the holidays.

self-care through the holidays

Photo via iStock/DenisTangneyJr

The holidays are a time for giving. Giving of gifts, giving of time, and sometimes giving a little more of yourself than you originally anticipated. Between the parties, names to cross off the Christmas list, decorations to be hung, and food to be prepared, it’s no wonder we all tend to go a little crazy over the holidays.

What happens when the holidays are stress-inducing instead of a time for rejuvenation and a celebration of the year and what’s to come? The season should be a balancing act, just like the rest of your life. So we asked some Boston-based fitness professionals for tips on how to get through it all, based on three pillars of health: stress management, food, and movement. Here’s how to stay level-headed throughout the madness, one tinsel-strewn tree and holly wrapped wreath at a time.

Step 1: Stop worrying so much  

We get it: There’s going to be some stress that comes with the holidays. At its most helpful, stress motivates us to get up in the morning and accomplish tasks throughout the day, but how do we know when we’ve pushed past our threshold of healthy stress?

Sara DiVello, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for a combined 18 years and preaches lowering stress on and off the mat, says she’s still not immune to the holiday stress. “When every nanosecond of your time is booked through January, this time of year can be filled with expectations that run as high as the star-shaped tree topper in Copley Square,” DiVello says.

She explains that you’ll know you’ve pushed beyond your healthy holiday limit when events and outings stop feeling fun and start to feel obligatory, exhausting, or draining: “When ‘want’ becomes ‘should,’ you know you need to back off.”

And sometimes all we need is to take a little pause on our holiday fun, and it doesn’t have to be anything too intense, “which is (holiday) music to my ears,” she explains. DiVello’s favorite ways to stop and recharge include reading a good book, taking a nap, doing a little light cardio, or simply making time to be alone.

These small moments can provide a powerful shift in your outlook, energy, and experience of the situation. She also adds that the most important way to “survive and thrive during the holidays is to stay present with what is,” she says. “And to stay present with how you’re actually feeling, what you’re authentically experiencing, and then be willing to adjust course as necessary without getting too stuck on our expectations or what we feel like should happen.”

Step 2: Eat and be merry 

One of the most stressful parts of the holidays is the overabundance of choice when it comes to food. Oh, the cookie trays, the bracciole and pasta on every table, the cocktails and wine bottles—we are inundated with food choices that can add up to a lot of feelings of guilt for overindulging. Which can lead to an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to compensating for the extra calories.

Deanna Belleny, registered dietitian and co-founder of Diversify Dietetics and a systems transformation program manager at Harvard Medical School, wants you to detach those feelings of negativity from the way you eat this holiday season.

“There is nothing bad about enjoying delicious foods,” she says. “Shift your thoughts to think ‘I’m looking forward to Aunt Carol’s pie’ or even away from food in general: ‘I can’t wait to see John and Rita’s new baby girl.’”

Setting unnecessary restrictions on what you will or will not eat during the holidays can also cause you to feel guilt. But it’s also important to stay in tune with how our bodies feel. Belleny recommends finding balance in allowing yourself the joy of things you love to eat while finding ways to incorporate nutrient-dense foods and exercise.

Step 3: Stay active by beating your annoying relatives in fun games   

Who says movement has to be in a traditional gym setting, under the watchful eye of a trainer and cause sweat, tears, and soreness the next day? Literally no one, but we all hold ourselves to such unrealistically high expectations that perfect becomes the enemy of good. Steve Bergeron of AMP Fitness says a simple mindset shift could be the solution to fitting exercise into the holiday madness. “Rather than seeing fitness as an all or nothing venture, give yourself permission for it to not be perfect during the holidays,” he suggests. If you get to the gym a little less than normal, that’s cool. If you’re just getting started, that’s cool, too: Start small.

And although the holidays are regularly consumed with eating and drinking, there are also ample ways to get your heart rate up with a group. Bergeron suggests a rock climbing gym, hanging out at an axe-throwing bar, going ice skating with the kids, or speed walking while you’re shopping. Might we suggest checking out curling at the Liberty Hotel or maybe even shooting your friends and family with foam arrows at that new archery tag facility?

“Find activities that build you up rather than break you down,” Bergeron adds. “Movement and strength training are essential to feeling your best and even light exercise is shown to improve mood, regulate hormones, increase your energy, and just make you feel good.” We all need a little more of that, especially during this time of year.