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Finding your happy place: holiday stress edition

Adventist Health Health and Wellness, Mind

Ah, the holidays. Picture it: The air is crisp, maybe there's snow dusting your lawn, the fire is crackling and your house smells like a mixture of hot apple cider and freshly-baked bread that sends little smoke signals up over your family table. And what is that? Oh, it's the sparkling clean kitchen that you had time to sanitize before your visitors arrive for the meal that you prepared. You've done it all while singing along to every song on the radio station that has been exclusively playing Christmas tunes since Thanksgiving-but let's face it, you've been jamming those since July. All of your guests arrive on time, each bearing warm hugs and even warmer desserts (mmm, pie)-and everyone praises your healthier take on broccoli casserole. "What a beautiful spread we've been blessed with!" They might say, right before offering to help with the dishes.

The reality might be different for some of us, however, the picture may be something more like this: The weather outside truly is frightful (we're thinking something along the lines of rainy-snow-sludge), you ran out of firewood and somehow your house smells like wet dog (and you don't even have a dog)-the guests all arrive an hour late and you realize, to your utmost holiday horror, that the broccoli casserole you made was an accidental mashup of the peach berry crisp recipe you printed on the same page. And cousin Johnnie just spilled cranberry juice on your favorite antique tablecloth.

The holidays are a wonderful time to give thanks, spend time with family and share the bounty of God's love within your home and community. But let's face it: It can be a stressful time, too. Sometimes we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and spend too much time worrying about having the perfect gatherings. So this year, why not take some time to destress and focus on the things that matter most-because once you've reached your calm center, you'll find that it's easier to help others find their happy holiday place, too.

Sleep like a (yule) log

While it may sound simple, getting plenty of rest is a simple way to ensure that you start each day on the right foot. It's easy to get caught up in holiday projects and marathon-watching Christmas movies on Netflix and get to bed at a late hour. Lack of sleep can cause cloudy thoughts, irritability, and generally make you less able to tackle daily tasks. The National Sleep Institute recommends an average of seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults, and they also recommend naps as needed for those really tough days. So go ahead, put your phone on do not disturb and count those sheep. Snuggies are optional.

Stick to your routine

It's a hectic time of year, and as much fun as it might be to say "I'm skipping the gym today, because those cookies won't bake themselves!", exercise will not only benefit your mental health, but also helps ensure that your winter wardrobe will continue to make you feel your most jolly.

If your day involves a daily prayer or devotional, be sure to set aside time for that, too-after all, faith is an important part of the holidays, and honoring that will put your mind at ease. Want a Christmas-themed devotional delivered to your inbox? We found a great one on Bible Gateway.

Caring is sharing

By taking time to help others in your community, you'll find that generosity not only benefits the recipient, but also the giver. Volunteering in your local churches, hospitals, shelters and other charities is also a great opportunity to spend time teaching your kids about the importance of giving to others. So plan a shopping trip for toys or other items for charitable "adopt a family" programs, or make a meal together to give to those in need.

Be real!

As much as we'd like to believe that we can do it all for the holidays, setting unrealistic expectations can lead to stress and ultimately distract ourselves from the true meaning of the holidays: spending time with our loved ones and celebrating the traditions of our families and our faiths. While that tricky dessert recipe may have not exactly gone according to plan (no, you weren't supposed to add sautéed onions to the peach berry crisp), it's okay! Stay positive and have a sense of humor about the outcomes. Go around the dinner table during holiday gatherings and have everyone share their favorite "holiday disaster" stories-not only is it a fun way to bond with your guests, but knowing we all have those special moments can make them that much less of a big deal.

Treat yo'self

red gift box with a white bowWhile the holidays are all about sharing God's love with our families, friends and communities, it's also important to take a little time for yourself. Whether you take a nice walk around the neighborhood, attend a Zumba class, or buy yourself that pumpkin scone you've had your eye on in the bakery case, rewarding yourself is a fun way to take a little moment to reflect on everything you have to be thankful for, and how you can continue to be your best self throughout the holiday season. You might find that holiday cheer staying with you into the new year, too! Who says you can't keep up a Christmas tree until March?

Above all else, don't be afraid to reach out to family and friends for help if the holidays get to be "too much" to handle at times. Reaching out to your family, your church members and your friends is a smart way to tackle any hard times you may face this season. You can also visit Mental Health America for guidance and additional resources.

Happy holidays!