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6 tips for fending off the 2020 holiday blues

Who doesn’t need a little pick-me-up this year? Try these expert tips for lifting your spirits and enjoying a healthier holiday season.
TENSION TAMERS TO FIGHT HOLIDAY/PANDEMIC STRESS
“Each step we take to take loving care of ourselves, our families and our homes will help us to feel safer, more secure and less isolated,” Wendy McClary told TODAY.TODAY illustration / Getty Images

It’s no surprise that the number of people feeling stressed and anxious this holiday season is at an all-time high. Thanks, COVID-19. And if the holidays aren’t overwhelming enough, this year the constant tension between finances, holiday shopping and weighing whether or not it’s safe to visit family has many of us eating and drinking to tame to the jitters. While this tactic may work in the short term, it can lead to unhealthy conditions in the long run.

The good news is that there are many things you can do instead of cracking open another bottle of wine or inhaling that sleeve of cookies. Here are six tips to help boost your mood and replenish your holiday spirit.

1. Create a healthy happy-hour ritual

A “happy hour” doesn’t need to involve alcohol. You can take an hour out of your day just to do something that makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be anything that requires money, or even much time at all. It can be a hobby you enjoy or a fun mental exercise. For example, write a list of the five people you spend the most time with and then describe how each person makes you feel. A simple act like this helps you take stock of all the good that surrounds you.

Wendy McClary, a licensed family and marriage therapist practicing in Vermont and Massachusetts, told TODAY that she’s been having many conversations with clients lately about how the pandemic is getting in the way of their ability to take major steps that could positively impact their lives and how vulnerable that’s making them feel. “We do, however, have a lot of power to manage the things that are small and close to home,” said McClary. “Each step we take to take loving care of ourselves, our families and our homes will help us to feel safer, more secure and less isolated.” Why not create your own weekly no-alcohol happy hour?

2. Get Down to Earth-ing

Get your feet on the ground to reduce stress. Known as earthing, or grounding, this activity is exactly what it sounds like — getting connected to the earth. One way to do it is by walking barefoot outside. The technique is supposed to help you make contact with the earth’s electrons so that the planet’s energy can be transferred into your body. The science is new (and there’s not much of it to date), but preliminary research suggests earthing may contribute to health benefits like improving mood, decreasing inflammation and supporting heart health. And getting outside certainly isn’t going to do you any harm. If going barefoot isn’t practical in your winter climate, simply spending two hours a week outdoors in a natural setting can help improve health and wellness, according to recent studies focused on the Japanese practice of forest bathing.

3. Give gratitude a go

The benefits of having a gratitude practice are touted a lot, and with good reason. Numerous studies have shown a link between expressing gratitude consistently and feeling happier. It can increase self-esteem, strengthen relationships and enhance optimism. Simply being present, as in not multitasking while you sip your morning coffee, allows you the space to give more gratitude. Make a goal of being present just a little bit more each day, even if it’s simply while you sip your morning joe or eat your breakfast.

4. Try a reishi hot cocoa

Nothing says its holiday time like fuzzy socks, a blazing fire and a warm mug of hot cocoa. Take that hot cocoa up a healthy notch and let it do some work for you. Some studies suggest that adaptogenic mushrooms, such as cordyceps, lions mane and reishi, may help improve sleep, support the immune system, boost your mood and decrease stress.

The hot cocoa may also be beneficial for improving mood — and not just because it tastes like childhood. One possible reason is the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in cocoa, to the feel-good hormone serotonin. Instead of using the little packet with mini marshmallows, the next time you want to feel a little bit better and enjoy a delicious chocolate drink, try making your cocoa this way:

Mix together 1 teaspoon reishi powder, 2 tablespoons cacao, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon coconut sugar. Heat coconut milk (or milk of choice) on the stove, add cacao mix, stir and serve! Or, if you don’t want to make your own, you can use this pre-made mix by Four Sigmatic.

5. Up your vitamin C

Citrus fruit is a winter favorite and it may be just what you need to help reduce holiday stress this year. Vitamin C has been shown to lower levels of cortisol in the body and reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress. If fresh fruit isn’t appealing in the winter months, try this grapefruit tea to warm you up and calm you down. Or, how about taking mandarin orange slices and dunking them in a little melted dark chocolate? If you’re not a fan of grapefruits or oranges, try nibbling on some kiwifruit or peppers, which are also rich sources of vitamin C.

6. Get more oxygen

The holidays along with the COVID-19 pandemic have many of us in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode, which can lead to a desperate grab for the Gingerbread cookies or a carton of eggnog. Sugar may give you an immediate “high,” but that elation will be short lived, according to McClary. “What works the best to reduce cortisol levels, in my opinion,” she said, “is exercise and lots of oxygen. When someone tells you to take a deep breath, they're saying something important — extra oxygen can help reduce cortisol levels, and just the act of taking deep, purposeful breaths can have a calming effect.”