It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...So Why do You Feel So Miserable?

Tips for surviving (and thriving) this Advent and Christmas.


A friend of mine recently posted the prompt on Facebook, “Random Check-in...HOW ARE YOU? Tell us in 5 Words or Less!”


I don’t usually spend very much time on social media, to be honest, and I rarely comment on posts (truly, my business would probably be in much better shape if I could get my social media act together, but I digress…) however, since I was personally tagged I decided to take a minute to respond.


After I shared my response, I took a minute to read over what other women in the group had written. Do you know what the most commonly used words were?


Crazy stressed.
Exhausted and overwhelmed.
Sick.
Fall on my face tired.
Done...just done.

My heart broke reading through those comments, but I can totally relate. Advent can be a really hard time of year in a lot of ways. In fact, it was during Advent many years ago that I reached my lowest point in my battle with depression. The crushing weight of holiday expectations combined with my terrible health habits during that time left me feeling all of the above sentiments (and then some).


Maybe you can relate, or maybe you’re feeling more than a little stressed, tired, and overwhelmed right now.


This morning I couldn’t help but reflect on what strategies I know and use to help me get through Advent and Christmas with a joyful heart in the midst of all the extra activity. I’m certainly not perfect, nor am I immune from bouts of “Holiday Blues”, but the more I can embrace a few simple practices, the better I feel. I think they might help you too.


How to Thrive During Advent and Christmas:


Avoid eating too much sugar.


I know this is a tall order with cookies, candy, and peppermint mocha everywhere you turn! Not to mention the strong dopamine response that your brain has to sugar, which makes it extra hard to resist.


But I assure you that (other than tasting good) sugar is hurting you way more than you might realize--and it just might be ruining your Advent.

How?


One way is that sugar is making you feel depressed.


The ability to process emotion is compromised with elevated blood sugar and a large 2017 study in the journal Scientific Reports links sugar consumption with depression. (You can read more about the negative impact of sugar on the brain in this article). If you find yourself feeling anxious and sad for no reason after you’ve enjoyed your favorite holiday treats, sugar may be to blame.


Another way sugar is negatively impacting your holiday experience is that it’s making you sick. Sugar suppresses your immune system (which makes it more likely that you’ll catch something) and it causes inflammation in the body (which makes whatever you already have worse). Within minutes of eating sugar, your nose will run more, your throat will hurt worse, and you’ll generally feel like you’ve been hit by a truck.


But what if you just love Christmas cookies and hot chocolate and the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without them?


I hear you and I agree! A little-known fact about me is that I’m actually the human embodiment of the cookie monster (Me...love...cookies!) and I also love a hot mug of cocoa.


So here are a few sub-tips to help you enjoy your favorite treats while preserving your health and happiness:


  • Experiment with sugar-free baking and recreate healthier versions of your favorite treats. There are a lot of great recipe blogs out there (especially keto or paleo-friendly ones) that recreate pretty much every kind of cookie you can imagine. Yes, it takes a little work and maybe some ingredients you may not be familiar with yet, but at least you’ll be able to feel good about cookies again!

  • Make your own hot chocolate with quality cocoa powder. Dark chocolate is actually full of brain and mood-boosting polyphenols and is really good for you--what gives chocolate a bad rap is all the sugar it usually contains.


I recommend putting a few tablespoons of a quality cocoa powder in a mug and whisking in hot milk of your choice (grass-fed whole milk, coconut milk, almond milk, etc.) and then adding a packet of stevia or monk fruit sweetener if you need to. You may find that the natural sweetness of the milk is enough all by itself or you may start to enjoy the bitter flavor of the chocolate without any added sweetener.


  • Save your sugar binge for Christmas Day. If you’re feeling like you are constantly restricting yourself, you’re not going to be a very happy camper. I recommend telling yourself that you can have all the cookies, candies, and desserts that your heart desires...on Christmas Day. By limiting yourself to a one-day sugar binge you’re restricting the damage done and creating a clear boundary for yourself. It also is a small way to celebrate the specialness of Christmas with some of your favorite foods.


The important thing to keep in mind is to allow yourself to fully enjoy whatever you eat during this time. Don’t beat yourself up or allow yourself to feel guilty. Just be grateful to God for his goodness and for the fact that you get to celebrate the birthday of his son with something delicious.

Pay as much attention as you can to the present moment.


One of the hardest things about Advent is that there is just so much to do and we may feel like we’re not able to relax and enjoy any of it. Which tends to make us feel even more resentful and harried by all of the busyness.


One extremely simple way to cut through these feelings of overwhelm and stress is to actively turn towards the present moment with as many of your physical senses as you can engage at one time.


This may look like taking a second to savor how beautiful your tree looks, taking a deep breath and enjoying the smell of your holiday scented candle, or really listening to the Christmas music playing in the background and enjoying it.


Ask yourself, “What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? What do I smell? What do I taste?” This helps root you in the reality of right now and get out of your own head a bit.


It only takes about a minute to consciously do this, but the more you can cultivate this practice of mindful awareness of the present moment, the less stress you’ll feel.


Be generous and practice random acts of kindness.


Giving to others and seeking ways to make someone else’s day will help put you in the Christmas spirit way more effectively than watching another Hallmark movie will.


How can you give this Advent? Are there charities that you’d like to support? Some charities even have holiday gift catalogs where you can buy clean water, shelter, food, or livestock for the poor and then you provide a gift tag for your loved ones that a donation was made in their honor. I know that Food for the Poor and Cross Catholic Outreach both do these kinds of gift catalogs, though I’m sure there are many others.


Could you volunteer your time to bring meals to shut-ins or to work in a food bank or soup kitchen?


Or could you just do something extra nice for your co-workers and neighbors?


A real turning point for me during my most depressed Advent was when my family volunteered to help deliver holiday meals to the elderly with the Knights of Columbus. Stepping outside of myself in that small way and doing something to help others really opened up a crack in my soul that allowed the light of the Holy Spirit to pour in and start softening my hardened heart that Advent.


I’m sure that there are about a million strategies you could try to help make the most of your Advent and Christmas season, but I hope that these few tips will be helpful to you!


What tactics do you have for thriving during the Advent and Christmas seasons?


Let me know in the comments below!

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