Life and Happiness

Set Your Morning Routine, Set Your Intention for Each Day

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Set Your Morning Routine, Set Your Intention for Each Day

I made a big commitment to myself all the way back in March.  I changed my morning alarm from 6:30am to 5:30am.  I wasn’t sure if I could make this new morning change work, but I wanted to try it.  Now, months later, I am really starting to enjoy my morning routine!

My goal with this new commitment was to force myself to bed earlier and to have time in the morning to start my day off on the right foot.  So far this had been great and I’m no longer starting each morning with that rushed feeling.  I wanted to share my favorite parts of my new routine with you all so you can get inspired to set your intentions for each day.

1. Wake up earlier.  As I mentioned above I moved my wake up time up an hour (which seemed incredibly intimidating).  I’ve never been a good morning person so spending more of my morning hours out of bed and moving sounded terrible, but I knew it would improve a lot of things so I promised to give it a try.  One of the worst ways to start the day is rushed.  I find that if I start my day rushing, I feel like I never get caught up.  This might not be true, but if you can eliminate that strain, why not do it?

2. Morning meditation.  I downloaded a few different meditation apps, hoping to help with my anxiety.  So far I’ve been very pleased!  While I haven’t quite been able to get my routine down to mediate every day, I am working at it, and I feel the difference when I skip my mediation.  During the warmer months, I like to take my morning meditation outside, and often don’t follow any sort of guide.  Instead I close my eyes and feel the warmth of the sun come over me and listen to the birds.  You don’t have to make it fancy, just try sitting still and paying attention to your body for 2-3 minutes to start.

3. Tea!  I love my tea.  I was told early on, based on some of my medical history that drinking coffee may be out of the question for me, so I was never in the habit of having a early cup of something warm to start my day.  But for the past 5 years or so I’ve been enjoying a morning cup of green tea (my favorite has lemongrass in it!).  It’s a great way to wake up easily (yes, it does have caffeine) and warm my body.  Giving myself time in the morning to enjoy my tea makes it feel special.  And having time to make a second cup if I want it is the best!

4. Catching up on my podcasts.  I follow quiet a few podcasts and sometimes I get behind.  In the mornings when I wake up I start with my news podcast (NPR’s Up First).  It’s short, sweet and gives me the run down without making my feel drained.  Since it only lasts about 11 minutes I like to pick another podcast to play while I finish getting ready and enjoy my breakfast.  I can pick whatever I want to listen to that day whether it’s a murder podcast, fantasy football, fitness based, or history I can pick what I want each day.

5. Having time for breakfast.  Before I started waking early, I was eating the same breakfast nearly every day: brown rice cake, organic peanut butter and a piece of fruit.  I loved it, but some days I just wanted to make something different.  Now that I have an extra hour to prepare for the day I can make something fancy (think omelette) or simple (think oatmeal).  I have time to cook and egg or chop some fruit for a smoothie.  I love the flexibility I gave myself here.

Overall, I’ve been thrilled with my change of schedule.  That’s not to say I haven’t spent a few mornings pressing snooze and rushing to work, but more often then not I am waking with my alarm and starting my day at the leisurely pace I like.  On weekends I like to sit with a small breakfast, cup of tea and a good book and start my day slowly.  While I don’t always have time to dive into a book on week days, I still am able to start each day with that same feeling of relaxation and inspiration.

What is your morning routine?  What do you love?  What do you want to change?

 

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Life and Happiness

5 Weekend Activities to Keep You Healthy

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I love my weekends.  Like, seriously looooooove them.  Weekends are my time for myself.  I’m not dealing with grumpy people and I have no timelines for my days.  I can do whatever I want, how ever I want, when ever I want.  So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sometimes, especially after a tough week, I take this a little too far and I do nothing but eat, sleep, and lounge around the house.  And when I have these weekends where I do nothing, I end up feeling pretty crappy come Monday morning.  So here are some small, easy weekend activities that will help you stay healthy and make that Monday morning a little easier.

1. Take a hike.  Now, this is different than taking a walk.  There is nothing wrong with taking a walk and in fact, I recommend you take as many walks as you can during the week.  But when it comes to the weekend, walking your same route around the neighborhood won’t feel as exciting.  So, find a trail near you that works for what you’ve got (dog-friendly, stroller-accessible, flat for knee problems, etc.) and head out there!  My dog and I usually walk around the neighborhood during the week, so on weekends I like to take her on a trail about a mile away from out house.  Doing something different makes it feel special and more like a weekend activity than a chore.

2. Have a dance party in your kitchen.  My family loves dancing in the kitchen while we’re cooking.  We turn the music up and dance around as we help put the meal together.  It’s a great way to get your body moving and have some fun.  You can do it alone or gather the whole family to help.  It also makes cooking and cleaning a whole lot more fun.

3. Take a bath.  This is a great opportunity for both your mental and physical health and weekends tend to be a little slower so you can actually enjoy a relaxing bath.  Add epsom salts or lavender extract or even classic bubbles and allow your muscles and mind to relax.  I like to light candles and play a podcast or a book on tape to help set the mood.

4. Do your outdoor house chores.  While doing chores on the weekend doesn’t sound very fun, it’s important to get tasks done so you aren’t doing everything on the weekdays after work.  But I try to leave all of my outdoor tasks to the weekend (if weather allows).  That way I can get some Vitamin D, avoid sitting on my butt all day and it gives me time to get a lot of tasks done.  I am really good at starting as task and then noticing something else that needs to be done, so it’s nice to move calmly from one task to the next AND have time to get it all done.

5. Make a savory brunch.  When we think of brunch we often think excess.  We think waffles and bacon and mimosas and Nutella and strawberries and blintz’s and jam (anyone else get hungry just reading those?).  But you can make a yummy brunch with less calories and more nutrients by focusing on the savory.  Making brunch at home means you can control what goes into the food and how much.  Combine eggs, toast, avocado, tomatoes and arugula for a delicious meal.  Look up some new recipes and given them a try!

Weekends can still be about fun and relaxation as well as being healthy.  It’s just about getting creative.  What’s your favorite weekend activity that promotes health?

Life and Happiness

Successful Sundays

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Sunday is my favorite day. I love the laid back feeling, sleeping in, doing whatever I feel like, not having a schedule. I love having a day each week that is my own. But I also know that Sunday is the perfect day to line up your week and get prepared. So here are a few ideas to help you have a successful Sunday.

1. Don’t set an alarm. Let your body wake up when it’s ready. You’ll be surprised that most of the time you’ll wake up on your regular schedule, but if you don’t that’s ok.

2. Make a yummy breakfast. I like to start with a cup of tea and then make myself breakfast. Pick something you like and allow yourself time to enjoy it.

3. Do what feels right. Take some time to ask yourself what you want to do. Read? Clean? Run errands? Watch a movie? There’s no wrong answer. Pick at least one thing you want to do and do it!

4. Be sure to move, even just a little. You may feel like staying in bed all day, but I promise you’ll feel better if you move around a little. Whether it’s hitting the gym, going for a walk, or doing a little yoga in your living room, it’ll be worth it to prevent that sluggish feeling!

5. Don’t ignore the things you have to get done. Usually Sunday hits and I don’t want to do anything, but often I have at least one important task to accomplish and putting it off until Monday morning is never worth it! I try to get those tasks done earlier in the day so I can be sure they’re taken care of. I aim to be my most productive between 11am and 2pm so I still have time on either end to do what I want.

6. Prep for your week ahead. Some people may want to fully plan out their upcoming week, while others may be just fine going over each day in their head. Either way, it’s a good idea to think through the week and get anything ready you may need.

7. Stop “doing things” at least an hour before your bedtime. Now this doesn’t mean sit in the dark for an hour, but rather means to get all of your planning and important tasks done. Set yourself up so when it’s bedtime you can just go to bed. Read, watch a movie, take a bath etc.

8. Breathe and appreciate. I’m usually running around so busy I forget to relax on Sundays. So I make a point to stop often and take deep breaths and try to appreciate the day. Maybe you stop on your walk and take in the view, or maybe you are excited to finish your latest book, or maybe you just take your coffee or tea out onto your porch our outside to enjoy.

Happy Sunday everyone! I hope you make the best of it!

Life and Happiness

Endometriosis Part 4: My Latest Treatment

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I was nervous and the office was buzzing with chaos.  They called me back, took my blood pressure and I was met immediately by the doctor.  He ushered me into his office and we started talking.  I gave him a brief explanation for my visit- I have endometriosis, we’ve been controlling it with birth control, but for about a year I’ve had spotting, cramping, bloating and other problems so I was looking for the next step.  He listened kindly, then flipped through my paperwork, asking if I had actually had the laparoscopy to prove endometriosis was the culprit.  I thought, “great, here we go again, another person who doesn’t believe me.” but I calmly explained that I was diagnosed at 16 and they didn’t want to do anything drastic, rather they treated it with birth control to see if the symptoms would improve.  He nodded kindly and I pointed out that last year I was seen by a doctor who thought she could see my endometriosis on my cervix and sent me to a specialist who confirmed it.  I was shaky, wondering for the first time that day if I wouldn’t be walking away with an answer.  I’d seen plenty of doctors and what if there was nothing for me beyond birth control besides a hysterectomy?

He continued with the questions, flipping through my file to verify answers and timelines.  When we finished, I had fought back tears two times and felt emotionally exhausted.  He looked at me and said calmly, “I’ve never seen such a clear and obvious case of endometriosis.  Based on your answers here I have no doubt you have it and understand it.” I nodded, tears coming to my eyes for a third time and nervously waiting for my options.  He gave me three; 1) the hysterectomy I’d feared, 2) Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists or 3) continue to try and treat it with birth control.  He quickly said he didn’t recommend options one or three, but that it was up to me to make the final decision.  I opted for #2.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists work by stopping the body from producing estrogen, thereby putting the body in a medically-induced menopause, which stops the growth of endometriosis.  Basically, I would be putting myself in a reversible menopause so I could regain some control over my life and slow the growth of my endometriosis overall.  It wasn’t something to be taken lightly, as side effects include hot flashes, tiredness, problems sleeping, headaches, depression, joint and/or muscle stiffness, bone loss and vaginal dryness.  Oh, and mood swings.  But I bit the bullet, so to say, and started injections last November.  I was told to expect the first week or so to be pretty brutal, basically my body having the worst period of my life.  I reached out to my employers to give a heads up and prepared for the worst.  In my case, it wasn’t that bad.  In fact I joked with my mom that if all my periods had been like that I wouldn’t have needed this treatment.

From then on, I had an injection every month for 6 months and used an add-back therapy to keep my side-effects from being too severe. Overall, things went really well. I only had one hot flash and hated every minute of it (thankfully I was alone at work and could lay on the tile floor). I did have miserable headaches that, sad to say, I got used to. They sat on the verge of a migraine, leaving me well enough to stay at work, but making my time there fairly miserable. I also struggled with focus and often times felt like I was doing my best work. This took a toll on me mentally as I’m used to being a hard worker who thinks of the little things as well as the big picture. But the worst symptom was the fatigue. I cut back to one night shift a week to allow for more rest. I focused on getting in bed 9-10 hours before I had to wake up just to be sure I’d get enough sleep to start the next day. Caffeine didn’t help and I started craving naps again. But I made it. And I know the time without my cycle was worth it.

Everyone is going to have different treatment needs and different reactions to the treatments. I was lucky mine went so well (believe me, I read all the horror stories online to prepare). I’m very thankful to have had this opportunity and while I’ll be still be paying the treatment off for a while, I’m glad I chose to do it.

These posts have not been to bring anyone down or to seek out pity. Rather, my goal is to bring awareness to endometriosis and let people know there are options for treatment beyond pain meds and heating pads. I would love to help someone else on their journey with endometriosis find the knowledge and support to find more answers and options. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any more questions or would like to share your own resources. There is so much more I could share.

Life and Happiness

Endometriosis Part 1: My First Period

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Endometriosis, a common disorder, is where cells from the lining of the uterus appear outside of the uterus.  Even though they are no longer in the uterus, they act as if they were, and every month they thicken, break down and bleed.  With no place for the blood and broken down tissue to go they can cause cysts, adhesions, scar tissue and can have damaging effects.  Symptoms include painful periods, pain during sex, excessive bleeding, irregular cycles, pain with bowel movements or urination, infertility and more.  I have suffered from endometriosis for over 15 years now and I vividly remember the day I got my first period.

It was a summer day and I was wearing a white tank top, turquoise and white board shorts with a pink sarong tied over the shorts. No we weren’t going to the beach, we were off to some doctors appointments and shopping with my mom, but it was the early 2000’s and that was stylish, okay? I remember feeling exhilarated that morning.  It could have been that it was summer break, or that I felt so cool in my outfit, or maybe it was that something in my body was shifting and changing.  Right before we left the house I went to the bathroom, noticed the spots on my underwear.  Excited and a little scared, I told my mom as she was just about to walk out the door.  I knew exactly what it was; we had excellent education on it in school and my mom had filled in any questions I had.  She quickly showed my where she kept her stash of pads and tampons and I took care of it, feeling like an adult.

We headed out for the day and I felt fine. I felt prepared. I felt grown up. But on the long drive I started to feel sick. I felt the cramping start, making me want to curl up into a ball. I felt sweaty and nauseous. I took some pain medicine in hopes of calming everything down, but it didn’t help. By the time we got to our first stop, I was miserable. We had stopped to visit my cousin in the hospital. I spent the whole time in his attached bathroom, laying on the tile floor, wishing it all away.  Our next stop was my mom’s appointment.  She was getting some tests done so my sister and I had to sit in the waiting room while she went back.  Apparently I looked as bad as I felt because one of the nurses took pity on me and brought me a sheet to use as a blanket and they allowed my sister and I to occupy the entire couch closest to the bathroom.  I split my time between the couch and the bathroom, throwing up from the pain, and terrifying my younger sister.  My mom sent a nurse regularly to give us updates on how much longer she’d be and I remember when she was done she kept apologizing that it took so long.

That is how I remember my first period. Pain. Cramping. Nausea. Cold sweats. Tiled bathroom floors. Exhaustion. I thought that was normal. I thought that was how I’d spend a few days every month for the next 40+ years. Thank goodness my mom did not agree it was normal. And she decided it wasn’t acceptable. She was the one who took me to the doctor, who told them it wasn’t normal for her teenage daughter to be physically ill every month. She told them I shouldn’t have to skip school and spend days in bed each month.

My mom was my example. She spoke up about something that was not okay, not normal. And she is my inspiration. It’s because she was so vocal about my pain that I felt comfortable to share my experience. I am not ashamed to tell people about my story, my pain. I spoke up when I was in high school, college and in my “adult life”. That’s why I’m sharing with all of you my story of my struggle, my life with endometriosis.

I highly recommend that if you or someone you know is struggling with endometriosis they find an outlet to share their feelings. Also be their advocate. Unfortunately the pain we suffer is often dismissed. Some people compare it to their own menstrual pain and think we are weak. Others, never having experienced menstrual pain at all think we are over exaggerating the pain that half of the population experiences regularly. Believe the person that is experiencing the pain, support them, and help them find a doctor who will listen.

I will continue to share my experience with you all over the next few weeks.

Life and Happiness

One of My Favorite Things: Sleep

I know I’ve written about the benefits of sleep before, but I’m doing it again because I am a firm, firm believer in sleep. As a matter of fact, it’s one of my favorite things. I love the idea that I can climb into my cozy bed, close my eyes and after eight hours I can start over again. I am the napper of my family and was always the one to sleep in the latest. It certainly helps that I love my bedroom and I love my bed, but some days, going to bed is my favorite part of the day.

The science supports my love of sleep and I know that most people agree that sleep is important, so why do so many Americans (35%!) report they don’t get enough sleep? The study linked above by the CDC found some very interesting things in our relationships with sleep. Of course what most people tend to ignore is the socioeconomic challenges some people face that can interfere with their sleep (shift work, going to bed hungry, sleeping in the same room as children, etc.). While I would love to dive into this thought more, this post is about how to improve your sleep, and many of the socioeconomic challenges cannot be changed in a single post.

There are serious risks to not getting enough sleep. Children who don’t get enough sleep are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and adults can face challenges with depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and more. But while we know getting enough sleep is an important aspect of our health we still don’t make it a priority.

There are many ways we can improve our sleep quality as well as quantity. It’s always a good idea to keep your bedroom a sanctuary; a place for sleep. I keep my laptop tucked away in my armoire, where it’s easily accessible if I’m having a lazy morning or working from home when I’m sick, but it’s usually out of sight, and out of mind. I also keep my room light and airy, which personally brings me a feeling of peace. You need to find what works best for you and your needs.

Another big part of the problem is technology. I fully admit to often falling asleep to Netflix, but I know that I sleep better when I read before bed, or listen to my sleep podcast. At night when I wake up, I try to avoid reaching for my phone to check the time and/or scroll through social media. There are plenty of technology-based sources out there to help you sleep, such as the Sleep With Me podcast I use. There are apps to track your sleep based on your movements throughout the night and even apps to play relaxing sleep music or sounds. Overall, it’s going to be best for you to put your phone down at least 20 minutes before bed.

Ideally you should be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly. Set yourself a bedtime that would put you at the high end of that range, then start your bedtime routine an hour before that. For example, if your alarm goes off at 7am you should set your “bedtime” to be 10pm. That means that at 9pm your should be starting your bedtime routine, including brushing your teeth, washing your face and shutting down the house for the night. You can add in a stretching or meditation routine, a cup of herbal tea, reading time and even a prayer or spiritual routine. By the time you climb into bed your body should be relaxed and you should be preparing for sleep. Maybe you’re not quite tired yet, so you keep reading and that’s ok. Remember you already put yourself at the high end of your sleep range, so if it takes a couple of hours to fall asleep you’re still ok!

What’s your biggest struggle with getting enough sleep? Can you tell when you’ve been sleeping well and when you haven’t? Do you have any great tricks, apps or podcasts to share? Let us know!

Food and Nutrition, Life and Happiness

Super Bowl Monday

food-lunch-mexican-nachos.jpgIt’s Monday morning and I am dragging! This weekend was packed fun and I may have indulged more than normal. Saturday my sister and I hosted a party at our house complete with appetizers, desserts and lots of drinks. Then Sunday I went out to lunch before heading to a Super Bowl party. I actually did pretty well at the party, considering what most people imagine Super Bowl eating to be like. But here I am, getting ready to go into work on Monday and I’m wishing I had another day in the weekend to sleep, workout and eat better.

So here’s my plan for this Super Bowl Monday to help me start feeling better.

1. I’m drinking all the water! I know with all the events and parties this weekend I probably didn’t hit my water intake goals, so I’m making sure it happens today!

2. I’m eating my normal breakfast. I still feel kind of yucky from all the foods this weekend, but I know I need to have a healthy, protein packed breakfast to stay on track the rest of today.

3. Snacks and lunch are packed with veggies, specifically those high in fiber. I know my food choices this weekend weren’t the best fiber options so I chose to focus on that.

4. I’m going to bed early tonight. I’m definitely sleepy after this weekend and while I’d love to get a nap in today (I love naps) it’s just not going to happen. Instead I’m planning on crawling into bed an hour earlier than normal. I may just spend that hour reading, but either way I’m going to let my body unwind and relax so I can get a good sleep tonight!

How are you feeling this Monday? Did you indulge this weekend? How do you like to start your week on the right foot? Let me know!

Life and Happiness

Quick Pick-Me-Up for Your Mental Health

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I am really trying to refocus my energy into my mental health.  I tend to have too much to do from the end of October through January or so and I forget to take care of myself in the process.  I had set a weight loss goal in December, which I didn’t hit and by the end of the month I was feeling pretty down on myself.  It was then that I realized I hadn’t been focusing on my mental health, and I had “sabotaged” myself during December by skipping workouts and eating more “junk” because I was feeling kind of gloomy.  So I decided that my goal for January would be to focus on my metal health and so far I’ve been doing great!

I’ve been looking into a variety of ways to focus on my mental health to help me get through those tough days and I’ve downloaded a few apps, copied lists of journal prompts and more in hopes of finding some inspiration.  While everything I’ve found so far has been great, I still keep thinking back to my go-to mental boost.  I’ve evolved it over the years, and often make little tweaks based on who I am recommending it to, but I’ll share the basic formula with you today.

 

With practice you will be able to do this exercise at almost any time with almost any distractions around, but it’s good to start in a place where you can really focus on yourself.

First I ask that you take a few breaths and try to find some quiet.  Give yourself a little prep before you start by relaxing as best you can.  Now list 10 things you love about yourself.  I ask that you aim for 5 physical traits (hair, face, fingers, etc.) and 5 personality traits or accomplishments.  The first time you do this, you may not be able to list a full 10 things and that’s ok.  The idea is to build up your self-love and appreciation for yourself.  But don’t give up too quickly!  Do try hard to complete the list.  You can write it down, say each thing out loud, or simply think them.

I have included a little example, based on my practice today:

  1. My legs are showing definition.
  2. I am feeling confident about my class today.
  3. I love my hair color.
  4. My face is thinning out again.
  5. I have knowledge that can truly help people’s lives.
  6. I got a full 8 hours of sleep last night.
  7. My skin is clearing up.
  8. I have a work wardrobe I feel confident in.
  9. I am making personal changes that make me happier.
  10. I am continuing to work on my education and loving it!

The more you do this, the more creative you will get, which is exciting because you start to realize how many great things you have going on in your life!  It picks me up every time I do it and it reminds me to focus on self-love, which is always important.  I have watched people do this exercise and I’ve seen the struggle with it, but they come out of it feeling more confident.  My favorite was doing this exercise with a group of women I was working with.  The group aspect made things more complicated, but it ended up making it more beautiful.  The women were nervous to list things about them and they were embarrassed when their turn came.  Maybe they could have been more honest if they were working alone, BUT when a woman struggled to finish her list, I listened as the others in the group quickly came up with ideas.  It was like a giant compliment circle!

So take some time and give yourself 10 compliments today!

 

Fitness, Life and Happiness

The Mental Aspect of Weight Loss

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already 2018. There’s so much that happened in 2017, both personally and in the world. One of the biggest things is that I’m going through some medical stuff- nothing major, but a side effect is possible weight gain so I’ve tried to be on top of my workouts and diet. In December I wanted to lose the 2 lbs I’d gained since starting the treatment. That was my months goal. But December came and went and my weight remained the same. At first I felt upset with myself for not being able to drop those 2 pounds, but I stopped and took a second to think about why.

The very first thing I realized is that I was feeling a little down. I was worn out mentally and even when I was doing my workouts or eating fresh, my mind wasn’t completely there. I wasn’t as driven or as excited. It became easier to slack off in my workouts, to snack on some cookies late at night. On top of it all I caught that nasty bug which kept me out of work one day, so I was stressed trying to catch up on everything while still resting enough to get better.

So, even though I still want to lose those extra couple of pounds (I realize it’s a small number and I shouldn’t obsess, but I’d still like to work on it), that’s not my goal for January. Instead I’m focusing on my mental health. I’m checking in with myself regularly, eliminating sources of stress, letting go what I can, and taking some time for myself. Because here’s the thing- I know the weight loss will come, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot harder if I’m not in a good place mentally.

I hope 2018 brings everyone a happier and healthier life, both mentally and physically!

Life and Happiness

It’s That Time of Year Again…

December has been flying by! I thought I was ahead of schedule with everything, but things keep popping up that I forgot about (like my boss’s Christmas present!). On top of that work has been wild and I’m currently searching out more financial opportunities as well as working on some new writing projects. I was all set to enjoy the holiday season, but somehow I find myself rushing around all day and finally crashing in to bed each night wishing I had time for some yummy hot cocoa, a holiday movie or even a hot bath.

So, in hopes to motivate me to slow down these next few weeks I’m writing this post to help you (and, yes, selfishly me) enjoy the holiday season.

1. Make the most of your “downtime”. This means combining certain activities and planning ahead. For example, I waited until I had purchased all of my family presents before I started wrapping. So I spent one Sunday night, tucked in my room, wrapping presents and watching holiday movies on Netflix. I got my movie fix and got my wrapping done. I also have been planning my weekends, spacing activities out so I can enjoy them. My sister and I got giant gingerbread cookies to decorate so we planned a “holiday episode cookie party” where we’ll watch the holiday episodes of our favorite shows while decorating the cookies. While I’d like to do this soon, I know that waiting until I have a completely free evening will let me enjoy it more than trying to do it after a long day at work when I just want to crawl into bed.

2. Know when to say no. This is just good year-round advice, but especially during the holidays it’s important not to over do it. This last Sunday was I was supposed to go to my book club meeting, but I woke up sick and that evening I had my Christmas dance recital to help run. As much as I wanted to go to the book club meeting I knew I had to get some rest before the big night. Plus it’s never nice to get others sick right before the holidays! Sometimes you have to skip a party instead of packing them all into one evening. You want to keep stress levels low and joy high and that might mean saying no or skipping a few things. Stick with the most important and your favorites and take the time to enjoy those things.

3. Start gift shopping early. While it might be a little late this year, it’s still some solid advice. One thing I always stress about is gifts. I love finding the perfect gift for everyone, but when you only give yourself a month or so to find these things it can get overwhelming. Instead I try to keep an eye out all year long for items I know my friends and family will love. Then I tuck them away in a super secret spot and around November I pull them out and see who I have left to buy for. This helps spread out my spending as well, which is always a good thing! I also tend to collect things like candles and lotions so I keep a stock of those items ready for any last minute presents or gift exchanges.

4. Take some time off. Whatever you do, try to take some time off at the holidays. There’s nothing worse than having a day packed full of holiday activities only to know you have to go back to work the next morning. This year I had to get creative since I knew a lot of others asked for time off. Instead I decided to give up my Saturday shift for the winter, giving me some flexibility in my personal schedule. My sister got super lucky and figured out she could take 3 days off and end up with a 10-day vacation based on her schedule and how the holidays lined up! It’s always best to plan ahead on this too. I usually end up requesting Christmas Eve off in September since that’s the big day for my family. In return for this I offer to work Christmas Night as well as New Year’s Eve. That way others can take off time as well. My dad used to save up his annual leave and take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off so he could spend time with us (since my sister, Mom and I had the school holiday). Even if it’s just a day, or a few hours to start your holiday early, taking some time off will give you more time to relax and enjoy the season.

5. Stick with your favorites. Traditions are my favorite part of most holidays since I have a large, close family. But this also means a lot of traditions. We’ve had to cut back on certain things due to time, or changes. We’ve latched on to a few traditions and simplified where needed. With my dad’s side of the family we’ve gone from giving everyone a gift to a gift exchange to donating to a charity each year. This way we still spend time together, eat our traditional Christmas Eve meal but we don’t have to worry about bringing carloads of presents. Traditions are more fun when you can actually enjoy them!

The holidays are often stressful and sometimes depressing or lonely times for many people. It’s important to take some time and focus on what’s important and what makes you happy. Maybe it’s family traditions or maybe it’s trying a new restaurant for Christmas. Whatever it is, put your energy into a few special things and you’ll end up with a much less stressful, more joy-filled holiday season!