The festive period, for all its glittering lights and joyous gatherings, often brings a surge of stress, threatening to overshadow the holiday cheer. To navigate this season with your well-being intact, the Self-Care Tools in our Holiday Stress Prevention Toolkit are indispensable. They’re not just strategies but acts of self-kindness that remind us to maintain our balance and emotional equilibrium.

Self-Care Tools:

  • Practice Self-Kindness: Stop “should-ing” yourself
  • Examine Your Baseline Stress Level: Don’t let stress creep up
  • Disconnect From the Source of Stress: Turn Off the Stress Faucet
  • Signal Your Body to Release Cortisol: Regain equilibrium 
  • Support Your System: Keep your body functioning well to limit physical stress
  • Customize Your Self-Care: Find your unique path to feeling well.

Self-Care Tool #1: Practice Self-Kindness

There is no trophy for having the perfect holiday! It is easy to be buried under an on-slot of holiday “shoulds.” Take a moment when you feel like you SHOULD be serving, doing, feeling, or wearing something different than what makes you feel content. Stop “shoulding” yourself and be kind enough to yourself to craft your own holiday experience. Just because others enjoy an activity or tradition doesn’t mean you have to participate. Opting out is an OPTion.

I don’t send holiday cards or newsletters anymore. I’m not judging anyone who enjoys sending holiday greetings. I just never really liked doing it. It felt like an obligation and a burden and gave me headaches rather than joy. So I stopped. Instead, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, I make time to reach out to people I care about to say hello, check in, and remind them they are important to me. That makes me smile and feels like the holiday spirit.

During the holiday season, remember that less can be more. If hosting a grand event feels overwhelming, opt for a smaller, more intimate gathering. Recognize and celebrate every small act of self-care; these are triumphs in their own right. Grant yourself the permission to take a step back when needed, and remember, it’s okay to pause and appreciate the present moment.

Tip: The Time Protection Tools are helpful in envisioning contentment during the holidays and blocking off downtime to enjoy.

Self-Care Tool #2: Examine Your Baseline Stress Level

Our baseline stress level can often be higher than we realize, intensified by continuous exposure to stressful news and the demands of daily life. Recognizing and addressing this high baseline stress is crucial, especially during the holidays when additional stressors are in play. A participant in one of my programs once said, “I didn’t know what I was feeling was stress. I thought I was just bad at handling things.” This realization underscores the importance of recognizing stress’s subtle signals before they take a toll on our health and happiness. I have a tool to assess your Baseline Stress Level – which can help. The following tools will help reduce your cortisol levels and allow you to recover from stress so you can enjoy the holidays more.

Tip: Learn more about accessing and lowering your Baseline Stress Level.

Self-Care Tool #3: Disconnect From the Source of Stress: 

When your baseline stress level is high, cortisol remains high. Luckily, you can turn off the stress faucet by disconnecting it from the source. How we disconnect, however, is very individual. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by stress or doubted the effectiveness of traditional stress management techniques, you’re not alone. While meditation and yoga work wonders for some, they don’t resonate with everyone. Stress management is far from a one-size-fits-all solution; we each have unique responses to stress, and our ability to recover varies.

On a vacation in Mexico, a simple observation became a profound insight into stress recovery. My husband, Clay, I, and a group of friends found ourselves at a resort catering to scuba enthusiasts. While the others lounged by the pool like iguanas, basking in the stillness, Clay, much like a border collie, needed to be on the move.

After a while, one friend commented, “You are always on the go. When are you going to relax?” They didn’t realize that Clay was relaxing, just in his own way. He jokingly replied over dinner, “I’m like a border collie: if I don’t have something to do, I start chewing on things.” This was both humorous and true. It is an apt metaphor for how Clay unwinds. While quiet and stillness can be meditative for some, for others like Clay, staying physically active or mentally occupied is a necessary diversion from stress.

Are you an iguana or a border collie when it comes to stress relief? Understanding which one you are can be vital in managing your stress effectively.

  • For the Iguanas: Embrace activities that allow you to stop and soak in the calm. It could be reading a book, practicing gentle yoga, or enjoying a quiet coffee on your porch. Quiet, contemplative activities are the key.
  • For the Border Collies: Seek activities that engage your mind and body. This could be woodworking, where your focus on crafting something beautiful frees the mind. Highly occupying activities are the ticket, whether physically engaging, mentally occupying, or both.

The holidays constantly challenge our ability to maintain balance. Still, we can create peace amid the chaos by identifying and embracing our unique stress recovery needs. Whether you need the quiet contemplation of an iguana or the active engagement of a border collie, finding your path to relaxation is worth taking. Remember, stress management is deeply personal, and there’s no wrong way to unwind.

Tip: Take the Stress Recovery Personality Quiz and find out if you are on Team Iguana, Team Border Collie, or somewhere in between.

Self-Care Tool #4: Signal Your Body to Release Cortisol:

Just as our brain instinctively responds to stress with cortisol, it is naturally designed to release it when it has passed. Sometimes, however, it needs a little help. Fortunately, we can let it know it is time to return that cortisol level to normal.  

  • Raise your heart rate: Any activity that raises your heart rate for a few minutes and then allows it to come back down can help reduce your cortisol level. That “ahhhh” feeling of your heart rate coming down indicates that your cortisol level is coming down too. That is why exercise effectively lowers stress, but you don’t have to go out for a run. A brisk walk, particularly outside, is an excellent stress-lowering activity. Household chores like vigorous cleaning can do the trick, too. Also, if you are an active fan, watching a sporting event that causes you to stand up and cheer on your team can raise your heart rate, too.
  • Change your breath. When we are stressed, we take short, shallow breaths. Slowing down your breathing directs your body to lower cortisol levels. This is why meditation and yoga work so well for many people to reduce cortisol levels. Laughter and singing can do the same thing. Luckily, the holidays usually supply great opportunities for both. Whether watching a holiday comedy movie, singing along to your favorite tune, or using your voice in prayer, lengthening your breath signals your body to release cortisol.
  • Change your view. Being outside 15 minutes per day and getting fresh air elevates your mood and is an excellent way to reduce stress and get more vitamin D. It may even change your perspective on a tough project or clear your head so you can work more efficiently. It is also great for your eyes. Spending time focusing at the same distance—say, working at a computer—makes your eyes tired and a little lazy. When you’re outside, your eyes automatically focus on a series of distances to take in a new environment. This wakes up the brain and can also help you refocus on work. Overall, nature is a guaranteed stress reducer—even looking at pictures or videos of nature works! You can also change your inside environment. Rearranging funiture or changing what is on the walls can signal your brain that it is time to release cortisol. Fortunately, the holidays often offer the opportunity for decorating! Putting things in order is also soothing in times of uncertainty. 
  • Get some sleep. As I tell my audiences, “Sleep is the magic ingredient that makes everything else work.” You can exercise, eat right, and do everything your doctor says you should, but without enough good-quality, consistent sleep, it won’t work. Sleep is the most effective way to return your cortisol levels to normal. This is why one of my holiday goals is always about sleep!

Self-Care Tool #5: Support Your System:

Piling the physical stress of hunger and thirst on top of your baseline and holiday stress can be dangerous.

  • Drink enough water. Your body needs water to regulate temperature, digest food, eliminate waste, and keep your blood flowing. If your body doesn’t get enough water, it will hold on to fat, and your blood will thicken. This puts physical stress on your body. A good rule of thumb to determine the minimum amount of water you should drink each day is to divide your weight (in pounds) by two. You should drink at least that number of ounces of water each day. 
  • Keep your body fueled. Your body needs protein, water, carbohydrates, and fat to function correctly. All food fits in a healthy diet; too much of anything can be unhealthy. The goal is to enjoy a variety of food in moderation, even food containing sugar, fat, salt, or any other “bad” ingredients. Fuel your body with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins, and then have a treat occasionally.
  • Embrace Moderation: Resist the pressure to ‘overdo it’ in any aspect of the holiday, be it food, activities, or even exercise. Deciding to run the Turkey Trot when you haven’t run all year or overindulging in food or alcohol may leave you too uncomfortable to enjoy yourself. Spending time in the emergency room with a case of Holiday Heart Syndrome isn’t on anyone’s wish list, either. It’s about finding your own perfect balance. 
  • Don’t Derail Your Healthy Habits: Don’t let guilt take over if you veer from your regular routine. Acknowledge the joy in the moment and gently return to your healthy habits when you’re ready. As I often say, “Life is not about perfection. It’s about moving in the right direction!” That is even more true during the holidays.

Self-Care Tool #6: Customize Your Self-Care

Understanding what you need to disconnect and recover from stress, how you maintain your body, and whether you rejuvenate in solitude or through social interactions is critical. If contemplative activities soothe you, carve out time for them. If active engagement is your path to relaxation, seek opportunities that align with this need. Tailor your holiday season to include activities that reflect your personal way of unwinding and recharging.

One note: If your baseline stress level is very high and you are successful during a break or vacation in disconnecting from the source of your stress and decompressing, that can feel weird, even uncomfortable. We can acclimate to an unhealthy cortisol level in our system and miss it when it is gone. If you start to feel unsettled a few days into a break, take a moment to reflect on what you are feeling. It’s okay to take some time to reacclimate.

Concluding Encouragement:

Let this chapter serve as a compass to guide you through the holiday season with a sense of balance and well-being. Using these Self-Care Tools, you can navigate the festive period with a sense of joy and contentment, remembering to honor your needs and maintain your equilibrium. Embrace these strategies not just for the holidays but as part of a broader approach to wellness that extends beyond this season. As you move forward, remember that each step taken with self-care in mind is a step towards a more fulfilling and content holiday experience.

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