How to find balance this holiday season

Image: A woman sits by a Christmas tree
The holidays can be stressful--but they don't have to be. Copyright Getty Images
By Tanya Benenson and Alyssa Morgenstern with NBC News
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Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays while staying more energized, calm and content.

During the holidays, the temptation to take health off your priority list is very real. But pressing pause on healthier habits can also leave you feeling more drained, stressed and unhappy. Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays while staying more energized, calm and content.

Be strategic with eating and drinking

As much as you'd like to say you'll just quietly munch carrots and sip seltzer at that office party, some cupcake or pomegranate mojito (pick your poison) can come stomping all over your dreams of keeping it healthy.

Food is fuel. What you eat and drink affects your energy level, mood, and, of course, your weight. A little bit of indulgence is fine, but the key word here is little. You can't always avoid the mac-and-cheese buffet, but there are ways to avoid overeating and overindulging.

At home and at work:

  • Keep healthy, quick-and-easy foods around so it's convenient to make good eating choices most of the time.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid confusing thirst for hunger. This is a common mistake.

At a party:

  • Eat a healthy 100-200 calorie snack like a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit before you head to a party. This will boost your self-control at the event.
  • Scan the entire buffet before making your choices to fill your plate with lower-calorie options like vegetable crudité prior to taking a pass at the savory cheesy delights or the sweet treats.
  • Alternate one alcoholic beverage with a club soda or water to space out your drinking and to keep hydrated.
  • Drink lower-calorie alcoholic beverages like wine spritzers, light beer and vodka sodas. Champagne and sparkling white wine like prosecco are great options as well.
  • Use smaller plates, utensils and serving spoons to limit your portions.

Get moving for 30 minutes

When winter hits, it's easy to give in to the call of the couch—and then stay buried there for the rest of the day. It's important to get 30 minutes of movement every day to keep your energy levels up and stress levels down.

  • Do something you like. Whether you're walking while shopping or dancing around your house with your kids, this is time for you to indulge yourself, so do something you'll actually enjoy.
  • Remember, exercise doesn't have to happen all at once. If you're stressing that you won't be able to fit 30 minutes of movement into your day, pause and think about using a few pockets of time throughout the day. Could you take a walk around the office during that conference call or go for a stroll after dinner?

Prioritize sleep

With all the to-do's, deadlines and holiday festivities to attend, sleeping well usually ends up at the bottom of the list. Getting good sleep is important as it helps keep you energized, improves your mood, boosts your immunity and decreases your anxiety.

  • Keep paper by your bed to write down your thoughts if you wake up during the night in panic mode over your to-do list. Don't use your smartphone for this. Light can affect your sleep and you'll be more likely to go down the multi-tasking rabbit hole.
  • Avoid drinking and eating within two hours of sleeping. Digesting food and alcohol can wake you during the night and disturb the quality of your sleep. And as always, avoid caffeine at least six hours before your bedtime as caffeine also disturbs your sleep.
  • Make your bedroom your sanctuary for sleep by limiting noise and light—even light from your smart phone or TV.
  • Figure out a relaxation technique that works for you to help wind down for sleep, like reading a book, doing some light stretches or meditating.

Be kind to yourself

Most people want their holiday to look and feel like a happy holiday movie. In reality, the holidays can be a really emotional time, so be understanding with yourself and try to decrease stress when you can.

  • Remember that your holiday doesn't have to be perfect. Just try to enjoy it.
  • Think of three things you're grateful for every morning to get focused on what you love and what you have.
  • Make a list of things you'd like to accomplish during the holiday season; then prioritize that list into "needs" and "wants". Tackle what you need to do first and don't sweat it if the "wants" aren't done. Say "no" when necessary.
  • Put time on your calendar for yourself and your people on the "needs" list. Whether it's a massage, watching holiday movies with your family or getting lost in a book, your favorite activities will nourish you.
  • Create a shopping list that reflects your financial situation. Remember that the holidays are about enjoying time with friends and family; expensive gifts do not have to steal the show.
  • Try to find common interests with challenging relatives. Family gatherings can be stressful when people have different views. Try to focus on things you have in common. (Maybe you both love vegan baking or have cried during This is Us on NBC.) Take breaks to recharge yourself—whether that's alone time or having a chat with someone you like.
  • Don't compare your holidays with someone else's. Social media can make it look like everyone is having a perfect holiday…everyone but you. Remind yourself those posts are moments captured in someone else's imperfect life and your friend's cousin's friend probably spent 30 minutes staging her perfect sugar cookie shots.
  • If you're reminded of a loved one you've lost this season, consider trying to find a way to honor that person by incorporating a tradition you shared or creating a new one. Reach out to friends, family or a licensed counselor or therapist for support if you're feeling overwhelmed.
  • Give back by donating time or money to a nonprofit organization you love to put things in perspective. This is a great gift for others—and for you.

Dr. Tanya Benenson is the Chief Medical Officer at Comcast NBCUniversal. Dr. Tanya leads a team responsible for transforming the way leading employers cultivate a culture of wellbeing - shifting from traditional healthcare to better health management. Dr. Tanya's team manages the strategic development of clinical programs, wellness initiatives and health engagement to support over a quarter of a million employees and their families.

Alyssa Morgenstern creates, manages and communicates global health and wellness programs for Comcast NBCUniversal to help hundreds of thousands lead healthier lives. She is also a certified yoga instructor specializing in how to recharge at the office.

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