It is no surprise that the holidays are often accompanied by stress, anxiety, and depression. The flurry of shopping, cleaning, baking, eating, and running around is compounded by actual flurries of snow, rain, sleet, wind and whatever other states of water the season brings us. The craze of activity and the gray short days can put one through a barrage of emotions, which not only impacts individual, but the people around them as well.

Why does this phenomenon exist during a time that is supposed to be all about love and cheer? Because unrealistic expectations further elevate our sugarplum laced fantasies of family gatherings, gift giving, and dining experiences of the season. Instead of window-shopping in lightly falling crystalline snow, we contend with traffic in polar temperatures while our perpetually damp shoes trudge through coal-tinted piles of packed snow. Instead of gathering around a cheerful fire with family and friends in seasonal sweaters, we engage in firefights and endure meltdowns when personalities clash over how traditions will be carried out. All of which is worsened by a lasting feeling of bloat from one too many pieces of pie and extra slices of turkey.

The holidays can wreak havoc on relationships, self-esteem, and sanity. Not only can this be avoided, it can also be remedied (for those who have already started down this subversive seasonal path). Here are some tips to alleviate the seasonal grief for whichever holidays you celebrate:

1. Maintain your regular (healthy) eating habits as much as possible. Just because those sugar cookies are in the break room does not mean you need to eat one…or four. Do not skip breakfast because you are going to have a special lunch or large dinner; eat a healthy breakfast so that you will feel more full throughout the day and eat less at the following meals. Enjoy those seasonal treats, but do not eat them every day of the season. Avoid the late night eating as well, as this can lead to restless sleep and bad eating habits the following day.

2. Keep to your regular daily schedule. Over-booking one’s self for get-togethers, meals out, and shopping can be draining and further impact your work (remember that thing you go to during the day, your job?) and personal life (a.k.a. time for rest and relaxation). The stress from being overly busy and lack of sleep can depress the immune system, making you vulnerable to winter colds and the flu (get vaccinated!).

3. Exercise and drink water. Those holiday treats and spirits are quick to digest, but long on the hips and can be dehydrating. Staying hydrated and exercising will increase your daily energy and stave off those bad feelings related to holiday snacking. Do your New Year’s resolution a favor and get started prior to the New Year – your body will thank you!

4. Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead! Not only will this prevent overspending on impulsive buys, but also create realistic expectations and put you more in control of your holiday season. Not everything will be perfect, but having a contingency plan will reduce holiday stress.

5. Do not force cheerfulness, but do not isolate yourself either. It is important to be honest with your feelings – it is okay to feel sad or overwhelmed by past losses or events. Own those feelings and recognize their roots. Identify what pushes your buttons and take a deep breath to move past your triggers. It is essential to celebrate the small victories as well, like exercising self control and not eating that extra piece of pie or not rising to conflict of a well-meaning family member’s double edged comment.

6. Take time to de-stress. Do attend those get-togethers with family, friends, and co-workers, but make sure to keep some daily personal time as well. This personal time will enable you to prevent you from having meltdowns or over-reacting to those around you (see triggers in point #5). Practice deep breathing, do yoga, go for a run, punch a pillow, jump on your bed, or relax in front of a fireplace. This will allow you to better enjoy the season, get through those stressful family gatherings, and overcome your overwhelming urge to eat one dozen butter cream covered sugar cookies.

To summarize, remember what is important and be thankful for what you have. If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed, take a deep breath and make two lists, one of the things that need to be done, and the other of things for which you are thankful. Identifying what you are thankful for helps to put the little aggravations in perspective and enables you to appreciate the truly meaningful things in your daily life.

So take a moment to enjoy the holidays (and maybe a sugar cookie).

Happy Holidays from Nurses With Heart and have a healthy New Year!