thrive through holidays, holiday stress, self-care, love, functional medicine

Thrive Through the Holidays

I find the holidays to be curiously stressful. There have been many past holiday seasons when I have struggled with sluggishness, irritability, and resistance to the challenges and expectations that seem to be part of it all.

And yet our winter holidays are a time of celebration in the many ways of our diverse traditions–light within the darkness, family, sharing, and coming together. The new year marks transition and taking stock, inspiring us to reflect back on the meaningful events of the past year, what we value the most, and what we aspire to for the upcoming year.

While the holidays bring much richness, it can all get lost in the frenetic energy that is also part of this season, pulling us out of our true desires and what supports us the most.

The advertisers come at us from every angle, feeding our expectations about what we should give, receive, and how we should celebrate through stuff and indulgences we don’t need or truly desire. They fuel our images about what the perfect family holiday should look like, leading us to create events and gatherings that don’t nourish us.

Our expectations for how we should feel, how we should behave, how we should give, how we shouldeverything–stress us out and pull us away from the rhythm that this season inherently brings–the rhythm of quiet reflection, rest, and coming together in a more sacred way–bringing the light into this dark time of year and into our lives.

Holiday Love

The holiday season is about love, and turning inward to find the light and spirit we carry within. This season of love is not just about giving–it’s also about receiving. The spirit of love begins with loving ourselves and nourishing ourselves with the people and activities that strengthen us–the strength we especially need this time of year.

My season of love is having my beloved husband and sons around me. It’s baking together our favorite traditional recipes (knowing that the sugar is neutralized by the love). It’s about giving to others in very conscious ways, not over-spending or worrying about expectations. And just being together. Watching our favorite holiday movies. Avoiding outings and travel that sap our energy. And just being in our quiet rhythm together. Home fires burning. Warmth. Quiet. Love.

I also follow self-care guidelines that help keep me grounded and steady in the face of holiday stress. This can take extra effort this time of year. There seem to be forces at work to pull me out of my nourishing routine. I work to stay vigilant with the basics of self-care and try to make very conscious choices about the ways I celebrate, to maintain my energy and wellbeing.

My Self-Care Guidelines to Thrive Through the Holidays:

  1. Eat well. Maintain your nourishing food plan. Make conscious choices about how you will indulge and enjoy yourself! But don’t let all hell break loose with sugar, processed foods, and alcohol–you’ll always regret it.
  2. Sleep well. We actually need more sleep in the winter and we absolutely need the restoration it brings us during the many challenges of the holidays.
  3. Keep moving. Our natural tendency is to become more sedentary during the winter with the shorter daylight hours. It’s okay to slow down and take more rest and sleep, but don’t completely stop moving. Maintain your steady exercise and movement strategy to fortify you throughout the winter–increasing energy, improving mood, helping with sleep, and reducing the experience of stress.
  4. Go within. Quiet time of reflection and meditation is essential and supported by the quiet, cold, and darkness of this time of year. Winter energy lends itself well to getting in touch with inner wisdom–leading and directing us into what is to come.
  5. Manage your expectations. Our families come in all shapes and sizes. It’s not all harmonious. If you have challenging relationships with family members, take care not to expect what they can’t deliver. Make clear decisions about your holiday gatherings and the people you spend time with. It is entirely okay–and necessary–to avoid people and situations that deplete you. Find the right balance for you.
  6. Focus on love and connection. Let the spirit of the season lead to celebrating those we love and who love us. Leave out the rest–commercialism, social expectations that don’t nourish us, over-indulgences that deplete our energy.
  7. Cultivate joy. The emotional experience of joy is a good sign that your life is in harmonious balance. Go with it. Go to where joy leads you. Let joy be your inner guidance–your GPS system–about who and what nourishes you the most. Trust it.

Wishing you all a warm, peaceful, and joyful holiday season–filled with love (including love for yourselves!).

Share your own strategies for avoiding holiday stress and cultivating love!

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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