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Santa, Stress, and Your Sanity: How To Prioritize Your Mental Health During The Holiday Season

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Get Those Endorphins Flowing: How To Use Exercise To Fight Holiday Tension

From TV commercials to grocery store displays, the media portrays the holidays as a time of joy, fun, and relaxation. While many of us are fortunate enough to enjoy happy feelings during the holiday season, these chilly months also tend to bring stress and tension due to familial and financial issues. Here, we'll take a look at how you can use exercise to prioritize your mental health as you go through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year.

First — Forget The Guilt

Whether you're a parent, an aunt, or simply someone who tries to prioritize spending time with family over the holidays, it can be hard to carve out time for yourself. When you make your workouts a priority, you're taking the time you need to be the healthiest, happiest version of yourself. When you take care of yourself, you're able to give your best to others. Taking time for yourself during the holiday season isn't selfish — it's a necessity.

Carve Out Time

Don't wait until your stress levels become unmanageable to start using exercise as a way to de-stress. Exercise is great as an acute method of stress management, but it works even better as preventative stress care. When you start making your workouts a priority before stress becomes an issue, you'll be better able to manage the unexpected situations and stressors that the holidays throw your way.

When you decide to make exercise a priority now, it'll be easier to keep it as a part of your routine when things get hectic. Your workouts don't need to be super long or super intense for you to reap the mental health benefits that come with moving your body. Setting aside even 20 minutes each day to move your body in a meaningful way can help your body and mind get used to using exercise as stress relief.

Think of your workouts as an important appointment. If you needed to go to the dentist, you wouldn't reschedule your appointment without a great reason. Your workouts are key to your health, just like going to a medical appointment. Jot your workouts down on your calendar, let others know when you'll be working out, and stick to your plan.

Remind Yourself Of The Mental Health Benefits Of A Good Sweat

Working out isn't just about keeping your physical health in check — and it's important to remind yourself of the mental health benefits of exercise during the holiday season. It's easy to get discouraged if you see the scale go up after enjoying some Christmas cookies, and many people decide to throw in the towel over the holidays because they feel like their hard work in the gym won't pay off. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if the scale doesn't change, experiencing the endorphin release caused by a solid sweat session has lasting benefits.

Working out doesn't just provide an overall boost to your mood and sense of wellbeing — exercise also improves your memory, reduces the risk of depression by 26%, improves your sleep, and better equips your mind and body to deal with stress. If you're someone who craves alone time, exercise can also serve as a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of family and friends during the holidays. Working out in a group setting is great, but removing yourself from a busy celebration for an hour can provide a welcome respite from conversation and noise to simply center and focus on your own thoughts.

Gift Yourself A New Workout Option

The holidays aren't just a time to show your friends and family how much you care — it's also time to show much you care about your own well-being. If you've been thinking about trying a new workout, this is a great time to give it a go. Whether that means reaching out to a personal trainer , checking out a spin class, trying an at-home workout, or investing in strength training sessions, trying something new can help to boost your motivation and provide a new method of stress relief.

If you decide to work one on one at a personal training studio, be sure to talk with your trainer or coach about your stress relief goals. They'll be able to check in with you regularly to ensure that your sessions are helping you to manage your stress, and tweak your sessions where necessary to provide maximum mental health benefits.

Encourage Family And Friends To Join In

If you'd rather work out with a crowd instead of heading out on your own, invite your friends and family to join you for your workouts. When you invite loved ones to join in, be sure to adjust your workouts to meet them at their fitness level if necessary. Instead of bringing family members who haven't worked out in years along for a five-mile run, consider a walk around the block or a trail hike on a sunny winter day. When your loved ones see how great movement makes them feel, they may want to join you more often.

The thought of participating in exercise can produce anxiety for someone who feels like they're out of shape or who is worried about keeping up, so don't be discouraged if it takes some time for friends and family to agree to join you. Simply provide an open invitation and be receptive to their efforts if and when they decide that they'd like to join you.

Use Movement To Get Centered

During the holidays, it's all too easy to overindulge in sugar and alcohol when things get tough. Having a solid stress management plan before issues arise is a smart way to skirt the never-ending cycle of anxiety, stress eating, a moment of relief, the return of anxiety, and more stress eating.

Take some time to think about your triggers for stress. Perhaps it's spending time with a certain family member, or maybe you're navigating a tough financial situation this holiday season. When you know the issues that tend to increase your stress levels, have a plan for how you'll deal with stressors before they arise. When you include healthy movement as a part of your stress management plan, you'll know that you have a healthy option in your back pocket (making it less tempting to go to town on pigs in a blanket the moment your nosy aunt questions your relationship status).

Stress-busting movement doesn't necessarily have to mean that you're hitting the weights hard. Taking ten minutes at the start and end of each day to center with a yoga practice can go a long way in helping you stay calm and relaxed, no matter what the holidays throw at you.

The Bottom Line: Have A Plan And Stick To It

Don't wait until stress hits to make movement a priority. Identify potential stressors ahead of time, incorporate movement into your routine before stress hits, and remember — you have everything you need to work through tough situations. Whether you're enjoying the New York City holiday spirit or kicking back on the beaches of Hawaii during your holiday break, find a way to work meaningful movement into your day. Get moving, and stay strong.

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