“It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year … ” Right? RIGHT?! Yes, but we sure do set our standards at nosebleed levels, don’t we? Whether it’s the food preparation and family expectations, or shopping lists and decorating to perceived Pinterest perfection, we wind ourselves up into one big herb-crusted, glitter-coated seasonal stress storm. We chatted with Dr. Taz Bhatia, M.D., integrative health expert, about effective ways to handle holiday stress.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), "Freedom From Want," 1943. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4" x 35 1/2". Story illustration for "The Saturday Evening Post," March 6, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN.

Ah, yes … the idyllic holiday meal. Just like Norman Rockwell’s classic “Freedom From Want.” (Image credit: Norman Rockwell Museum)

Dr. Taz agrees that the holidays can be a very tricky time for managing stress, health and wellness. This season filled with excitement also harbors triggers for depression and anxiety as we attempt to weather various twists and turns. We already live in overdrive, and the frenzy exaggerates the everyday mania. It’s important to be conscious of potential pitfalls and develop methods to cope. At the very least, Dr. Taz advises carving out a minimum of two hours a week of personal time to just disappear and take care of yourself. It doesn’t matter if you allot daily half-hour segments or give yourself a longer break a some point — whatever works, make it happen. She also helped us narrow down a few key areas to monitor: nutrition, sleep, mind/body connection and schedule.

When it comes to family stress, know your triggers so you can prepare yourself. (Image credit: Warner Bros.. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation")

When it comes to family stress, know your triggers so you can prepare yourself. (Image credit: Warner Bros. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”)

Eat, sleep and be moody

Dr. Taz warns that sugar and alcohol really mess with energy and sleep patterns. It may be tempting to take the edge off with a hot toddy or cut one more slice of pie, but you’ll pay for it later when insulin and cortisol levels spike, upsetting natural sleep cycles. Monitoring the booze keeps conflict at bay as well — that one glass of wine takes the edge off, but the second, third or fourth loosen the lips and sink the ships. Don’t get yourself too jangled to jingle. Let’s try to keep the candles and the tree the only things lit this year, shall we? Instead of pouring another round, steep some hot herbal tea for relaxation. Try a sleepytime or chamomile blend to soothe your nerves.

Overindulging on the holiday treats will only wreak havoc with your mood and your sleep. (Image credit: Charles Schulz, "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving")

Overindulging on holiday treats will only wreak havoc with your mood and your sleep. (Image credit: Charles Schulz, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”)

About that “sleepytime” … get it. Force yourself to set some boundaries so that your bedroom is a tranquil zone. Try to keep it free of clutter or stacks of gifts and projects; this needs to be your retreat. Limit screen time while you’re winding down for the night — the flickering lights and images of TVs, smartphones, tablets and laptops stimulate parts of your brain that should be calming down, so shut everything off at least a half hour before you go to sleep. Dr. Taz emphasizes the importance of establishing a bedtime ritual and being consistent with that ritual. A warm soak in the tub with epsom salts, aromatherapy oils, writing in a journal, lighting candles and listening to music are all suggestions to create a relaxing routine each night.

For the best quality of sleep, establish a consistent bedtime ritual and shut off all devices at least a half hour before you snooze. (Image credit: New Line Cinema, "ELF")

For the best quality of sleep, establish a consistent bedtime ritual and shut off all devices at least a half hour before you snooze. (Image credit: New Line Cinema, “ELF”)

Let heaven and nature sing

When the walls start closing in on you, step out of the house and get some fresh air. Offer to walk the dog if you need an excuse, and take a stroll through the neighborhood. Toss the football with the kids or the cousins, play Capture the Flag or gather sticks for fireplace kindling. Find some nearby nature trails, enjoy a hike and the time to be calmly appreciative of the earth. If you’re a runner, lace up your shoes and hit the pavement. If not, try some gentle yoga stretches to increase circulation and loosen up those muscles holding all the tension. Your body physically reacts to stress, and exercise provides a healthy release.

Cozy up to that pet... he's your fuzzy ticket out of the house. Grab the leash and stretch your legs. (Image credit: Warner Bros., "How The Grinch Stole Christmas")

Cozy up to that pet … he’s your fuzzy ticket out of the house. Grab the leash and stretch your legs. (Image credit: Warner Bros., “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”)

Every time a bell rings …

Clear your brain and open up your heart for a few minutes each day. Prayer books and devotionals offer prompts to sit in contemplation of life and in reverence of blessings. Meditation practices encourage periods of stillness, allowing the mind and spirit to settle into an intentional focus. Be quiet for a little while and listen to your breath; be conscious of the energy you’re putting out into your world. Pause to center yourself this way each day and find a sense of peace.

Don't get your cookies in a crumble, try gentle stretches and yoga to ease stress. (Image credit: Patti Paige, Baked Ideas)

Don’t get your cookies in a crumble! Try gentle stretches and yoga to ease stress. (Image credit: Patti Paige, Baked Ideas)

Santa’s busy workshop

Find the relaxing potential of everyday tasks, and turn daily chores into moments of grace:

  • Bake/cook — Kick everyone out of the kitchen for the afternoon and do some cooking. The repetition of kneading dough or chopping vegetables can be surprisingly therapeutic.
  • Laundry — Sounds so relaxing, huh? Seriously though, if you’ve got a house full of guests and you’re feeling overwhelmed, volunteer for laundry duty. Close yourself up in the laundry room and let the folding commence. Folding warm sheets and towels fresh from the dryer might just be soothing.
  • Raking leaves — Outside. In nature. Gently gathering leaves into piles. Practically zen.
Even with all those busy holiday errands, carve out a minimum of 2 hours a week for personal down-time. (Image credit: Rankin-Bass; "Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer")

Even with all those busy holiday errands, carve out a minimum of two hours a week for personal down time. (Image credit: Rankin-Bass, “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer”)

Do you hear what I hear?

While it can be tempting to tune out all the chaos around you, try to unplug and be fully present for your guests. The subtle nuances of really listening, without the distraction of a device buzzing in your hand, might reveal a connection you’d never before noticed or appreciated. Disclaimer: If that running message thread with your BFFs keeps you sane, then set aside time once a day to send them the little phrases that are screaming through your brain. That way you’ll no longer be tempted to say them out loud. Vent to a safe zone, and it won’t stay bottled up. They’ll probably be able to bring some levity to your perspective.

Unwind and unplug. Be fully present for your friends and family! (Image credit: Charles Schulz, "A Charlie Brown Christmas")

Unwind and unplug. Be fully present for your friends and family! (Image credit: Charles Schulz, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”)

This is the season of gratitude and giving. So be kind to yourself. You’ll have nothing left to give if you let yourself get run down and exhausted. Put yourself at the top of your “to-do” list, and you’ll be glowing with holiday cheer.

Special thanks to Dr. Taz Bhatia. M.D., for her expert advice. Founder and Medical Director of the Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine, as well as an assistant professor at Emory University, Dr. Taz believes in navigating health solutions from a variety of vantage points, creating an individualized plan for each patient. atlantaholisticmedicine.com

Special thanks to Dr. Taz Bhatia, M.D., for her expert advice. Founder and Medical Director of the Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine, as well as an assistant professor at Emory University, Dr. Taz believes in navigating health solutions from a variety of vantage points, creating an individualized plan for each patient. (Image credit: Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine)