Healthy Holiday Traditions for the Whole Family

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The holiday season is here—and with it comes celebration, family gatherings, good food … and stress. For many of us, this time of year is challenging. Spending time with family members can create tension. Moreover, the holidays can be particularly difficult for people who are in recovery from mental health disorders or substance abuse.

However, families can take steps to stay balanced and positive during this busy time. Here are three keys to having a healthy, happy holiday.

Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources: Healthy Happy Holiday Rituals

Follow your usual routines

The holiday season comes with a to-do list: shopping, cooking, entertaining, traveling to visit family members, etc. Consequently, we may be tempted to skip our usual self-care routines.

But it’s actually extra important to stick with your daily and weekly rituals. These might include exercise, meditation, time in nature, etc. All of those things enhance our well-being and stress resilience. Thus, it’s essential that we don’t let them go during the holidays.

Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources: Healthy Happy Holiday Rituals

Here are some ways to make that easier:

  • Put it in your calendar: Along with scheduling all the holiday-related activities on your list, schedule time for your personal self-care rituals. When you’ve blocked out time beforehand, you’ll be less likely to let it go.
  • Do it with the family: Build in self-care time for the whole family. It might be a yoga class together, a hike in the woods, an hour in a rock-climbing gym, or ice skating. Furthermore, doing fun things together can be a great way to bond.
  • Unplug more: One way to find time for healthy activities is by eliminating some of our screen time. Americans spend more than 10 hours a day on their screens, according to a Nielsen Company poll. Try a Facebook fast for the holidays and see how much extra time you have for self-care.

Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources: Healthy Happy Holiday Rituals

Integrate healthy activities into your holiday get-togethers

A delicious meal is often the centerpiece of the holiday. Sometimes eating is the main activity, which means end up doing lots of sitting during the day as well. Additionally, the focus on alcohol at holiday gatherings can be a trigger for those in recovery.

However, we don’t have to make food and drink the only focus. Thus, here are a few ideas for other ways to celebrate.

Remember, it might not be easy to institute new rituals if your family is used to the old ways. Therefore, it helps to recruit one or two people who are on board, so you have support in creating change.

Get outside

Spending time in nature has multiple positive benefits. Instead of lingering around the table after the meal, get everyone outside for a game, a hike, or even some yard work. It might take a little nudging, but it’s worth it.

Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources: Healthy Happy Holiday Rituals

Have a dance party

First, recruit the kids and teens in the family beforehand to create a playlist. Then clear space after or before the meal and get everyone up and moving!

Make it a walking holiday

If you have friends or family who live within walking distance, you could create what’s known as a “progressive dinner.” Here’s how it works: Each family makes a different course, and the party travels from one to the next. Thus, you have hors d’oeuvres at one home, salad at the next, then the main course, dessert, etc. And you get a little exercise between each course so you don’t feel stuffed at the end.

Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources: Healthy Happy Holiday Rituals

Make mindfulness part of your holiday tradition.

Because we’re so busy during the holiday season, we often forget to take time to pause. However, making an effort to slow down and appreciate this time of year will actually help us enjoy it more. Mindfulness has numerous positive effects on well-being.

Therefore, try these approaches for bringing more mindfulness into your holidays.

Acknowledge what you’re thankful for

Research shows that gratitude enhances our happiness levels. Gratitude can even help us sleep better and live longer. Consequently, we can benefit by expressing gratitude through personal exchanges, gratitude meditation, or a heartfelt grace before the holiday meal.

Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources: Healthy Happy Holiday Rituals

Choose mindfulness over impatience

You can practice mindfulness anytime, not just on the meditation cushion. In fact, the times when we’re most likely to be impatient are actually great times to practice mindfulness. When you’re stuck in traffic on the way to the mall, in line at the grocery store, or while you’re peeling yet another potato! Breathe deeply, notice how you feel inside, and then take time to notice the people, nature, or colors around you. Furthermore, you’ll find that just a few moments of mindful awareness help you become calmer and more focused.

Practice mindful listening

 When we’re connecting with family members in the midst of a holiday party, with lots of noise and activity, it can be difficult to stay present. Instead of getting distracted, commit to really listening to the person you’re speaking with and responding thoughtfully. Furthermore, you’ll find that mindful listening creates a shared positive emotion that increases well-being.

Finally, don’t forget to practice mindful listening with your immediate family leading up to the holidays. Remember, nurturing your most important relationships is the most important and most rewarding part of the holiday season—and every season of the year.

Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources: Healthy Happy Holiday Rituals

Sources

Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30; 191(1): 36–43.

J Health Psychol. 2016 Oct;21(10):2207-17.

Psychol Sci. 2013 Jul 1;24(7):1123-32.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.