In November, as the holiday season looms, I’m tackling self-care because there is no better time to take a minute and remember what’s really important (your health!) as we all brace ourselves to deal with what will surely be a strange and atypical holiday season. Will it be more stressful? Less stressful? We just don’t know (and it probably depends on your family!), but it’s always a good idea to do some damage control, especially as the weather gets colder and we all get less stress-reducing outdoor time.
This month, I’d love it if you could focus on you. It might feel easier to put everybody first right now, but you can’t be your best for the people who need you if you don’t take care of yourself first. To help you shift your priorities around just a bit, here are four of my favorite self-care strategies. See if you can work them all into your routine this month, then keep it up through the end of the year (and all next year?).
One: Your New Morning Routine
What you do when you wake up sets the tone for the whole day. Do you hit the snooze then have to rush? Grab your phone and start scrolling through work items before you get out of bed? These are routines (unintentional as they may be) and they prep your brain for a high-stress day.
Instead, see if you can set a relaxed, calm, centered tone. When you wake up, don’t hit the snooze. Stretch, sit up, and meditate, breathe deeply, or journal for 5 minutes. Get out of bed, have a glass of water (lemon slice optional), and do a few relaxing stretches or yoga poses to welcome the day.
Next, step outside or at least stand in front of a window and look at the sky to get some daylight into your eyes to help your brain wake up. Have a warm cup of tea (or coffee if you must), and relax in a comfortable chair. Read something inspiring or think about your plan for the day. Take your time. If doing this means getting up earlier (and going to bed earlier) to get some time before the kids are up or that Zoom meeting starts, trust me–it’s worth it. There is no more beautiful time of day than the early morning, and no better ambience for focusing on your own mental and spiritual health.
Once you feel fully awake, get dressed and ready for your day. Only after you’re dressed, check your email, texts, or other information related to your daily tasks. Take one last deep breath, and get to it!
A 2019 article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine demonstrates that routines help to reduce the number of decisions people have to make every day, and fewer decisions can translate to more willpower to make healthful choices. When you choose a morning routine that starts you off on a positive note, it might give you just the boost you need to make more healthful decisions for the rest of the day.
Two: The Big Salad
I recommend a big salad every day, and I find the easiest time to get that salad in is lunchtime. Let this become another good habit this month—that big bowl of leafy greens will help boost your mood and keep your brain fog-free. A 2018 study published in Neurology showed that regular intake of dark leafy greens was significantly associated with reduced cognitive decline, and another study that same year published in Frontiers in Psychology showed that raw vegetables and fruits improve mental health–so when the stress mounts and you can’t remember where you put your keys or whether or not you mailed those holiday cards, rest assured that your big salad is keeping your brain healthy.
Three: Walk It Off
You may feel like you’re on your feet all day getting ready for the holidays, but if you reserve one solid hour every day to leave it all behind and go on a walk, you will benefit immensely. A 2019 study in JAMA Psychiatry showed that one hour of walking every day (or just 15 minutes of running) decreased the risk of depression. An hour may seem like a lot, but once you work it into your schedule, you’ll find you have more energy, so you’ll get more done quicker and that walking investment will pay for itself. An hour of daily exercise will change you. It’s valuable you-time, so consider this my prescription to you! It doesn’t matter what time of day you do it. Just make it non-negotiable, period. It’s the perfect recipe for those holiday blues.
Last but not least, to keep you feeling sane and calm, let yourself feel the love this holiday season. Spending relaxed, non-goal-oriented time with friends and family is great therapy. The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine reviewed multiple studies showing that social connections result in better physical and mental health, and may be even more important than diet and exercise. While I will always recommend smart dietary choices and exercise, don’t stress too much about being perfect over the holidays. As long as you are spending connected time with the people you love, talking, laughing, and enjoying being together—because after all, the holidays are about people, not food—then you’re going to be okay.
Every one of these self-care strategies can be altered according to your own schedule and preferences, but the point is to prioritize you, rather than what everyone else wants from you. Reclaim your mornings, eat your veggies, get moving, and connect, and this might be your best holiday season ever. Now go have a vibrant holiday season!