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Method For: Managing Holiday Stress

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The busiest of all seasons is upon us and despite the background noise of holiday hoopla there is probably something taking up mental space at the forefront of your mind. It may be something pressing at work, or maybe you are navigating through an aging parent’s next steps. Maybe your kid is struggling through an academic or social challenge or a spouse is going through something that is putting a strain on your relationship. Back in my Nordstrom days the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas made or broke our year, the stakes were so high that any  significant deviation from our plan (over or under) had big consequences. So even through hosting family and friends, trying to make Christmas magical for my kids and getting all of my shopping done, the pressure of current business dominated my thoughts. During this time it was easy for the good habits I had cultivated to take care of my body and mind to fall by the wayside. I would get so frustrated every year when I found myself skipping workouts, unable to relax in my messy house and swimming in a sea of comfort food.

When your brain is consumed by something stressful the common response is to let other things go. That happened to me year after year until I found a few effective strategies that helped me sustain my healthy habits, no matter what stressful topic was taking up residence in my brain.

Focus On Technique

The first trick came to me via the words of a swim coach who was preparing me & my friends for our first triathlon. She first informed us that yes, we would get tired during the swim – but we could still swim while being tired. Her advice was: when we felt ourselves getting tired, focus our brains on technique. Going back to well-worn patterns and putting a little focus on them works like muscle memory on steroids. This advice I started applying to tidying my house. The combination of holiday crazy depositing extra crap in our home plus the stress interfering with my energy meant that things didn’t get put away and so things were pretty cluttered. Piles of mail, backpacks, bags & jackets slung on tables, plates and cups left out on the counter. Not helpful when you are trying to relax. In this case, the focus on technique came in the form of the 2 Minute Rule. Reminding myself that sorting and tossing the mail would take less than 2 minutes helped me get one small thing done. Catching a kid mid-exit with a quick note that it would take less than 2 minutes to put their cup and plate in the dishwasher took care of another small thing.  Between myself and the rest of my family the little 2 Minute things we could do in the moment added up to a mostly-tidy house, which in turn helped lower my stress level.

Dial It Back

The second trick is making a bargain with yourself to do less of something you should do in lieu of skipping it altogether.  This trick works great for workouts.  When it’s so hard for me to drag my ass out of bed for my workout, I negotiate a shorter/easier workout instead of the full meal deal. For instance, I do a 20 minute Peloton ride instead of 45. Or I skip the full body strength workout and opt for a shorter arms-toning instead. You can negotiate a shorter run, staying for only 30 minutes of an hour class, or ditching one part of your workout but not the whole thing.  This technique really works for me, because it doesn’t feel as hard I can actually follow through and thus I get my body moving which is the best thing for both my body and my mind.

Make It Easy 

Keeping my healthy eating habits is by far the hardest thing to do when something stressful has moved to the forefront of my brain. I can’t tell you how many pints of Ben & Jerry’s I have consumed over the years in the month of December. And pizza, so much pizza. This one was the hardest for me to overcome and here’s how I did it. I made it easy to eat the things that are good for me by taking out any decision waste, meaning I anticipated how I was going to feel at times of the day/evening where I was the most vulnerable to eating bad things and decided ahead of time what I would eat at those times. For example, arriving home from work tired and grumpy from holiday traffic almost always sent me straight to the fridge or pantry for something salty. So I decided ahead of time that carrot chips and hummus would be my go-to at that time. I made it easy for myself to reach for something healthy by moving the decision up so I wasn’t in the position of staring into the fridge/pantry where I would inevitably make a bad choice. Removing that friction point made all the difference. And because I made the good choice I was rewarded by not feeling crappy and avoiding most of the Extra 10 that seemed to attach itself to my waistline each year.

The holidays are stressful enough on their own because there is so much activity and stimulation layered on to our already busy lives. But when you add cortisol-inducing situations taking up residence at the front of your mind it can be really hard to  keep the habits that your body and mind sorely need going. I hope these tricks help you like they did for me – I wish you the happiest and healthiest holidays!

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