December 22, 2022
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Photography by Lucas Ottone/Stocksy United
Stress can affect blood sugar management. Finding ways to ease stress during the holidays can help you manage your type 2 diabetes.
It can be hard to put ourselves first, even in the best of times. But the holidays are notorious for causing extra stress — from dealing with extended family to stretching our budgets to buy the perfect gifts to extending effort to create magical memories for our loved ones.
Managing a chronic illness like type 2 diabetes makes things even more complicated.
Many of us know that stress is a factor that can worsen our condition. And, of course, having type 2 diabetes can itself be a source of stress.
So, we need to prioritize self-care — at every time of the year. Using a few stress-relieving tips during the holidays can help us put ourselves at the top of our holiday lists.
As a mom, it’s easy for me to go overboard during the holidays. Like many parents, my top priority is my son, and I try to make the holidays as magical as possible for him every year.
Often that means doing “all the things” — visits to Santa, Polar Express train rides, cookie-baking marathons, holiday light tours, and holiday parties.
But overdoing it can quickly lead from holiday fun to holiday exhaustion. So, keeping everyone’s spirits bright means focusing on just a few “must-do” activities.
I start by making a holiday bucket list with my family. We brainstorm every activity that sounds fun. But once we have our list, we pare it down to the essentials.
One way we approach this is to have each family member pick their top activity. That way, we end up with a pared-down list that ensures everyone gets to do their favorite thing.
I love the holiday season. I’ve never outgrown that sense of anticipation and joy for “the most wonderful time of the year.”
But celebrating the holidays now isn’t like when I was a kid.
Making homemade gifts, baking cookies, or helping cook big holiday meals felt fun back then. Now it feels more like a neverending to-do list. That’s especially the case when it comes to holiday cooking.
Overdoing it can quickly lead from holiday fun to holiday exhaustion.
I’ve learned to let go of the tasks I’m less interested in and focus on the most important things. For example, I still bake cookies every year because helping to bake and decorate them is one of my son’s favorite holiday activities.
But I no longer exhaust myself over the big holiday meal. Instead, I provide one or two of my specialty dishes and have my dinner guests contribute side dishes and desserts, potluck style.
People typically love to contribute, so allowing them to do so increases the holiday joy instead of bringing it down. Think of it as sharing the festivities.
Whether planning for holiday parties or planning shopping, activity, or baking schedules, thinking ahead can be a lifesaver for diabetes management.
If I’m attending a holiday party, I always ensure there are foods I can eat by offering to bring something to share. The host is usually happy to have one less dish to prepare.
Additionally, I plan my holiday schedules so I don’t get overwhelmed.
For example, I bake tons of holiday treats to give as gifts every year. In past years, I’ve usually reserved this task for the week before Christmas since cookies don’t tend to last longer than a couple of weeks. But I recently learned you can freeze cookies. So now I use a planner to schedule my baking sessions throughout December, which makes the task infinitely less exhausting.
Spending time with loved ones is one way I reduce stress, but the holidays often bring added family stressors. This includes going to great lengths to make the holidays “perfect” or hosting or visiting family we don’t often see.
Some family stress is unavoidable during the holidays, but there are small tweaks we can make to reduce it. For example, when it comes to the universal pursuit of making the holidays as perfect as possible, I try to let go of perfectionism and just be present with my family.
Our genuine presence is often all that’s needed to make the holidays magical. And I know firsthand how the pursuit of holiday perfection is not only stress-inducing but can keep us so occupied that we forget to savor the season.
When it comes to hosting, we have a small home, so there’s literally no room at the inn for overnight guests. Our visiting family usually stays at a hotel, and we all get regular breaks to decompress.
Likewise, when we go out of town for family visits, we always book ourselves a hotel room. That way, we have more autonomy to manage our own needs, including caring for my type 2 diabetes.
If this is a new idea for your family, presenting a hotel stay could be tricky. Try explaining it in a way that puts their needs first.
If you’re the visitor, remind them it will be much less trouble than putting you up in their home. If they’re the visitors, share one or more reasons they’ll be more comfortable at a hotel with real beds and their own space. If you can afford the gift, you can even present it as a holiday treat.
And who knows, they might have secretly been wanting a hotel stay anyway and were afraid to offend you.
Some stress is inevitable in daily life, much less during the holiday season. But we can at least ease it when we can’t prevent it. That’s especially true when it comes to mental stress.
Much of our mental stress comes from how we think about things. For example, if I’m fixated on creating the “perfect” holiday memories, I get super-stressed when things don’t go as planned.
But when I let go of perfectionism and am present with an activity or my loved ones, I can go with the flow and enjoy the moment — no matter what happens. And sometimes, the most magical moments are the ones we don’t expect or plan for.
Remaining present, however, is often easier said than done. That’s where practicing mindfulness comes in.
When I let go of perfectionism and am present with an activity or my loved ones, I can go with the flow and enjoy the moment — no matter what happens.
Research in 2022 suggests that mindfulness, or the art of being present, can lower blood sugar levels. And we can practice mindfulness with activities like yoga, meditation, and breathwork.
If I’m feeling stressed, taking a few seconds to practice paying attention to my breathing immediately brings on a feeling of calm, which brings down the cortisol that could cause a blood sugar spike.
Consider thinking about where stress appears in your body. Do you get headaches? A sore neck? Everyone is different, but once you’re aware of how your body reacts to stress, it becomes easier to become aware of the stress.
Yoga and meditation also help me, and they don’t have to be difficult to work into the day. I do a few yoga postures in my morning routine or pause for as little as 5 minutes to meditate.
And I’ve noticed that mindfulness isn’t only helpful in the moment. The more I practice mindfulness activities, the less I get stressed throughout the day.
As someone with type 2 diabetes, I can tell you it sometimes feels like managing my stress is one more thing to add to my to-do list. And that’s definitely not something I need during the holiday season.
But I’ve realized the right tricks can make my holidays even more enjoyable rather than less so. I encourage you to try incorporating a few stress relievers into your holiday plans.
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