Oh, what joy the holidays bring! Watching children carefully write their letters to Santa and then wiggle with excitement when gift opening arrives. Breathing in the scents of evergreen trees and wreathes and freshly baked cookies. Celebrating with family and friends. Playing Christmas music on full volume. As Andy Williams famously crooned,  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
    Ironically, though, the holidays can also be the most stressful time of the year. Rushing through and rearranging chores to make time for those beloved family gatherings. Budgeting for gifts when finances are already tight. Finding time for all of the extra holiday tasks: shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, and more.
    This year, I’ve had more time than usual to get ready for Christmas. But I’m struggling with the frustration of being injured and unable to do my job. I found out last month that two of the tendons in my shoulder tore when the fresh cow trampled me this summer. So I’ve been decorating cookies between physical therapy appointments and the tears have been flowing as freely as the smiles.
    When I get bummed out, I remind myself that Advent is the season of patience. I need to be patient with the healing process and have faith that my shoulder will work again.
    The holidays should also be the season for self-care, but, often, they’re not.
    We get so consumed with taking care of all the holiday extras. Like finding dress shoes that fit your child for their Christmas program at school. And making sure they have treats for their class Christmas party. Note to self: For goodness’ sake, next year sign up to bring treats for a different holiday.
    What I wanted to say was, we get so busy taking care of everything else that we forget to take care of ourselves. And when we don’t take care of ourselves, we feel twice as stressed because physical stress amplifies mental and emotional stress.
    So, this year for Christmas, give yourself the gift of self-care. There’s no need to wait until January 1 to resolve to take good care of yourself.

Sleep well
    The holidays are great for throwing schedules completely out of whack, including sleep schedules. It may not be possible to get as many hours of sleep as you need, but there are things you can do improve sleep quality: Avoid using backlit electronic devices for an hour before bedtime. Avoid going to bed on a full stomach by finishing your last meal two hours before tucking in. Sleep in a cool, completely dark room. Wear loose fitting pajamas.

Eat well
    One of the best parts of the holidays, at least for me, is enjoying all of the Christmas cookies and candies that are only made this time of year. But too much holiday feasting can overwhelm our digestive systems. And when we overwhelm our guts, we overwhelm our already-overwhelmed-from-the-holidays brains.
    To stave off holiday tummy trouble, hit the veggie tray first and then the cookie tray. The enzymes in fresh fruits and vegetables can help improve digestion.
    Consider giving your guts a break, too. Humans weren’t made to eat 24/7; our bodies need periods of eating and periods of fasting. For most people, the ideal ratio is 12 hours of eating and 12 hours of fasting. If your holiday party has you feasting until midnight, delay breakfast (literally, breaking the fast) until noon the next day. Giving your guts a rest can truly help you feel less stressed.

Relax well
    We tend to carry stress with us in the form of muscle tension. Prolonged muscle tension can cause headaches, neck and back pain, and other issues. We tend to misuse the word relax in our society – implying it to mean chilling out in front of the television or some other non-stressful activity. But the word relax actually means ‘to make less tense’. And that’s what we need for our muscles when we’re stressed out.
    Slow, deep breathing can help reduce muscle tension. Practicing conscious relaxation can, too. Think about your jaw muscles, then think about releasing them or relaxing them; you should feel the tension drain away. If not, try clenching your jaw, then releasing. You can (and should) do this with every muscle in your body.
    Heat is another good way to relieve tension. Take a hot bath. Place a hot pack on your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Sip a cup of hot tea – the heat warms you from the inside out. Even better, take a sauna.
    I grew up taking saunas almost weekly. Glen has been working on turning the old wood room in our basement into a real sauna for our family. I can hardly wait to thoroughly steam myself. It will be one of the best Christmas presents ever.
    Merry Christmas! May your holiday celebrations be joyful – and a little less stressful.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children – Dan, 11, Monika, 8, and Daphne, 5. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.