Deck the halls, sing we joyous — cue the exhaustion. Ideally, the holidays would be all about popping champagne and exchanging gifts while giggling gleefully. But the reality is that between family obligations, frantic shopping, and wrapping up last-minute tasks at work, the holidays can be mostly stressful and even depressing. Luckily, we’ve got 17 ways to keep spirits and energy up this holiday season. Read on and prepare to get pumped!
Making Spirits Bright: How to Boost Energy
1. Avoid binging. Santa’s belly may fit all the cookies in the world, but ours do not. When we gobble down a big meal, blood leaves the rest of the body to help break down the goodies in the digestive system, leaving us feeling slow and sluggish. Avoid the festive food coma by sticking to a normal-sized plate at holiday dinners.
2. Limit sugar intake. A box of red and green sweets may seem like a quick pick-me-up — and it is, until a few hours later, when you're sprawled on the desk with a candy cane stuck to your face. Eating lots of sugar at once can lead to an energetic high followed by a giant crash, so avoid reaching for thirds and fourths during dessert A high sugar content, low caffeine drink does not alleviate sleepiness but may worsen it. Anderson, C., Horne, J.A. Sleep Research Centre, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, UK. Human Psychopharmacology, 2006;21(5):299-303.. And when that sweet tooth makes a guest appearance, be sure to combine sugar with foods high in fiber, fat, and protein to make sure all that sugar isn’t released into the bloodstream at once.
3. Go for coffee and chocolate. It’s no excuse to go wild, but these naturally-caffeinated products can perk us up when we’re experiencing an energy low or bad mood Effects of caffeine on alertness. Zwyghuizen-Doorenbos, A., Roehrs, T.A., Lipschutz, L., et al. Sleep Disorders and Research Center, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, MI. Psychopharmacology 1990;100(1):36-9. Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort. Scholey, A.B., French, S.J., Morris, P.J. NICM Centre for the Study of Natural Medicines and Neurocognition, Brain Sciences Institute, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Journal of Psychopharmacology 2010;24(10):1505-14.. Try a coffee-chocolate combo like this espresso crinkle to keep everyone awake for the festivities. But beware of the abundance of sweet treats this time of year and be sure to indulge in moderation!
4. Don’t eat late at night. Holiday parties may last until the wee hours, but that's no reason to down a slice of pumpkin pie to celebrate the stroke of midnight. Eating late at night can contribute to fatigue the next day, so stick to a normal meal schedule and eat a nutritious dinner before the party starts to avoid late-night chowing. (It’s best to stop eating about an hour before bedtime.)
5. Complicate your carbs. While the simple carbohydrates found in refined foods (aka holiday cookies and candy) can lead to those energy spikes and dips, complex carbohydrates can be a source of sustained energy. Opt for legumes, starchy vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals.
6. Don’t blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol. Hangovers are funny when they happen to Zack Galifinakis and Bradley Cooper, but in reality, the morning-after effect can mean nausea, headaches, and fatigue. Stick to one or two drinks for the night — there are other ways to party! (And if you must indulge, at least opt for these science-backed remedies.)
7. Sleep it off. Sleep may be an obvious way to beat exhaustion, but it’s often the last thing we think about when the holidays hit, between last-minute shopping, cooking, and oh-so-celebratory duties. Still, it’s important to stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on the weekends and during vacation. (No staying up all night waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve!)
8. Spend some time alone. True, we only see Aunt Lulu and Uncle Max a few times a year, but family obligations don’t have to consume our lives during the holidays. Make a point of scheduling some alone time into the day — whether that means doing some window shopping, quietly reading a book, or taking a long jog around the neighborhood and checking out the holiday decorations.
9. Work it out. During the holiday season, health can be the first thing to fall by the wayside. But fitness routines are especially important this time of year — not only does exercise help relieve the stress of holiday insanity but working out can actually give us more energy when we feel exhausted.
10. Step into the light. It may be the season to be jolly, but winter is also the time when seasonal affective disorder strikes, sometimes causing depression, weight gain, and fatigue. And hibernating in a warm, cozy house may also mean we’re more at risk for Vitamin D deficiency, which research suggests might be linked to daytime sleepiness. Beat the blues by making sure to spend some time outside (even if it isn’t sunny) or consulting a doctor to see if light therapy is the right option.
11. Bust out the jams. Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too. (Stuck in your head too now, right?) Music can help raise our spirits when the stress of the holiday season starts bringing us down. It doesn’t have to be holiday music, either — classical tunes are often the best for reducing stress and anxiety.
12. Wear an ugly sweater. It sounds too simple, but sometimes just being cold can cause our energy levels to plummet The human sleep-wake cycle reconsidered from a thermoregulatory point of view. Kräuchi, K. Centre for Chronobiology, Psychiatric University Clinics, Basel, Switzerland. Physiology and Behavior 2007;90(2-3):236-45.. To perk up, grab a cup of cocoa and don some festive outerwear. So hot right now.
13. Go for a group sweat session. Ah, family. They bring us joy, wipe away our tears, and know exactly how to push our buttons to make us go crazy. To avoid letting the fam zap our energy levels, brighten everyone’s spirits with a group activity like yoga (especially these poses) or meditation.
14. Stare at Santa. Who knew the holiday people were so scientific? Research suggests looking at the color red can boost our energy levels pronto Perception of the color red enhances the force and velocity of motor output. Elliot, A.J., Aarts, H. Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY. Emotion 2011 Apr;11(2):445-9.. So take a stroll through a department store or just grab some red wrapping paper and get to gazing. Bonus points for wearing something Santa-themed: Studies have also found wearing red can make us feel more confident.
15. Help out. This holiday season remember the needy — even if it’s for partly selfish purposes. Doing volunteer work can trigger a release of endorphins, those feel-good molecules in our body that keep depression and drowsiness at bay.
16. Get it on. Here’s another reason to celebrate — you just had sex! If it puts you to sleep, you’ve probably got other issues, but chances are, a little romantic action will stimulate brain function and relieve stress and depression.
17. Learn to say no. The only thing more tempting than a tray of Christmas cookies is saying “yes” to all the parties that offer them. But spending the weekend dashing from one festive occasion to the next is a surefire way to stop feeling jolly. Avoid crashing by being realistic and declining some responsibilities and social obligations.
How do you keep your energy levels up during the holiday season? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author directly @ShanaDLebowitz.