How to Stay Mentally and Physically Healthy During the Holidays
Dec 24, 2021
And all throughout the year.
The holidays are here! While this time of year brings an abundance of cheer and celebrations, it’s also the season for excessive drinking, eating, and spending. Mix in a high dose of worrying, thanks to the Omicron variant, and December 2021 can quickly feel overwhelming and stressful.
Leading wellness experts share how to mitigate anxiety and stay healthy.
Focus on Full-Body Wellness
As a trainer, when I think about full-body wellness, I think about being kind to our bodies while also challenging the limits of our capabilities. When I work with clients, we incorporate strength training, cardio and stretching into each session, and we begin and end with some myofascial release on the foam roller. This keeps us balanced physically while also increasing our awareness of the mind-body connection.
Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise (no burpees here) that strengthens muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. “Whenever I’m teaching a session, I strive to target the full-body,” says Crooks. With that in mind, she’s created a short routine incorporating one of Balanced Body’s fan-fav products: the Oov, a foam spine stabilizer that stretches and strengthens. The five movements Crooks has chosen help to activate the spine, arms, and legs in equal measure before rounding out with a standing challenge. Literal and figurative balance. Check, check.
Pilates strengthens muscles while improving alignment and flexibility.
Open Your Heart
“If you think about when we’re particularly stressed, we tend to hold tension in the shoulders and chest,” says Crooks. “A perfect movement to undo this tension is the roll-up on the Oov—because it takes you into the opposite shape of the body—melting away the stress.” That means extending past the position of a regular mat roll-up, opening up your chest and stretching your abdominals.
Lying lengthwise on a long foam roller with your head and hips supported is another healing chest and heart opener, and won’t we all benefit from a more open heart? This posture also counteracts the forward slouch so many of us have, which not only looks sloppy but can lead to decreased lung capacity.
Don’t Forget the Protein
Food and full-body wellness are Rebecca Johnson’s forté. The Orange County based Naturopath wants us to focus on nourishing our bodies with whole foods, rather than fixating on what we “can’t” have. This season don’t focus on avoiding the Christmas cookies,” says Johnson. “Instead, commit to eating a nutritious meal at least twice a day, incorporate a variety of fresh fruits & vegetables, purchase organic (if you have the means), and opt for minimally processed ingredients.” Filling up on nutrient-dense meals helps to stabilize our blood sugar and makes it easier to practice self-control around holiday goodies.
I will definitely be following Johnson’s advice. That said, I will also be eating those buttery Christmas cookies, but I’ll be pairing them with a protein shake. Why? Because I am a very active woman in her mid-40s and protein synthesis triggers the release of a hormone that helps to stabilize insulin levels.
The Bliss Point is a term for the exact ratios of salt, sugar and fat in a food that will maximize your enjoyment AND your cravings.
Decrease Stress from the Inside Out
I think we can all agree that the holiday season often feels more Stresstivus than Festivus. And when stress levels increase, we want junk because it provides us with relief in the moment. Have you ever heard of the Bliss Point? It’s a term for the exact ratios of salt, sugar and fat in a food that will maximize your enjoyment AND your cravings. Take a bite of that salted caramel brownie and your brain will respond with a jolt of feel-good endorphins, making you want more. And more. Sooner or later, you’re passed out in the pantry.
Fortunately (and don’t roll your eyes because it is totally, deliciously true), sweet potatoes help to satisfy those cravings while offering a variety of vitamins and minerals like beta-carotene, potassium, and vitamin B6. “These nutrients may help to both reduce the symptoms of stress while minimizing its harmful effects,” says Johnson “Sweet potatoes are also a great source of fiber, which helps to keep you feeling full and prevent blood sugar spikes.”
Still skeptical? Try some roasted sweet potatoes with a pat of whole butter, a pinch of sea salt, and a dash of pure maple syrup and get back to us.
We won’t be holding our breath though, because one of the best things you can do when you’re facing a stressful time is to – say it with me now – BREATHE! “Utilizing a mind-body practice, such as Pilates, that seamlessly incorporates movement and breath is the simplest way to mitigate stress,” says Crooks. “An added bonus is the perfect blend of dynamic flexibility and strength building that Pilates can offer.”
Not into Pilates? Try a short breathing exercise, like the kind that got us through all of that election stress. Or, hey! Reach out to me to schedule a virtual workshop for you and the fam, especially if you’re looking for something other than the state of the world to discuss at dinner. My Whole Human Workshops incorporate movement, breathwork and short writing exercises to deliver a “phenomenal,” “life-changing” and “transformative” experience. Breathwork reduces stress and anxiety, increases mental and emotional clarity and induces awe. The goal of each class is to connect with ourselves and celebrate the human experience.
A diffuser is another way to use healing peppermint oil. It has a spa-like aroma and is said to reduce stress.
Spice It Up
“Seasonal herbs and spices like cinnamon, peppermint, and nutmeg offer a variety of health benefits,” says Johnson. In particular, these powerful plants reportedly help to optimize digestion which can be particularly helpful after a day of over-indulging in holiday treats. “If you find yourself suffering from indigestion, or an upset stomach, consider brewing a cup of tea with one of these herbs,” adds Johnson. You could also sprinkle some nutmeg on top of your single cup of morning coffee, and add cinnamon to your overnight oats.
Another way to utilize peppermint is to add some oil to a diffuser. It gives your space a spa scent and is said to decreases stress.
Move It or Lose It (and Hide It!)
“With so much relaxing, socializing and indulging in holiday dishes, we need to stay—at least—moderately active,” advises Crooks (and pretty much every healthcare professional). Obviously, Crooks loves Pilates. But everyone has their own preferences, so, if you don’t have a regular Pilates, yoga, or functional movement class, simply taking a walk outside in your neighborhood or nearby park can be a great stress escape. “Lean towards movement any way you can,” she says. “When you take time out of your busy schedule for exercise, you mitigate stress right then and there.”
So, chew your immunity gummies, take your naps, supplement with fiber (your parents may have some and there is no shame in stirring some into that big jug of water you should be sipping), and go for a walk.
Oh, and drop your phone in a drawer. This is the time of year to be truly present with your people. Happy Holidays, beauties.
Amanda Fletcher is a writer, editor and coach whose personal focus is recovery and wellness. A prolific travel and freelance feature writer, her work has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Orange County Register, FAR & WIDE and many more. You can follow her story on Instagram @theamandafletcher and find her at http://amandafletcher.me