“I love the month of December!” by Michelle Avola-Brown, Executive Director, Naples Pathways Coalition

I love the month of December! With so many joyous festivities, twinkling lights and decorative touches everywhere, the delight of celebrating Jesus’ birthday and the gift He truly is, lighting the menorah candles to honor and remember God’s miracle of keeping the oil burning for eight days, sharing sweet treats we have an excuse to indulge in, watching loved ones open gifts we carefully chose and wrapped, time off from work to enjoy with the people we love, looking back on the year with gratitude for the growth and opportunities it brought, while looking forward expectantly to the new year, not to mention the absolutely perfect weather in Southwest Florida. It’s hard to pick my favorite!

But yes, unfortunately, increased stress is often part of the holiday season, too. Our schedules become more hectic, family gatherings can be awkward, or maybe we miss friends and family we can’t be with. Most stores and post office branches are packed, and our already stretched budgets are squeezed even further. Indulging at holiday parties can make getting up for our morning workout harder, even as the extra carbs and calories and need for endorphins give us greater reason not to skip it.

To help us keep our focus on the joy of the season, practicing moderation is difficult but essential. Deciding to maintain healthy habits like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating well while we sprinkle in the fun will help us enjoy the splurges even more but not feel terrible afterward. If we can’t make it to every holiday party or function and still maintain our sanity, choosing a few and politely declining others is completely acceptable. If the pressure to spend a week with family makes you anxious, perhaps a shorter visit that includes time for self-care is a better option.

Loneliness is another reality that many of us feel this time of year. Despite all the activity around us, we can feel more disconnected than ever. The holidays can sometimes shine a light on relationships we don’t have or those that are strained. A way to combat feeling alone is to reach out, even if that might seem uncomfortable. Try volunteering. There are many walking and
running events this time of year, and we always need more help at ours. Many churches and local groups organize heart-warming ways to serve the community and could use extra hands. Ask a
co-worker or neighbor if they want to go shopping, grab lunch or a drink, or take a walk with you. And if the first person you ask is over-committed, ask someone else. Many people would jump at such an invitation. It could be the cure for both of you.

Another way to reduce stress is to plan ahead. Look at your upcoming week or month and prioritize the things you need to do, those you want to do, those you’re obligated to do, and what can
be set aside. Make time to do something you really enjoy, whether it’s just for you, with a good friend, significant other, or your family. Allowing yourself to be a priority will help you feel more in control. Compare your budget with upcoming expenses and adjust as needed. Memorable holidays don’t require expensive gifts or tripling your grocery bills.

Another suggestion is to set realistic expectations. Everything won’t be perfect, but with gratitude and a positive perspective, it can come close enough. If it all gets overwhelming, permit yourself to take a break. Go for a walk, lie down for 20 minutes, turn on music that soothes your soul, snuggle with a furry friend, pull up a favorite comedy skit on your phone and laugh, read a book, pray, meditate, or write a list of at least ten things you’re grateful for. And remember to take time to be still, be present, take a deep breath, and look for the beauty around you.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few safety reminders. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day often have the highest rate of vehicle crashes and fatalities
caused by distracted or impaired driving. Many people will be out walking and biking, taking in the holiday decorations, enjoying recently received gifts, or burning off some holiday calories. Please put your phone and other distractions away when you’re driving, and never get behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking.

Have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season, and I wish you many blessings in the New Year. Michelle Avola-Brown   

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