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The holidays are meant to be joyous and fun, but they often unravel differently — with feelings that can include stress, sadness, imbalance and overwhelm. Mindfulness and discerning actions in this Holiday Health series can really help to make the season a time we look forward to, rather than a time we dread.

Twyla Gingrich, mental health and substance abuse clinician for Mind Springs Health, offers some suggestions for a creating peace and joy this holiday season:

1. Soften Your Expectations 

“One of the biggest culprits is expectations,” Gingrich says of what causes holiday overload. “Expectations of how the holidays ‘should’ go, and if we don’t live up to those, [we think] we’ve failed.”

Drop the “should” when it comes to getting gifts for co-workers, friends, neighbors, kids, family, etc. Stress and misery get worse if you extend beyond your financial or energetic means to give; so give from the heart, but only what you can to still feel balanced.

2. Move Your Body

“Walking is exercise,” explains Gingrich. “Getting outside and just walking around the neighborhood. Right now is the darkest time of the year, and the natural tendency is to hibernate. Exercise is a great way to get the whole system moving and feel physical and mentally better.”

Exercise actually gives you a little more freedom to have some indulgences over the holidays, so get out and move as much as you can.

3. Practice Self-Care

Gingrich recommends to develop a regular practice or routine of self-care throughout the year, so that when the holidays come around, you’re already in the swing of it. Practice healthy habits when you don’t need them, she adds, so that we remember to use them when we need them the most.

“The holidays are also a busy time, and we tend to put aside some of the self-care we might normally do to go to all the parties, events and celebrations, over-extending ourselves to the point of exhaustion,” she says. “Then we cope by eating and drinking excessively.”

4. Focus On What You Have

… not what you don’t have. Incorporating gratitude as an everyday practice is a great way to shift your mental state into positivity.

“Each day, think about what you are grateful for,” shares Gingrich. “In the field of Positive Psychology, research has shown that those who are content practice gratitude on a daily basis.”

Writing in a gratitude journal at the end of every day is a great way to stay consistent with the practice.

5. Volunteer Your Time 

Getting outside of yourself and going this for others can do wonders, as Gingrich explains.

“If you tend to isolate, get out and participate in the holiday events that are going on all around … many of them free,” she says.

Think about what you can do for others this time of year and always, because a lot of people can use an extra hand.

6. Slow Down

“Be conscious of what you can do and what is going to be too much, and honor that,” she adds. “It’s ok to say ‘no.’ Take time to relax. Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa or tea,”

Yes, stay on top of your priorities, but use this time of year to cultivate more peace and introspection. The Winter Solstice is a great opportunity to listen inward and set intentions for the coming year.

7. Love Yourself

“Loneliness starts to tell us that ‘no one cares,’ and ‘I’m not important,’” explains Gingrich, “so the tendency is to isolate further and not get involved in the numerous activities and events going on in our community.”

It’s ok to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself. she adds, because we need to give to ourselves as much as to others.

Mind Springs has multiple locations in Colorado, providing mental wellness, behavioral change and substance abuse treatment and services. For more information, visit http://mindspringshealth.org

Kim Fuller is a freelance writer in the Vail Valley of Colorado.