The holiday season is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be fun, exciting, and jammed-packed with celebration. On the other hand, it can be exhausting, stressful, and leave you feeling like you need a long vacation to recover from all the “fun” and festivities.
But there is a way to enjoy the holidays and wake up happy by January 1st. You can even start the new year feeling fulfilled and rejuvenated, but you need to incorporate habits that can boost your stress tolerance and resilience. Yes, this means staying away from practices that deplete it.
Here are the top 8 mistakes that I see people make again and again when it comes to dealing with holiday stress.
1) Using alcohol to help fall asleep
Many people drink a glass of wine (or two) to unwind after a stressful day. Sure, it can help them feel sleepier and more relaxed, but alcohol actually decreases REM sleep. The effect is also dose-dependent. The more you drink and the closer it is to bedtime, the more it will disrupt your normal sleeping patterns.
Try to avoid consuming alcohol too close to your bedtime, and if you do have a drink, stick to one unit a day.
2) Drinking too much caffeine
Caffeine is a brain stimulant and different people get rid of it at different rates. Caffeine is broken down in the liver by a specific enzyme called p450 1A2 (CYP1A2), and it works more efficiently in some people than it does in others.
Some people, myself included, are slow metabolizers while others are rapid metabolizers. Slow metabolizers keep caffeine longer in the brain and body, so for them, drinking two cups of coffee in the morning can affect deep phase four sleep that night.
Using caffeine to fight sleep deprivation can also cause you to feel more “on edge,” irritable, and anxious under stress. So think about that before you pour yourself your third cup of coffee for the day.
3) Over-scheduling yourself due to FOMO
I get it. Holiday seasons mean more engagements and parties, and you don’t want to miss out on them. But when you overcommit, that “fun” is going to backfire on you. When you don’t give yourself enough time to rest, life starts to feel overwhelming. Research shows that this feeling can lead to lower mood and life satisfaction scores.
Before you over-schedule, make sure you leave some “blank space” time in your diary each week for downtime and relaxation.
4) Giving into carb binges
The holidays are full of food that tastes good–like that cookie jar. Unfortunately, the combination of high sugar and saturated fat creates a food-craving loop that can lead to more cravings, which leads to energy crashes, higher stress cortisol, and insulin levels.
5) Making everyone else’s emergencies your emergencies
The holiday season is filled with fun, but suddenly everyone around you has urgent requests that you need to complete ASAP. But during the holiday seasons–when stress levels are high–it’s extremely important to set boundaries and be honest with others about what you actually can do.
After all, when say yes, you want to be able to enjoy it–not feel burned out and frazzled. This does mean that you have to say no to things and disappoint some people. But in the long run, you’re doing them a service by not saying yes when you can’t give 100%.
6) Playing sleep catch-up on the weekend
It’s tempting to skimp on sleep all week and tell yourself that you’ll “catch up” on the weekends. But this practice isn’t enough to repay the sleep debt. In fact, disrupting your normal bedtime and wake-up time significantly can lead to more issues and continue a vicious sleep-deprivation cycle.
Poor sleep can actually change the way your brain responds to your environment, making you see the world in a more negative, threatening way. It can also hinder your ability to ignore distractions and focus.
7) Stopping your exercise routine because you are too busy
Exercise is a great stress-buster. Not only does it aid your sleep, but it can also help you manage your holiday indulgences. To reap the benefits, you need to treat it like it’s your most important meeting. So find three (or more) empty slots in your calendar, and schedule that workout. Make sure that you pick a form of exercise that you enjoy and can stick to.
8) Dealing with mental overwhelm by browsing social media
Social media is an easy mental distraction–you can get an instant brain reward from posting pics or scrolling through images on Instagram.
But this kind of coping mechanism can lead to depression or poorer mental health. Studies show that people who check Facebook excessively on their smartphones have lower brain volumes in the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward center.
The holiday seasons can be a time of stress–but paying attention to your coping mechanism can go a long way. Do yourself a favor and stay away from these practices–your mind will thank you when you get to the New Year.
Dr. Dani Gordon is a double board-certified medical doctor and an expert in stress resilience & burnout prevention. She is the CEO of UltraResilience.com.