Holiday Stress Survival Guide


‘Tis the season to have a hard time taking care of yourself. There is no busier time of the year, for you and for me. My office is filled with over-indulgers and those “afflicted” by the holiday spirit. It can begin at Thanksgiving and last well into the New Year. Too much food, too much drink, too little rest, and too much stress. This is the time of year when many of us voluntarily and deliberately indulge, while simultaneously neglecting our need for exercise, relaxation and sleep. So, what do we do about this holiday quandary? 

I would never suggest that we can’t enjoy ourselves. I have every intention of doing so, and you should too. Having fun and spending time with family can be a healthful practice, but like most things, there should be a limit. Before you get swept up completely, take inventory:

  • What are you likely to do that could harm your health?
  • Are you an overeater?
  • A sugar binger?
  • Are you likely to have too much wine, or get super stressed as soon as your parents arrive and revert back to the rebellious mind-set you had at age 15?

I want you to get through the holidays unscathed, without weight gain or anxiety that can stress your heart, and the only way to do this is to be prepared, and then to be accountable. It’s time to make a plan of action.

I suggest mapping out your holiday season in very specific terms. Strategize and decide 1) where you are going to go, 2) who you are going to see, 3) what you are going to eat, 4) how much you are going to drink, 5) when you are going to exercise, and 6) exactly how you plan to manage your stress (because there will be stress, I guarantee it, even if you love the holiday season). Spelling these things out very clearly and precisely and then following through with your plan can keep things from going awry and head off regret and guilt come New Year’s Day.

This planning should involve some soul-searching, and I encourage that. I want you to decide how many holiday parties are enough, and which ones you have every right to decline. Do not discount the stress that so many people feel during the holiday season, either. Whether it’s due to family dynamics, or remembering those that are not there to share in the celebration anymore, or simply the stress of more socialization than usual, know your limitations and manage them. Maybe a weekly yoga class or a daily meditation session will help. Maybe you need a weekly de-briefing session with your best friend, or you and a sibling need to escape the rest of the family for awhile and talk through your feelings. Or maybe you just need to schedule (and honor) periodic alone-time. Make the decision to fulfill your needs first, so you can be there for the ones you love.

If you are traveling, make sure you take all your medication with you. I can’t tell you how many panicked calls I’ve received from patients asking for emergency prescriptions to far away pharmacies because of pills that were forgotten.

Plan your splurges. If the work party is at a steakhouse and you aren’t a big fan of that kind of food, plan on eating something before you go. If you know someone has a can’t-miss red velvet cake, enjoy it, but plan to limit your serving size and cut back on sweets for the rest of the day.

Go to the gym, no matter what.  You might not want to venture out into the cold, but you will feel so much better, both physically and mentally. Regular cardiovascular exercise will be worth the effort, both to burn off whatever excess calories you take in, and to ward off stress.

As much as some of us love the holidays, there is a survival component. Deny it, and you may not like the picture in the mirror on January 1. Admit it, plan for it, be accountable to your own health and your heart, and maybe your New Year’s resolutions this year can focus on something more interesting and inspiring than “lose 10 pounds” or “start exercising” or “manage my stress.” Because you’ll already have those under control.