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a woman sitting at a table covered in presents.
This time of year is marked by so many feelings and experiences. From joyful celebrations to memorable traditions, the weeks leading up to the New Year certainly keep people busy, and oftentimes healthy habits are the first things to get dropped when plates get too full. Despite so much focus on festive gatherings, many people find themselves feeling less than merry and more stressed during December than they do the rest of the year. Targeting January 1st as the day to reset and focus on health is tempting, but there’s really no time like December to incorporate small but impactful strategies to help you feel your best and minimize holiday stress in the process. Here are three easy ways to prioritize you and your mental health this month:

1. Exercise daily. 
According to Mayo Clinic, exercise has proven health benefits when it comes to destressing. First, it may help increase the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. Sometimes referred to as a “runner’s high”, this effect can be triggered not just by running, but even by a walk outdoors or a game of paddle tennis. Exercise can also be a moving form of meditation, as it often requires you to engage in an activity that is repetitive and focus on the task at hand instead of worrying about all the holiday gifts you still need to purchase. Physical activity can also help complete your body’s stress cycle, or fight-or-flight response, resulting in your cardiovascular, digestive, and immune systems getting a boost of protection. Finally, regular exercise has been linked to improvement in sleep, which is often disrupted by stress and anxiety.

2. Practice gratitude.
Dr. Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude, confirms that people who have a regular gratitude practice are happier, healthier, and can cope with stress and anxiety better than people who don’t. You don’t need anything formal or fancy to reap the stress-busting benefits of a gratitude practice, but if you’re not sure where to start, consider simply pausing and reflecting the next time you find yourself worrying, and ask yourself, “What opportunities do I currently have that I am grateful for?”, “What did I get to experience in the last month that brought me joy?”, or “What has someone done recently that helped me?” If you prefer a practice that is a little more tangible, you could keep a gratitude journal and write down three things you are grateful for each night before bed.

3. Set Boundaries with your Calendar  
Schedules can fill up quickly this time of year, so it’s important to take inventory of your family’s calendar and keep expectations reasonable. Every family is different, so discuss with yours how many activities or events feel good to participate in each week or weekend, and then prioritize obligations with your boundaries in mind. By giving yourself some down time each week, you will be better able to rest and recharge before the next family event comes around, which will prevent your stress level from becoming overwhelming. Plus, you might even end up starting some low-key family traditions without even leaving home.

a woman sitting on a couch holding a cup of coffee.

While stress may be an expected part of your holiday experience, it doesn’t have to be. By taking small steps to care for your body and mind, you can start a new tradition of feeling well from the inside out this holiday season. Whether it’s endorphin-filled exercise, a new habit of gratitude, or setting boundaries with your social calendar, put yourself at the top of your priority list this month, and get ready to start the New Year feeling less stressed and more energized!

Learn more about how exercise can help eliminate and prevent stress in Dr. Sarah’s Curiosity Corner:

Three men in orange shirts standing in front of an orange wall.


Dr. Luke GreenwellDr. David Bokermann and Dr. Sarah Greenwell are Performance Based Physical Therapists with extensive backgrounds in optimizing movement, performance, & recovery.


We help Athletes and Active Adults Recover from Pain and Injury, Rebuild Functional Movement Patterns, and Redefine their Future Performance,  for a Return to the Sports and Activities they Love

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