How to Stress Less and Have a Healthy Holiday Season

A NewYork-Presbyterian integrative medicine physician shares easy-to-follow wellness tips to keep you healthy this holiday season.

Healthy holiday mindset concept
Healthy holiday mindset concept

The holidays are a very special and exciting time, but they can also be very stressful.

“People’s routines may become abnormal this time of year, so as we prepare to celebrate, it is even more important to stick to a routine of healthy practices that will ultimately help you achieve a healthier mindset,” says Dr. Michelle Loy, an integrative medicine physician at NewYork-Presbyterian. Health Matters spoke with Dr. Loy, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, who shared easy-to-follow wellness tips for this holiday season.

Dr. Michelle Loy, expert in achieving a healthy holiday mindset.

Dr. Michelle Loy

1. Eat mindfully

It is a great time to enjoy seasonal foods, especially vegetables. Foods like onion, celery, garlic, and mushrooms are found in many holiday dishes and are rich in phytochemicals, which aid immune system function and are anti-inflammatory and high in fiber. In the winter season, we are more susceptible to viruses like the flu and coronavirus variants, including Omicron, so adding color to our diets with fruits like pomegranate and blueberries will help support our immune system and can also boost your mood.

2. Get moving

During this time of year, it is very important to maintain a level of physical activity and movement in your daily routine, and that can look different for everyone. It can be a walk, yoga, or a 5K race. Be sure to choose whatever will bring you joy, and it’s an added bonus if it is outdoors! Days are shorter in the wintertime, so any extra sunlight exposure is beneficial. When our retinas are exposed to light, it sets our circadian rhythm, which will affect all areas of our life, including food-seeking behaviors, sleep, and mood.

3. Prioritize sleep

The goal is not just getting sleep, but getting enough sleep, which is about seven to nine hours at night. This is important for your immune system and metabolic health. Adequate sleep also helps lower risk for heart disease and high blood pressure and helps with focus, memory, and cognitive processing, which can be in overdrive this time of year. Most importantly, it will reduce anxiety and emotional distress and helps with the interpretation of social cues.

“People’s routines may become abnormal this time of year, so as we prepare to celebrate, it is even more important to stick to a routine of healthy practices.”

— Dr. Michelle Loy

4. Practice gratitude and kindness

Practicing gratitude this time of year means being present and savoring the moment you are in, whether that is enjoying a special gathering or tackling your grocery list. We’ve learned that people who live in the moment are happier than those who find themselves wishing they were somewhere else. Additionally, creating small moments of kindness, like smiling at a stranger as you complete holiday errands, makes the type of connection that increases oxytocin, known as the “love hormone,” which is essential for our mental health.

5. Declutter your life

We’ve been existing in our homes more than usual for nearly two years, and I have a lot of patients saying that if they could just declutter, they would feel lighter. Sometimes this process can feel overwhelming, but if you link decluttering with something positive, like a way of giving back during the holidays, it becomes a more pleasing and satisfying experience. If you are able to pass on belongings you no longer need to someone who needs them more, that will help with practicing kindness and reinforce a more positive mindset.

Chart illustrating the 6 ways to achieve a healthy holiday mindset.

6. Take time for yourself

Much of this time of year can revolve around others, so be sure to set boundaries and stick to them. Practice self-care and carve out time for things that you enjoy, like a hot bath with essential oils or a warm cup of herbal tea. While you might have a long to-do list leading up to the holidays, do your best to unplug electronics, take a break from multitasking, and focus on what you enjoy as an individual. This will be beneficial to your overall mental health.

Dr. Michelle Loy, M.D., FAAP, is an assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She’s also an assistant professor of Pediatrics in Clinical Medicine and of Clinical Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Loy has a long-standing interest in Integrative Medicine — particularly in the use of nutrition, movement, and mind-body lifestyle medicine in the prevention and management of chronic illnesses. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the AAP Section of Integrative Medicine and the Society of Integrative Oncology. Her clinical and research interests include nutrition (particularly culinary medicine), acupuncture (pediatric and adult), stress management and mental health, botanical medicine, and cancer prevention and recovery.  She is board certified in integrative medicine, medical acupuncture, and pediatrics.

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