Dec. 19, 2013 at 1:43 PM ET
It may be better to give than receive, but even the most giving among us need a break! Work in a little time for some self-love this holiday season and you’ll start the New Year with less stress and more joie de vivre!
From art and music to cooking or learning a foreign language, we all have interests that we’d love to pursue. Instead of keeping yours on the back burner, get going and you just might uncover a newfound passion—or rediscover an old one.
“Many people feel lonely and isolated during the holidays, particularly if they don’t have family or friends close by,” Barbara Neitlich, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist. “Taking an adult ed class can be a great way to expand your mind, as well as your social circle.”
There’s no reason that you have to wait until New Year’s Day to take steps toward looking and feeling your very best.
“Many people wait until after the New Year to begin their health and fitness journey and sadly most fail. Why? They go into the New Year with good intentions, but bring with them a great deal of guilt, shame and regret regarding their eating and exercise behavior over the holidays,” says Neitlich. “By not waiting and going through the holidays with a structured health and fitness plan, you will actually increase your chances of success long-term and will increase feelings of happiness, success and accomplishment.”
Even though the holidays are supposed to feel like the high point of your year, for most of us they can be strangely anticlimactic. With a travel adventure already booked on your calendar, there will be much to look forward to once the tree has been recycled.
“Giving yourself something to look forward to over the holidays can be a great present for yourself,” says Neitlich. “Many of us exhaust ourselves shopping and cooking for others. Meanwhile, when the holidays are over and we have to return to work, we never quite feel relaxed and refreshed. A trip can be a great stress relief and just what the doctor ordered after a busy holiday season.”
Pairing down your closet can actually make you feel like you’re starting the year with a whole new wardrobe. If there’s an item in your closet that doesn’t fit your personal style—for example, you’d never want others to see you in it—get rid of it.
“Holding on to clothes that make you feel unattractive only perpetuates feelings of shame, insecurity and self consciousness,” says Neitlich. “The holidays are a great time to get rid of items that are not flattering on you and invest in items that make you feel attractive and sexy. Both consciously and unconsciously, these actions will increase feelings of confidence which will inevitably boost self-esteem!”
Focus on getting rid of extra stuff that’s neither beautiful or useful—it''ll make the prospect of entertaining more palatable. But the benefits will extend beyond your holiday gathering.
“De-cluttering is fantastic for your mental health, as well as your physical health,” says Neitlich. “Clutter causes stress which increases a hormone called cortisol (a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex in the brain). Too much cortisol can lead to health risks such as increase in blood pressure, suppression of the immune system as well as reduced bone formation (potentially leading to osteoporosis).”
Getting busy should be on the top of your holiday to-do list! And there’s no rule saying you have to have a partner to do just that.
“There are many studies which indicate that sex is a great boost for your health and well-being,” says Neitlich. “With calming, happy chemicals being released in the brain such as oxytocin and serotonin and potential benefits such as lowering blood pressure, decreasing stress, improving sleep and lowering heart attack risk, this is one to make time for, especially during the holiday season.”
Taking the time to rest doesn’t sound productive, so many of us pass up the rare chance for a mid-day snooze. But especially during the holidays, a nap can be a great way to recharge.
“We all think we’re too busy to lay down for 30 minutes and nap,” says Jessica LeRoy, psychotherapist and founder of Center for the Psychology of Women. “We think that if we just power through all we have to do then we’ll be able to rest when we’re done. Problem is, there is always something else to be done. If we take 30 minutes, or—gasp—an hour to rest, we’ll actually be more productive then if we had not taken that time out.”
Give yourself the treat of turning off your cell phone and actually focusing on what’s around you. You just might stop to smell the fir trees (or notice the amazing people around you!).
“It can be tough to step away from our technology, but like a nap just 30-60 minutes off line can really help clear your head and help you to focus on what you need to do,” says LeRoy. “So turn off the technology and enjoy a cup of cider by the fire. I promise the emails, texts, calls, etcetera will all be there when you get back.”
Drink spiked eggnog with your besties and go X-mas caroling—even if you can’t sing! Or do whatever strikes you as exciting in the moment. The more people you get involved, the merrier.
“How much fun does this sound? The key to making it fun is to just roll with it,” says LeRoy. “Don’t over-plan this, just have it as an idea. If it works out, great, if not there’s always the eggnog to keep the evening interesting.”
If you can, spend a whole day on the couch watching your favorite holiday movies—or at least work one movie night into your busy schedule. Whether it’s Love, Actually or A Christmas Story, this will get you out of the kitchen and the mall and into the holiday spirit.
“We think we always have to be so busy and getting everything done but we all need a day of snuggling and watching movies,” says LeRoy. “Just let go of everything you think you need to do and enjoy the season. Pick a day where the weather is terrible and invite some friends over and snuggle up!”
During the holidays people are already feeling festive (and touchy-feely), especially at the office holiday party! So why not kiss the hottie from your office under the mistletoe?
“You have the excuse of the holidays taking over, and the mistletoe, so go ahead, kiss that hottie,” says LeRoy. “It’ll help to put you into that holiday mood and either you’ll have a new friend or at least an exciting story to tell.”
This year, get one fabulous holiday outfit—the sparklier the better—and take yourself on a date. When you take your happiness into your own hands like this, there’s no way you can be disappointed—and that confidence is very attractive!
“I highly recommend that you also buy new lingerie to go with the outfit,” says LeRoy. “A new bra, panties, garter belt and thigh highs—it’s all just for you to make you feel sexy and fabulous. It’s going to be a new year and you need to celebrate you!”
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.