How to have a stress-free holiday season

Exercise, eating right and getting enough sleep can make this hectic season much easier.

Sarah Mitroff
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
Sarah Mitroff
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A stress-free holiday season

The holiday season is filled with plenty of great things -- sugar cookies, twinkly lights, ice skating and gifts. But there's also a lot to not love -- busy shopping malls, the pressure to host a perfect holiday party and family tension. It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of it all, leaving you tired and cranky by Dec. 26.

It doesn't have to be that way, though! If you take care of your needs, manage your stress and put your mental health first, you'll feel well-rested and happy all the way through the new year.

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Get enough sleep!

Above everything else in this guide, getting enough sleep is the most crucial. Good quality sleep helps you avoid getting sick, reduce stress and get through a holiday party without yelling at your racist uncle.

Make sure you are getting at least eight hours every night. Struggling to hit that number most nights? The next slides will help you troubleshoot that.

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Turn down the temperature

As nice as it is to climb into bed with fuzzy socks and piles of blankets, our bodies need to cool down in order to fall and stay asleep. 

Try turning down the thermostat at night to below 67 degrees F and see if it helps you sleep without waking up throughout the night.

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Sleeping through the night

Overheating isn't the only reason we toss and turn all night. There are few other culprits, including depression and having a full bladder. Here are some ways to stop waking up in the middle of the night.

If you still can't pinpoint what's interfering with your sleep, get checked for sleep apnea. This sleep disorder can leave you feeling exhausted, and unless someone else witnesses the symptoms and tells you, it's hard to figure out on your own if you have it.

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Cope with stress

It's easy to get caught up in the madness of the holiday season. When your schedule is packed with too many year-end work deadlines, holiday parties and hectic trips to the mall to shop for gifts, it's no wonder we all feel kind of fried by the time we make it to the new year.

This year, actually manage your stress -- don't ignore it or pacify it with a few bourbon-spiked egg nogs. The next few slides will help you do just that.

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Destress after holiday shopping

This time of year, every mall, department store and Target is overrun with shoppers. Between navigating crowded stores, worrying about your budget and trying to beat someone to the last copy of Borderlands 3, you'll likely end your shopping trip feeling emotionally, mentally and physically depleted.

Take some time to relax after holiday shopping -- your body and brain will thank you.

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One of the best ways to come down from a hectic shopping trip is to meditate. Before you roll your eyes, give it a shot. 

It can be as easy as taking 10 seconds to focus on your breathing, and slowing down each inhale and exhale. Or spend 60 seconds mentally scanning your body to see if any part of you feels tense or in pain. Do this as soon as you get back into your car, before battling the holiday traffic.

If you've never meditated before and feel like it's not something you can do, try one of these meditation apps. Oh and if you have an Apple Watch, don't forget about the Breathe app that comes with it.

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Get out in nature

There's nothing quite like a crowded mall on a weekend in December that can make you irritable and tired. When you're done with shopping, try to get out into nature to recharge. It can lower your stress levels and clear your mind of anxious thoughts.

Take a walk through a park or, even better, try forest bathing. Even if it's freezing outside, try to get a little bit of fresh air to soothe your frazzled mind.

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Enjoy holiday food...

I will never, ever tell you to avoid all the delicious foods that make this holiday season worthwhile. If you love egg nog, cookies, hot cocoa, turkey and mashed potatoes, by all means, eat and enjoy them.

Just make sure you don't abandon healthy eating habits that nourish your body in the process. The next few slides will show you how.

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...but be mindful about it

I'm a believer in eating whatever you want, but not eating too much. Practice mindful eating, where you pay attention to every bite of food and stop eating when you feel full. 

Don't distract yourself while eating by watching TV or scrolling through your phone -- that tends to encourage overeating, which will make you feel uncomfortably full and sluggish.

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No need to abandon your diet

If you choose to eat paleo, keto, vegan or participate in any other diet, you can still enjoy all of the big meals and holiday parties of the season.

Check out these vegan-friendly holiday recipes to bring to any gathering, or these tips for staying keto at Thanksgiving. Oh, and we've got paleo recipes, too.

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Aim for balanced meals

I could easily eat carbs for every meal, but I know that what's better for my body is to get the right mix of protein, carbs and fiber. Make sure you're getting enough vegetables and fruits every day so that your body gets the nutrients it needs.

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Stay hydrated

Not to be a killjoy, but booze will dehydrate you. That doesn't mean you have to skip the drinks at your company holiday party, just make sure your body also gets enough water, too.

Aim for 8 ounces every one to two hours each day, and drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage. The easiest way to do that is to fill up a reusable water bottle and carry it with you throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

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Avoid the food coma

It's 10 minutes after a big holiday meal and you've already changed into stretchy pants and are a few seconds away from passing out on the couch. A food coma has overcome you and now you feel exhausted or worse, sick. 

You can have your turkey and eat it too without feeling beyond stuffed. These tips will help you avoid the food coma.

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I get it, for most of us, the last thing you want to do during this busy season is to exercise. But, moving your body can calm stress, help you sleep better and give you energy.

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No excuses

Feel like you can't get a free hour to make it to the gym? Try one of these four workouts that take 20 minutes or less

If you're short on funds, that's no reason to avoid exercising. First, you don't need fancy equipment to do it -- your body is the only fitness tool you need.

If you prefer a group setting, but don't want to pay for classes at a fitness studio, you can likely find free exercise classes in your city.

You can also move and stretch your body at the office, which helps relieve any tension you feel while working at your desk on those year-end projects.

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Get support if you feel down

Shorter, colder days can cause depression for people who feel okay other parts of the year, or make it worse for people who already have it. It's generally referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and doctors think it's caused by hormone imbalances in your brain, possibly because of the reduced sunlight during the winter.

If you feel down as the days get shorter, you might have SAD. You should talk to your doctor about ways to treat it -- usually a mix of eating healthy, exercising and getting a light therapy lamp.

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Try light therapy

For people with SAD, a light that mimics the sun's brightness can help boost their mood. Before you run out to buy one, read about the benefits of a light therapy lamp and talk to a doctor.

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Practice gratitude

From Thanksgiving through the New Year, the holiday season encourages us to be grateful for what we have and encourages us to give to those who don't have as much. 

Practicing gratitude has been shown to help us provide more emotional support to others, lift our mood and even improve sleep.

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