Guidance on Navigating Holiday Stress from Health and Nutrition Coaches


The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of joy and celebration, filled with festive gatherings, gift exchanges, and cherished traditions. While this time of year can indeed be magical, it can also bring its share of stress and overwhelm. From the pressure of holiday preparations to the emotional toll of family dynamics, it’s easy to feel stretched thin. 

That’s why we’ve consulted with experts in the fields of health and wellness to provide you with a comprehensive guide to navigating holiday stress. Featuring insights from Stephanie Tingle, NBC-HWC; Sasha Aparicio, MS in Nutrition and Nutrition Coach; and Shana Walsh, Ph.D., NBC-HWC, MCHES, and AFPA Curriculum Manager , this article offers practical tips backed by scientific research. 

We’ll explore various facets of well-being, including: 

  • Investing in Mental Health: Learn how to carve out “me time,” dive into inspirational literature, and embrace mindfulness techniques like meditation and yoga. 
  • Physical Activity: Discover how to maintain your exercise routine while traveling and explore low or no equipment activity ideas for when you’re at home or on vacation. 
  • Nourishing the Body: Understand how to enjoy holiday foods while also making nutrient-rich choices that help manage stress. 
  • Planning and Organization: Get tips on creating a holiday plan, from mapping out big days to doing your shopping before the rush. 
  • Setting Boundaries: Learn the art of saying no and how to limit obligations that cause more stress than joy. 
  • Practicing Gratitude: Uncover the transformative power of gratitude and how it can enhance your emotional well-being. 

AFPA course curriculum is based on the Seven Dimensions of Wellness, which recognizes that human wellness is complex and multifaceted. Physical wellness, in addition to emotional, spiritual, social wellness, and more, all influence our overall well-being.

Whether you’re looking to deepen your understanding of stress management techniques or seeking practical advice for the holiday season, this article aims to offer a balanced, research-based approach to well-being. We’ll also integrate information about our Certified Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Health and Wellness Coach courses for those interested in a deeper dive into these topics. 

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Invest Into Your Mental Health 

Carve Out “Me Time” 

“Taking time for yourself is not selfish; it’s essential for mental well-being, especially during the holidays,” says Sasha Aparicio, MS in Nutrition and Nutrition Coach. Research shows that “me time” can significantly reduce stress and improve mental health. 

Why You Might Consider It 

The holiday season often comes with a long list of responsibilities, from shopping to cooking to attending social events. This can leave you feeling overwhelmed and stressed. “Me time” allows you to step back, relax, and recharge. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Schedule It: Put it on your calendar like any other important appointment. 
  • Choose Activities that Rejuvenate You: Whether it’s a warm bath, a walk in nature, or simply sitting quietly with a cup of tea, choose activities that make you feel refreshed. Keep in mind that what makes you feel rejuvenated may be different than what you see online; if face masks and bubble baths aren’t for you, and you prefer hiking or doodling instead – you do you! That’s the point.  
  • Disconnect: Use this time to unplug from social media and work emails. 

Dive into Books 

“Reading uplifting books and those that spark your imagination can shift your mindset and help you navigate stress more effectively,” advises Stephanie Tingle, NBC-HWC. According to a study published in the Journal of College Teaching & Learning, reading can be an effective stress-reducing activity. 

Why You Might Consider It 

 Inspirational literature can provide new perspectives and coping strategies that you might not have considered. It can also serve as a mental escape from the stressors of the holiday season. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Choose a Book that Makes Sense for You: Opt for books (or audiobooks) that inspire you, offer practical advice for managing stress, or offer a temporary mental escape. They don’t need to be self-help books. They can be novels, short stories, non-fiction – whatever will keep you inspired and leave you feeling refreshed.   
  • Set Aside Time: Even just 15-20 minutes of reading per day can make a difference. Having a reading app on your phone (like Kindle), or taking your book or tablet along with you are great strategies that promote reading. If setting aside a specific time to read is challenging, consider “stacking” activities, like listening to a book on your commute to work, or reading while you’re on your exercise bike.  
  • Discuss: Share what you’ve learned with friends or family; it can deepen your understanding and even help others. 

Embrace Mindfulness: Meditate or Practice Yoga 

Shana Walsh, Ph.D., NBC-HWC, MCHES , and AFPA Curriculum Manager recommends, “Mindfulness techniques like meditation and yoga are proven methods to reduce stress and improve mental clarity.” A meta-analysis of 47 studies confirmed the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in reducing psychological stress. 

Why You Might Consider It 

 
Mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga help you become aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, making it easier to identify stress triggers. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Start Small: Even a few minutes of meditation or yoga can be beneficial. 
  • Be Consistent: Make it a regular practice. 
  • Seek Guidance: If you’re new to these practices, consider taking a class or following guided sessions online. 

The Power of Play 

“Never underestimate the power of play. It’s not just for kids; adults can benefit from play to relieve stress,” says Sasha Aparicio. A study in the Journal of Psychology of Well-Being outlines how play can relieve stress and improve overall positive psychological functioning. 

Why You Might Consider It: 

 
Play engages your mind in a different way, allowing you to forget about your worries temporarily. It can also improve your problem-solving abilities and boost creativity. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Choose Activities You Enjoy: Whether it’s a board game, painting, make-believe with your kids, or playing a sport, make sure it’s something you really enjoy.  
  • Involve Others: Play becomes more enriching when shared with friends or family. 
  • Be Present: Do your best to fully engage in the activity without worrying about your to-do list. 

Embrace Movement: A Gentle Approach to Stress Management

As an AFPA-Certified Personal Trainer or Certified Health and Wellness Coach, you can help your clients reach their health and fitness goals by sharing creative ways to incorporate movement in a busy season.

Movement While Traveling: Flexibility is Key 

“Traveling can disrupt our routines, but it also offers unique opportunities to move in new ways,” shares Stephanie Tingle. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

 Movement can be a wonderful way to explore new surroundings and can be adapted to fit into any travel plans. Research suggests that exercise plays a role in stress management, particularly in cardiovascular health. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Hotel Amenities: If your accommodation has a gym or pool, these are great options—but if rest feels right, give your body and mind space, too.  
  • Simple Tools: Consider packing lightweight equipment like resistance bands, but also know that your own body weight offers plenty of resistance. 
  • Local Exploration: A leisurely walk can be both exercise and an excellent way to explore new places. 

Everyday Movement: Small Steps, Big Impact 

“Movement doesn’t have to be a ‘workout’ to count,” gently reminds Dr. Shana Walsh. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Even light, everyday activities can contribute to well-being. A systematic review found that various forms of movement can offer stress-reducing benefits. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Brief Walks: If you’re up for it, a short walk can be invigorating. 
  • Mindful Movement: Simple stretching or yoga can be done almost anywhere. 
  • Joyful Movement: Dancing, gardening, or playing with pets—whatever brings you joy. 

Integrating Movement into Your Life: No One-Size-Fits-All 

“The best movement is the one that you’ll enjoy,” says Dr. Shana Walsh, emphasizing that it’s all about personal preference. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

 Regular movement can be a sustainable way to manage daily stressors, as shown in a systematic review focusing on workplace settings. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Personal Preferences: Choose activities that you look forward to. 
  • Family Inclusion: If it suits you, include family or friends in your activities. 
  • Digital Support: There are various apps that offer guided sessions that you can take anywhere you take your phone. But remember, these are just tools, not requirements. 

By embracing movement in a way that feels right for you, especially during the often-hectic holiday season, you can navigate stress in a way that honors your individual needs and lifestyle. 

Nourishing the Body: A Balanced Approach to Holiday Eating

AFPA-Certified Holistic Nutritionists and Health Coaches can help clients navigate what can be a stressful or confusing season of eating choices. Particular foods can promote health and help manage stress, and behaviors around holiday eating can also make a difference.

Savor the Holiday Flavors 

“The holidays are a time for celebration, and food is a big part of that. It’s okay, and in fact  human, to truly enjoy your favorite holiday dishes,” says Sasha Aparicio. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Food is not just fuel; it’s also a source of joy and a key part of cultural and family celebrations. An evidence-based approach to nutrition emphasizes the importance of balance, including stress management as a vital aspect of overall health. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Mindful Eating: Take time to savor each bite, enjoying the flavors and textures. 
  • Portion Control: Enjoy your favorite dishes in moderation. 
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. 

Nutrient-Rich Choices: Foods That Help Manage Stress 

“Certain foods, when integrated into the regular diet, can actually help your body manage stress more effectively,” advises Sasha Aparicio. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Nutrition can play a role in stress management. For example, educational interventions on nutrition have been shown to help manage stress in patients with hypertension. 

Ideas for Nourishment: 

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish like salmon, can help regulate mood. 
  • Magnesium-Rich Foods: Such as leafy greens and nuts, can help with relaxation. 
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Like whole grains, can help regulate blood sugar and mood. 

Regular Mealtimes: Consistency Matters 

“Having regular mealtimes can help regulate your body’s stress response,” shares Stephanie Tingle. “Regular mealtimes” can mean something different for everyone. Find the times when your body is craving food that also make the most sense for your overall schedule, and do your best to stick to those mealtimes.  

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Consistency in meal timing can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythms, which in turn can help manage stress. A study found that a stress management program that included lifestyle changes like regular mealtimes had a positive impact on mental health. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Plan Ahead: If possible, try to plan your meals around the same times each day. 
  • Balanced Meals: Aim for a balance of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. 
  • Stay Hydrated: Don’t forget to drink water throughout the day. 

By taking a balanced approach to eating during the holidays, you can enjoy the festivities while also nourishing your body in a way that supports stress management. 

Creating a Holiday Plan and Following Through: A Gentle Guide 

Mapping Out Big Days: A Visual Aid for Peace of Mind 

“Having a visual representation of your holiday plans can be incredibly grounding,” shares Dr. Shana Walsh.  

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

 A calendar can serve as a simple yet effective tool for managing your time and reducing stress. It allows you to see at a glance what commitments you have, helping you make informed decisions about how to spend your time. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Color Coding: Use different colors for different types of commitments—family gatherings, work events, personal time, etc. 
  • Prioritize: Identify the events that are most important to you and make sure they’re prominently marked. 
  • Be Flexible: Plans change, and that’s okay. A calendar is a tool, not a contract. 

Making Lists in Advance: Small Steps for Big Rewards 

“Lists are a simple way to keep track of what needs to be done, so nothing gets lost in the holiday shuffle,” advises Stephanie Tingle. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Lists can help you break down larger tasks into manageable steps, making the process seem less overwhelming and more achievable. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Categorize: Create different lists for different needs—gifts, groceries, decorations, etc. 
  • Timeline: Add a timeline to your lists to help you prioritize. 
  • Celebrate Small Wins: As you check things off, take a moment to acknowledge your progress. 

Holiday Shopping Before the Rush: A Calmer Experience 

“Doing your holiday shopping early can make the experience more enjoyable and less stressful,” says Sasha Aparicio. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Shopping earlier allows you to avoid the last-minute rush and the stress that comes with it. It also gives you time to be more thoughtful in your gift choices. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Budgeting: Decide on a budget beforehand to guide your shopping. 
  • Online Options: Consider doing some or all of your shopping online to save time. 
  • Personal Touch: Early shopping gives you the time to add personal touches, like handwritten notes or custom wrapping. 

By taking a proactive and organized approach to the holiday season, you can create a plan that serves you, allowing you to enjoy the festivities while also taking care of yourself. Remember, these are suggestions and tools; the most important thing is to find what works best for you. 

Saying No and Limiting Obligations: The Art of Self-Preservation 

The Power of Saying No: Choose What Serves You 

“Saying no can be an act of self-care. It’s about setting boundaries that allow you to participate in the holiday season in a way that respects your well-being,” shares Dr. Shana Walsh. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

The holiday season often comes with a multitude of invitations and expectations. While it’s natural to want to be part of celebrations and family gatherings, it’s also important to recognize when something may be more draining than fulfilling for you. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Be Honest with Yourself: Take a moment to assess how you truly feel about an invitation or obligation. For example, many people have “traumaversaries” around the holidays, and being aware of them is the first step in navigating them.  
  • Polite Refusal: If you decide to decline, a simple and polite “no” is usually sufficient. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but you can offer one if you feel comfortable. 
  • Alternative Plans: If saying no to an event, perhaps you can propose a different way to connect that feels more manageable for you. 

Balancing Meaningful Obligations: Know Your Limits 

“It’s okay to acknowledge that some obligations are non-negotiable, but it’s also crucial to know your own limits,” advises Stephanie Tingle. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

 There may be events or responsibilities that hold significant meaning for you or your loved ones, making them hard to decline. However, it’s essential to balance these obligations with your own well-being. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Prioritize: If you have multiple obligations, consider which ones are most meaningful to you and focus on those. 
  • Seek Support: If an obligation is important but also stressful, don’t hesitate to ask for help or delegate tasks. 
  • Self-Care: Even meaningful events can be draining. Make sure to schedule some downtime before and after. 

Setting Boundaries: A Gift to Yourself 

“Setting boundaries is not about limiting your experiences but about making room for the ones that truly matter,” says Sasha Aparicio. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Boundaries allow you to engage with the holiday season in a way that aligns with your needs and capacities, making the experience more enjoyable and less stressful. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Communicate: Be open about your boundaries with friends and family. Most people will understand and respect your choices. 
  • Be Kind to Yourself: Setting boundaries is a skill that takes practice. It’s okay if you don’t get it perfect every time. 
  • Review and Adjust: As the season progresses, take some time to review your boundaries and adjust them if necessary. 

By learning to say no and set boundaries, you can navigate the holiday season in a way that honors both your commitments and your well-being. Remember, these are just suggestions; the most important thing is to find what feels right for you. 

Practicing Gratitude: A Heartfelt Approach to Stress Management 

The Essence of Gratitude: More than Just Saying Thanks 

“Gratitude is about more than just saying ‘thank you.’ It’s a mindset that can shift your focus from what you lack, to what you have,” shares Dr. Shana Walsh. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

 Gratitude has been shown to have a variety of psychological benefits, including stress reduction. By focusing on the positive aspects of life, you can cultivate a sense of well-being that helps mitigate stress. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Daily Reflection: Take a few moments each day to reflect on what you’re grateful for. 
  • Gratitude Journal: Consider keeping a journal where you list things that bring you joy or comfort. 
  • Express Yourself: If someone has made a positive impact on your life, let them know. It’s uplifting for both the giver and the receiver of gratitude. 

Gratitude in Action: Small Gestures, Big Impact 

“Practicing gratitude can be as simple as acknowledging someone’s effort or as profound as recognizing life’s blessings,” advises Stephanie Tingle. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Active expressions of gratitude, such as saying thank you or writing a note, can reinforce your feelings of gratitude and enhance your emotional well-being. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Thank-You Notes: A handwritten note can make a lasting impression. 
  • Acts of Kindness: Small gestures, like holding the door for someone, can be expressions of gratitude. 
  • Verbal Acknowledgment: Sometimes a simple “thank you” in the moment can be incredibly powerful. 

Gratitude and Relationships: Strengthening Bonds 

“Gratitude can be a bridge to deeper, more meaningful relationships,” says Sasha Aparicio. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Expressing gratitude can strengthen relationships by creating a mutual appreciation and understanding. It can also serve as a reminder of the supportive people you have in your life, which can be particularly comforting during stressful times. 

How You Might Approach It: 

  • Quality Time: Spend time with those you’re grateful for as a way to deepen your relationships. 
  • Open Conversations: Share what you’re grateful for with friends and family. It can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. 
  • Reciprocity: When someone expresses gratitude to you, receive it graciously and consider how you might express your own gratitude in return. 

By incorporating gratitude into your daily life, you can create a positive feedback loop that enhances your emotional well-being and helps manage stress. Remember, these are just suggestions; the most important thing is to find what feels authentic to you. 

Bonus: Low or No Equipment Physical Activity Ideas While on Vacation 

At Home: Simple Yet Effective 

“You don’t need a gym full of equipment to stay active; your home offers plenty of opportunities,” says Dr. Shana Walsh. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Staying active at home can be both convenient and comfortable, allowing you to fit movement into your day in a way that suits you best. 

Ideas for Movement: 

  • Bodyweight Exercises: Think push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. 
  • Stair Climbing: If you have stairs, going up and down can be a great cardio workout. 
  • Dance: Put on your favorite music and dance around the living room. 
  • Yoga or Stretching: All you need is a little floor space to do some stretching or yoga poses. 

Out and About: Make the World Your Playground 

“Exploring new places can be a workout in itself,” shares Stephanie Tingle. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

Being out and about offers a chance to incorporate physical activity into sightseeing or exploration, making it feel less like a ‘task’ and more like a part of your vacation experience. 

Ideas for Movement: 

  • Walking Tours: Explore a new city or nature reserve on foot. 
  • Beach Activities: From swimming to beach volleyball, the beach offers numerous ways to stay active. 
  • Park Workouts: Many parks have walking paths or even outdoor exercise equipment. 
  • Cycling: Renting a bike can be a fun way to see a new place and get some exercise at the same time. 

Versatility is Key: Adapting to Your Surroundings 

“The key to staying active, especially while on vacation, is adaptability,” advises Sasha Aparicio. 

Why It’s Worth Considering: 

 Different locations offer different opportunities for physical activity. Being open to trying new things can make your experience more enriching. 

Ideas for Movement: 

  • Hotel Room Workouts: Use furniture like chairs for triceps dips or beds for modified push-ups. 
  • Local Activities: Try local activities that are also physical, like kayaking, paddleboarding, or hiking. 
  • Interactive Sightseeing: Instead of a bus tour, consider more active options like a bike tour or a walking tour. 

By considering these low or no equipment physical activity ideas, you can find enjoyable ways to incorporate movement into your vacation, no matter where you are. Whether you’re at home or exploring new places, there are always opportunities to move in ways that feel good to you. 

Main Takeaways 

As the holiday season approaches, it’s natural to feel a mix of excitement and stress. However, by taking a proactive and mindful approach to your well-being, you can navigate this busy time with greater ease and joy. Whether it’s carving out “me time,” staying active, nourishing your body, planning ahead, setting boundaries, or practicing gratitude, each step you take contributes to a more balanced holiday experience. 

We hope the expert insights and research-backed tips provided in this article serve as valuable resources for you. Remember, the journey to well-being is personal, and it’s okay to adapt these suggestions to fit your unique needs and lifestyle. 

Wishing you a peaceful, fulfilling, and joyful holiday season. 

Become a Certified Health and Wellness Coach Online

References 

  1. https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/familyperspectives/vol1/iss2/4/ 
  2. https://www.clutejournals.com/index.php/TLC/article/view/1117  
  3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754  
  4. https://psywb.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/2211-1522-1-4  
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0033062022000159?via%3Dihub 
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2186495019300173?via%3Dihub 

Contributors

Shana Walsh, PhD, NBC-HWC, MCHESShana Walsh, PhD, NBC-HWC, MCHES

Shana Walsh, PhD, NBC-HWC, MCHES

LinkedIn

Stephanie TingleStephanie Tingle
Sasha AparicioSasha Aparicio



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