Eat Well to Be Well: Stress less, enjoy more this holiday season

Decorate the house, buy gifts, wrap gifts, address holiday cards, make holiday treats, host a party, go to parties, attend children’s school holiday events – and the list goes on. Ever feel a bit stressed out this time of year?

Relax. We all do.

Yes, it’s a wonderful time of year but the pressure to make it memorable and fun can be overwhelming. When we place sky-high expectations on ourselves and others, it’s no wonder the holidays become stressful. Consider the fact, nothing changes during this time – we still have to get up, go to our jobs, tend to our families, fix meals, workout, just like we do all year long. What changes is the month long (or more) anticipation and buildup towards a beautiful celebration that shouldn’t cause us stress and yet it does.

How do we keep ourselves from stressing out during what is supposed to be a time of joy and celebratory exultation?

We can start by telling ourselves, “It’s okay not to be perfect.” None of us are. Is it possible to remove all stress? Don’t we wish! However, we can lessen the burden of stress making our lives feel more carefree, lighthearted, and even at times, happy-go-lucky. Here’s how:

Keep connected with family and friends. This can be a huge stressor if you feel disconnected from those you care about and love. Take time to reach out with a phone call, visit, text message, Facebook message, or whatever you feel comfortable doing. All of us feel special knowing someone carved out precious time to want to spend it with you.

Distance yourself from negative influences. At the same token, there are unfortunately those people in our lives who bring us down. Unless you are able to look past their negativity and chalk it up to a personality issue, it’s best to avoid contact with someone who will only raise your stress level.

Nurture creativity. Each of us has a creative side to us whether you believe it or not. Maybe you can’t carry a tune or can barely draw a stick figure, but you have a special way with animals. Or maybe you’re talents are in creating beautiful cakes, caring for the elderly or taking amazing sunset photos. Discover, nurture and then share your talents so others will be blessed with them. Whatever we are good at we tend to feel less stress when doing it.

Practice meditation. This may not be for everyone, but for those who do it regularly they swear it immensely diminishes stress. Meditation can be as easy as simply closing your eyes and visualizing a peaceful, calm scene that will quiet the stress demons filling your mind.

Take a deep breath. By the same token, practicing controlled breathing, similar to meditation, is another guaranteed stress buster. In a seated or lying down position in a quiet room, inhale deeply filling up your lungs while counting to 5 and then exhale pulling your abdomen to your spine to a steady count of 5 once again. Breathe this way for at least a couple of minutes or more and notice the immediate blanket of serenity enveloping you.

Listen to music. Is there really any other medium that quite connects us all together as the sound of music does? The extraordinary gift of music has been shown to soothe and calm our nerves helping us relax and reflect on what is good in life. Put on your favorite tunes and let them melt away your stress and anxieties.

Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write down at least three things you are grateful for. It could be what happened that day or even years ago. At the same time, write down your frustrations for the day. Writing down how you feel leads to better coping skills putting a positive spin on your mood while reducing stress.

Get physical. Your body may scream, “I’m too tired to work out,” yet it’s exactly what to do when stress levels soar. Going on a walk outdoors, kickboxing, jumping rope, dancing to music, are all fun ways to work out stress while getting in better shape.

Stick to healthy eating. Yes, it’s hard to resist the special treats that accompany the holidays! And you do have permission to enjoy them in moderation. But, also have a plan to eat nutritiously too. Here’s your checklist to follow:

  • Eat three meals a day.
  • Have fruit or veggies at each meal.
  • Pack protein at each meal and snack – nuts, lean meat, fish, peanut butter, low-sodium jerky, Greek yogurt, eggs, cheese, milk, edamame, beans, and lentils.
  • Close down the kitchen early in the evening. Avoid late night snacking by keeping busy. Play board games or cards, listen to music, watch your favorite Christmas movie, or take a drive to view Christmas lights.

Keep the focus of making this wondrous and beautiful season fun, festive, and joyous with minimal worries of perfection. The holidays are already perfect just as they are – especially when we look for the good around us and in everyone we meet.


Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook. Visit her website at www.eatwelltobewellrd.com.


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