With prime holiday season entering full swing, local health experts offer observations and advice on maintaining balance during this demanding time of year. They agree that stress often relegates personal wellness to the back burner and identify several strategies for mitigating anxiety and starting the new year off thriving.
“Just managing the expectations of the holidays is a major stressor: buying everybody presents, making everybody happy, having these huge meals and trying to be perfect… it can be very overwhelming,” explains social worker Jill Williams of Flourish Coaching and Life Counseling.
She adds that the pressure of high expectations and joyfulness is compounded by anxiety-inducing details like time commitments, travel, spending money, social gatherings and family relationships. How can they all be managed?
Williams pinpoints scheduling demands as one seasonal stressor for which people can set their own limitations. She says turning down invitations is perfectly acceptable and offers a way to do so in an affirmative way — suggesting gatherings for January and February instead.
“Once the holiday ends, we see a lot of people with seasonal affective disorder or just a terrible crash,” she notes. Rain-checking activities can extend the togetherness and community of the holiday season into these dark days of winter “without the commercialism and craziness.”
By extension, she continues, it’s also permissible to say no to family members. For those who have strained relationships with relatives, Williams advises keeping conversations superficial and light, actively steering the conversation away from certain topics when necessary. “It’s perfectly OK to say, ‘This is not a good time to talk about that.’ Or, enlist help from a close family member, partner or friend and have them help steer you away, or just be there for you if you need to escape.”
Furthermore, the season can be particularly exhausting for parents, she points out. “More so in Asheville than in other parts of the country, we put stress on ourselves to be the perfect parent and have everything our kids do to be this enriching, amazing experience. It’s OK not to have everything perfect.” She insists that concessions like distracting kids with movies during long car rides should not be looked down upon, especially considering that many children are in the throes of overstimulation by late December.
Williams offers a few more familycentric pieces of advice during the Christmas season: “Make sure kids get enough sleep and be reasonable with the amount of sugar you give them. It makes a world of difference!”
Within these parameters, she suggests a daily gratitude practice as a positive addition: “Either first thing in the morning or at dinner time, talk about things you’re grateful for — people, things, activities, anything. Even appreciation for something like grapes in the winter can help kids understand how lucky they are.”
Personal trainer, certified health coach and yoga instructor Anastasia Bartlett of Bartlett Wellness also emphasizes the transformative power of gratitude, and not just for families.
“We get so mired down in stress, holidays, parties and alcohol,” she says. “Starting a gratitude journal is a great way to fight it. For a lot of people, it starts a shift in their life. Instead of focusing on the to-do list and all the things that come along with it, you start going into things with an open heart.” She adds that journaling can be as simple as writing down five to 10 things to be grateful for each day.
Ideally, Bartlett says, the best way to stay happy and healthy over the holiday season is to have stress-management and self-care routines in place beforehand and to remain as consistent as possible with them. “It could be anything — acupuncture, massage, yoga. Even going to the gym is very Zen for some people. … It’s [also] important to stay prepared, keep going to the grocery store and maintain a normal routine.”
She admits that this is not always possible, but there is no reason to despair if holiday festivities interfere with lifestyle goals. After all, “[the holidays fall] in a space of only three weeks. It’s not going to permanently derail you even if you travel, eat and party.”
In the event of overwhelm, she advises that “taking a deep breath can transform your whole day. Ask yourself, ‘Do my clothes fit differently? Did I really get that off-track, or does it just seem that way? And if I did, who cares?’ Just get back on that path. You can still meet your goals from the side route.”
Williams and Bartlett agree that end-of-year demands can be mind-boggling but stress that self-care, gratitude and personal boundaries go far in combating seasonal distress — and they also help prime individuals to take on New Year’s resolutions from a place of wellness.Health coach and fitness instructor Cassandra Parisi, who teaches high-energy Turbo Kick fitness classes at Smoky Mountain Adventure Center, echoes their sentiments, noting that when stress enters the picture, a balanced diet is often the first thing to suffer. She cautions that in the event of a slip-up, “Don’t resent yourself. It’s a slippery slope. Don’t think, ‘I already ate the pizza, I might as well have this whole pie, too.'”
Parisi offers further pointers for tackling health-related goals in 2017. Gentle self-correction is a great place from which to plan health-related New Year’s resolutions, she says, but “to achieve your goals, you’ve got to be in the right mindset. You need to dedicate yourself. Having goals is great, but you also need to have a plan. And you need to set attainable goals. Nothing too astronomical, or you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”
Williams and Bartlett also emphasize the importance of choosing goals that are personally important.
“Many people end up stretching themselves thin and taking on a million different goals that aren’t even important to them just because society makes them seem important,” Williams notes. “Anything you don’t really value is something you shouldn’t take on. You’re not going to buy into it; you’re not going to follow through … and then you feel like crap because you haven’t met this expectation that, honestly, you didn’t really want to meet in the first place.”
Once a personal inventory has been taken, Parisi points out, the brunt of this effort does not need to be borne alone. “Having a coach that’s willing to work with you is amazing. Having an accountability partner or support group to cheer you on and motivate you can make all the difference.”