Be good to yourself - and to others - this holiday season

’Tis the season to be jolly, yes – but sometimes we feel grumpy, lonely, tired, overstressed and underappreciated, too. The holidays can bring out the best in us, but they also can bring out the worst. Whether you’re spending the holidays alone or with family and friends, there are things you can do to ensure that your holiday experience is a positive one. Here are some tips to help you feel good about yourself, and about how you choose to spend your time, this holiday season.

Exercise. If you’re looking for one thing that can help you feel better overall, go for exercise. The average holiday weight gain is one to two pounds, but those pounds can pile up over the years. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, and it also can improve cognition, bone strength, balance and flexibility. If you’ve been reluctant to get in the exercise game because of a chronic condition or physical limitation, know that you do more harm than good to your health by not exercising. Start slow with something like walking, or talk to your doctor if you’d like to give something more rigorous a try.

De-stress. Whether you choose to celebrate or simply spectate for the holidays, it’s important to protect yourself from emotional and commercial overload. Miles Hassell, M.D., medical director for Providence Integrative Medicine Program, says people’s brains process two to three times more information than usual at this time of year. “Planning ahead will help diffuse the stress,” says Hassell. He recommends a three-part plan to help reduce your stress level: get adequate sleep, eat healthy meals three times daily and take a daily walk outdoors to clear your head.

Take time to grieve. If you’ve experienced a recent loss – whether through death, separation or divorce – it’s important to honor your feelings. Everyone moves through the grief process at their own pace, and getting through the holidays can be challenging if you’ve lost someone close to you. Instead of carrying on the same traditions in someone’s absence, it might be helpful to start a new tradition that honors the person’s memory or marks a new chapter in your life. And where family and friends are concerned, be clear about what you need, whether it’s more or less time together; some space from the usual traditions, or additional support to get through certain events or days.

Be of service. There are many ways to help people in need this holiday season, and doing so will give you a boost of good feeling that will last well beyond the holidays:

  • Shop for charity, or shop local. Take your holiday dollars someplace online or in-person that gives back to charity. Or shop local and help keep local businesses thriving in the community in which you live and work.
  • Carry spare cash. If you can afford it, carry a few extra singles in your wallet or purse for the opportunity to donate to volunteers collecting on behalf of charities.
  • Make a donation. Chances are your workplace, church or community organization has adopted a family in need for the holidays; contribute whatever you can to the cause. And for the relative or friend who has everything and needs nothing, consider donating to an organization they’d support.
  • Clean out your closet. Go shopping – in your closet. What unworn coats and sweaters or unused blankets are taking up precious space in your home? Give them to a shelter or organization that is donating items to families in need during the holidays.
  • Volunteer. Look for volunteer opportunities in your community or workplace that suit your personality and your schedule, whether it’s serving dinner at a shelter, sorting items at a food bank, or spending time with children and seniors who may not have the luxury of close family and friends.

Be patient with others – and with yourself. The holiday season seems to bring with it a sense of urgency to buy more, bake more, entertain more, give more – just do more. If you are easily swept up in a tide of shoulds and musts, you might want to arm yourself against coming unglued in situations that push your buttons. Give yourself extra time to prepare when embarking on trips to a crowded shopping centers, grocery stores or the home; to a big box store where everyone is vying for the same stuff; to a grocery store on the eve of any major holiday; or to your beloved but politically divergent uncle. When you arrive at your destination, remember to practice patience. Just because someone else is hurried and rude doesn’t mean you have to return the favor. Recalibrate your expectations, and in lowering them, perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Set a budget. It’s easy to overspend during the holidays, but in the end, the thrill of giving an overly expensive gift will be trumped by the stress of spending the next several months penny-pinching and belly-aching as you try to pay down your debt. Remember, it really is the thought that counts. Save yourself some stress by being frank with your family and friends about what you can afford, and going big on meaning – not on budget.