Last week I shared part 1 of my holiday guide that is meant to help you navigate stress and anxiety during the holiday season. Last week we focused on the breath (pranayama) and I gave you three breathing exercises to try when you found yourself in a stressful situation. Two of them I got to practice the following weekend in the middle of a very crowded Costco (it felt packed like Disney World) and it really took the edge off. If you want to check out part 1 of the holiday guide, click here- https://yogitoesandtomatoes.com/2020/12/03/self-care-for-the-holidays-part-1-the-breath/.
This week in part 2, I’m going to focus on how to use our bodies to help navigate stress and what things to pay attention to. I have broken them down into three important categories that most of us know we need to pay attention to but often neglect: nutrition, exercise (and asana), and sleep. The holiday season is often busy so the thought of adapting to a new eating plan (don’t worry- I’m not that going for that here), fitting in new exercise routines, or trying to find time for extra sleep can feel daunting, impossible, or something you shove off until later. So, I broke them down simply so you can use them effectively and quickly without changing too much up in your daily life or having to make any big plans.
Let’s start with nutrition. It’s something we have to fit into our day in one way or another and it’s one of the things that changes most during the holiday season. We take in more sugar and eat less protein and vegetables. And that is ok! Really, it’s ok to indulge during the holiday season. What we need to pay attention to is how it might be contributing to any stress or anxiety we may have. There is a way to find balance when it comes to our food choices during the holiday season that allows us to enjoy our favorite treats but also be mindful of how too much or too little of something might be making us feel so we can adjust accordingly if we need to.
How often do you sit and contemplate how certain foods make you feel outside of a stomach ache or other strong, obvious reaction? Do you notice if you eat more than a cookie or two that you find yourself lethargic, anxious, or tired? Sugar is notorious for it’s sugar crash. It gives your blood sugar a quick spike and then it falls an hour or two later which can leave you extra tired, groggy, or jittery. It can even make you crave more sugar which creates a cycle. And just as sugar is notorious for its sugar crash, the holiday season is notorious for its sugary treats. Hot cocoa, cookies, speciality holiday desserts from coffee shops (ahem, cranberry bliss bar), traditional desserts at family gatherings, etc. You probably have an idea where, how, and why extra sugar finds its way into your life around this time of year. It can be a very enjoyable part of the season.
Exercise and Asana
The benefits of exercise and asana practice (the physical practice of yoga poses) are seemingly endless. It benefits everything from brain health, emotional regulation, all the way to your physical body. Exercise has been proven to reduce the stress hormone cortisol in our body and it boosts endorphins. Cortisol rises in stressful situations and as we’ve mentioned, stressful situations tend to be higher in the holiday season for a lot of us.
Exercise and asana also looks different for us all and is accessible to most of us in some form or another. You don’t need fancy equipment, you don’t need to be flexible, you don’t need to be strong- you just need you and your breath. At first it may be hard if you aren’t used to exercising, so start slow and play around with different kinds. One style of exercise may not be the best fit for you, where another may. Look for something sustainable that you are likely to return to.
Here is a short yoga sequence from my favorite online yoga teacher, Adriene from Yoga with Adriene. You can also pursue strength training with weights, chair/accessible yoga, cardio, barre, hiit, there are tons of options! But if you are short on time and don’t know where to start, this sequence may be a good place. Whatever form of exercise you choose to partake in- always listen to your body, know the difference between sensation and pain, notice what feels good, and move mindfully with the breath leading the way.
Sleep and stress are two of those things that perpetuate each other. They go hand in hand. When we’re stressed, it can be harder to sleep. When we’re tired, it can be harder to deal with stressful situations. Take a look back at one of your recent most stress filled days or maybe a day where you were a bit easier to frustrate, how many hours of sleep did you get the night before? Often, the less amount of sleep we get the shorter our attention spans are, the quicker we are to aggravate, and the easier we are to overwhelm. Sleep is a key proponent to brain function and emotional regulation, both of these things you can find extensive evidence on with a google search. Since we are extra stressed during the holidays, we often sleep less, which brings on more stress- you see the cycle?
Out of all of the things listed here today, I would say prioritize your sleep if you can only start with one thing. When we get a solid 7-9 hours of quality sleep we will have more energy, more mental clarity to make choices that support us, and will feel better over all.
If you are having trouble sleeping from stress, pranayama (breath) practice can be a great help. You can find more about that in part 1 of the holiday guide linked at the beginning of this post. Other things that may help you fall asleep easier and sleep better is to journal, read, or do yoga or some stretching before bed instead of watching TV or a movie, meditate (more on this in part 3 of the holiday guide!), have some warm milk or tea (sleepy time tea can help with sleep naturally if you tolerate all the ingredients in the tea well), or take a long bath. Think about what helps you truly relax.
Here is another video from Adriene if you’d like an asana practice to do before bed. It is short, sweet, and sure to help you sleep.
I hope you found part parts 1 and 2 of my holiday guide helpful in some way when it comes to navigating the holiday season. The key to all of these things listed today (and always) is to really tune in to how you are feeling, go slow and notice, take time to check in with yourself. Be mindful. If you aren’t feeling great, instead of pushing yourself to keep going- take time to decompress and honor yourself. I know the holiday season is busy and it can be really hard to do these things, but you aren’t going to be your best self or enjoy anything as much as you could if you are feeling sluggish, stressed, and ran down. You deserve joy!