My seasonal prescription for you: Resilience.

The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but often we find ourselves overburdened with responsibilities and — for those of us who really get into the spirit of giving — overextended and worn out. We should care for others during the holidays, but not at the expense of our own happiness.

This is why it’s especially important during the holidays to consider our mental and emotional health and increase our resilience against common external stressors, such as reminders of the loss of a loved one or feeling expected to be everything to everybody. There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to reflect inwards and recognize when we’re stretched too thin. In fact, it’s necessary.

Resilience positively correlates with lower psychological distress and higher well-being. To get you started on your journey, here are five tips to help you have a joyful season.

MEDITATE

Have you ever tried meditating? It can do wonders to shift your perspective and build up a powerful force field against outside stressors. Start by focusing on your breathing and mindfulness for 5–15 minutes daily. This practice activates our parasympathetic nervous system and helps maintain a healthy blood pressure and decreases our “fight or flight” response to stress. If you prefer something a bit more active, I also recommend yoga, tai chi, and qigong. Not only do these exercises improve flexibility and balance, but when combined with rhythmic breathing, they engage our mind and help us stay focused.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN A PROJECT

For some of us with more anxious brains, yoga and meditation may actually have the opposite effect and result in an unhelpful period of time where the wheels just spin and spin. If that sounds like you, immersing yourself in work rather than rest may prove to be more calming. This could be a simple crafting project or it could involve a complicated spreadsheet. The type of activity isn’t important, so long as it’s important to you. It’s really about finding that sweet spot where you’re totally preoccupied and satisfied with the task at hand, and all of your worries just seem to melt away.

PRACTICE EMPATHY

Taking a compassionate approach to the day keeps us from minor issues that could otherwise really derail our happiness. Actively considering other people’s experiences not only helps prevent misunderstandings, it allows you to keep an open mind while making the people around you feel heard and understood. Assuming best intentions can have a positive impact, not just on your relationships, but on your overall well-being.

OFFER SUPPORT

It may seem counter-intuitive to help others as a self care practice, but making a difference and extending a hand to those in need boosts your sense of self. This can be done in small, general ways, like showing kindness to others, or in larger, more specific ways like volunteering in your community or on a project or an issue that you really care about. Use moderation and don’t agree to more than you can; it’s not helpful for anyone if this backlashes and causes you more stress.

GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP

This one is obvious but it’s so important and, all too often, we cheat ourselves on this essential part of our daily lives. Our body rejuvenates when we experience a healthy sleep. This means a full seven to eight hours — not settling for five or six because we think we can get by on just that extra jolt of coffee. We need both deep and REM sleep to refresh. Think of it as pressing the reset button, clearing our cache, and filling us with fresh energy for the new day. A combination of stress and changes to our schedules can take a toll on our Zzzs during the holidays. Practice healthy habits by turning off anything with a bright screen well before you start to feel tired and developing a sleep chart that you can track.


How do you practice self care during the holidays? Leave a comment with your favorite way to de-stress and increase resilience!

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Peter W. Rugg, MD, FACEP is an Amherst College-trained neuroscientist specializing in human neurophysiology and a University of Massachusetts Medical School-trained MD specializing in Functional Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and in Emergency Medicine, and together with his wife, Patti, he co-founded Rugg Wellness, PC, Functional Medicine and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Practice.