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Managing Holiday Stress with Rest and Sleep

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Santa and baby resting from the holidays
Holidays can knock the best of us out!

The narrator of The Night Before Christmas poem wears a cap as he and “Ma” take a long winter’s nap. Good call!

Rest and sleep are not just nice to have. They help to manage holiday stress and build resilience.

Sleep and rest are important parts of ongoing self care.

Why are the holidays stressful?

Thirty-eight percent of Americans feel increased stress during the holidays according to the American Psychological Association. The main causes of stress cited for this time of the year include lack of time, financial pressure, gift-giving, and family gatherings.

Family gatherings deserve special mention given that family relationships are among our most intense: wonderful, terrible, or both simultaneously! Add in some holiday travel, and you’ve got a recipe for significant stress, particularly in the midst of the COVID pandemic.

A groundhog takes a break from hibernation
A groundhog takes a break from hibernation

Winter time is nature’s resting phase

Getting more rest and sleep are among the best ways to manage holiday stress and support mental health.

This week marks the winter solstice: December 21st the shortest, darkest day of the year. Kind of makes you want to climb back under the covers, right?

During the winter, nature provides a great model for rejuvenation through rest. Outside of my window I see tree branches with no leaves, plants with no flowers, and little new growth.

But nature isn’t dead. It has just focused on roots and renewal, turning energy inward rather than outward. The work of winter is to rebuild and replenish. Without it, spring wouldn’t be able to bloom.

Like plants, many animals including snakes, bears, and our friend the groundhog hibernate in the winter.. Their food supplies are low, and keeping warm can require a lot of calories, so they save rather than spend their energy as they prepare for the next season.

People from around the world celebrate the solstice with rituals and traditions that honor rest and recognize a period of transition. MindBodyGreen suggests eight modern rituals to celebrate the solstice including dimming the lights, taking a bath, and setting intentions.

Take a break!

Sleep and rest sound great, but realistically how do you make time for them in the context of the holiday season? A good start is to unplug (literally) from work. I’ve seen a few friends even post an “out of office” type messages on social media, letting their communities know they are not going to be responding to others for a while.

In addition to discontinuing your regular activities, plan some new (but relaxing) ones. It’s a lot easier to disengage from work if you’re out on a walk with a friend or family member, or watching a movie you love on a comfortable couch.

Managing holiday stress with bedtime routines and more sleep

More than a third of Americans are sleep deprived according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And that can be dangerous in many ways, from causing driving accidents to contributing to long-term health problems.

Some tips for winding down

How are you resting and recharging right now, and did you do anything to celebrate the winter solstice?

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When we care for ourselves and others, the greater world around us benefits.

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