Are you one of the many people who find the holiday season challenging? You may experience disruption in your routines, being overloaded with commitments, stressful experiences, or family conflict. At the same time, it can be difficult to avoid behaviors that can make you feel worse, either immediately or later on, like overeating or consuming too much alcohol. And it can be equally difficult to find time for behaviors that can make you feel better, including getting enough sleep, and self-care activities such as practicing mindfulness or exercising. For many people, it is a foregone conclusion that the holidays will be a time of overindulgence, and they assume that come January, they’ll return to their normal patterns of eating, drinking, sleeping, and self-care.

However, we know how closely related physical health and mental health are, and how they interact to create an overall sense of well-being. This year, why not set yourself up to cope with the daily stressors and constant commitments by maintaining a strong foundation of healthy habits throughout the holiday season? If this seems impossible, these strategies borrowed from cognitive behavior therapy can help.

First, make a list of the reasons why it’s worth it for you to maintain healthy habits during the holidays. Be very specific and try to think of as many reasons as you can. These might include, “Maintaining a sense of control will feel better than being out of control,” “So I can enjoy the holidays without worrying about my eating or drinking taking a toll on my health,” or “So I can feel my best when seeing family.” Your list might include the answer to the question: “How do I want to feel when the holidays are over?” Read this list over every single day, if not multiple times per day, to remind you why it’s worth the effort to maintain your healthy habits.

Second, plan ahead! Before going to holiday events, make a plan for how you want your eating and drinking to go. Enter every situation with a firm idea of what and how much you will be consuming, and how you will handle temptation to deviate from your plan. For example, if you decide to consume only one glass of wine at a holiday party, you may want to think through how you’ll politely but firmly decline when someone tries to convince you to have a second glass. If you are hosting an event and have leftovers, figure out ahead of time whether you’re going to eat them or not. If not, distribute them to your guests before they leave. And be sure to plan for self-care activities and write them in your calendar each week. Accountability can be incredibly helpful, so you may want to plan for a walk with your partner, or take an exercise class with a friend.

If you’re one of the many people for whom eating a rich dessert or enjoying a festive cocktail is an important part of how you celebrate the holidays, by all means, include these indulgences in your plan. Plan for when and where you’ll enjoy them, and enjoy them mindfully. You’ll get so much more pleasure out of a piece of pie eaten slowly and mindfully, sitting down, than standing at the kitchen counter mindlessly eating while scrolling on your phone.

Jean Balzan / Pexels

Prioritize your health during the holiday season.

Source: Jean Balzan / Pexels

During the holidays, temptations that you encounter out of the house may be unavoidable. The one environment you can control is your home environment. Don’t invite the struggle home with you! Try to keep highly tempting things out of the house by “keeping them moving.” Find out about local charities or food banks that are accepting donations of food items or sweets. Re-gift bottles of wine and liquor to friends and family. Set up your bedroom for good sleep by keeping the room cool and dark, and limit screen time before bed.

You may not be able to control every aspect of the holiday season, but by prioritizing your health, you’ll have a better chance of feeling good once the holidays are over.

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