Andy Williams claims it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but for many, feeling happy during the holidays is hard.
Whether you are feeling the financial strain of shopping splurges, lonely and missing a loved one, or are simply overwhelmed by the stress of a jam-packed seasonal schedule, there are a lot of complex emotions in the coming weeks. And with all the holiday hoopla happening, it’s common to neglect self-care just when your brain and body need it most.
For the month of December, your goal should be to dedicate 20 minutes each day to personal time. You’ll be surprised just how powerful that time is for nourishing your physical, mental, and emotional health.
Here are three easy exercises to boost your mood this season:
Give thanks. When a visit to the store means a sensory overload of cranked up Christmas carols, and a slew of supersized inflatable Santas ho-ho-hoping you’ll buy a few for your front lawn, it’s easy to get caught up in the manufactured merriment.
Practicing gratitude requires more consideration than acquiring material possessions, but the rewards are so much greater. After all, contentment gained through objects fades as the item loses its luster or is used up.
For this gratitude exercise you’ll need to allot five minutes each morning to being mindful of your body and thoughts.
Set your phone’s stopwatch for five minutes and sit in a quiet space, without distraction, and with eyes closed.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe slowly and fully. Notice the beating of your heart and the way your hand rises and falls with each new breath of air. Thank your heart for beating and your lungs for providing you with air.
After five minutes is up, open your eyes. The next time you practice this exercise, direct your energy and gratitude toward a new part of your body, such as your vision, hearing, or ability to walk, or even thank your brain for getting you through a particularly hard meeting or tough interaction with a difficult family member.
After week one, graduate to giving thanks for others, their impact on your life, and ways in which you can strengthen these bonds.
Get outside. Nothing clears your mind and recharges your batteries quite like fresh air and sunshine. And yet, most of us spend the majority of the day basking in artificial light.
Spending time outdoors is essential for mental clarity, reducing inflammation in the body, eliminating fatigue, fighting depression and anxiety, lowering your blood pressure, and even extending your longevity.
To achieve the benefits of the great outdoors, go for a five or 10-minute walk when you can.
Exercise your mental monsters. One of the easiest and most effective ways to naturally improve your mood, squash stress and improve sleep is through exercise.
Because time is valuable and limited during the holidays, you’ll want a workout that’s quick and hassle-free, and will fry fat fast. All you need is 20 minutes, a stopwatch, and a small space to complete this total-body circuit:
Jumping jacks, 60 seconds
Plank walkouts, 50 seconds
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hinge back at your hips and lower your hands to the ground so they are between your feet. Walk your hands out until your body is in a plank pose, with spine straight, neck neutral, and hands below elbows.
Hold for two counts then walk your hands back between your feet and stand up through your heels. Repeat this movement for 50 seconds.
Squat step outs, 40 seconds
Hinge back at your hips to lower your body into a squat. Keep your gaze forward, weight in your heels, and toes facing forward.
Maintaining this position, step your right leg out to the side then bring it back to center. Now step your left leg to the side and bring it back to center. Continue this sequence for 40 seconds.
Stationary lunge pulses, 30 seconds
Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Take a large step back with your right foot and lower your body into a lunge. Your shoulders should be aligned above your hips and your front knee in line with your toes.
Keeping your feet in place, stand up for a count then lower your body back down in to a lunge again. Continue this lunge pulse for 15 reps, maintaining your weight in your front heel throughout. Repeat on the opposite side.
Rest for one minute. For best results, repeat the circuit three times.
Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach. To learn more about her virtual training program, visit ashleyblakefitness.com.