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December is here, with all of its holiday cheer. And parties, shopping, to-do lists, tempting food, late night planning, travel, cooking and more. We love the holidays but our anxiety level tends to rise. How can it not, as we try to juggle everything while also preserving the wonder of the season with family and friends?

From Halloween to New Years, the one thing that goes out the window for most us is self-care. We tend to prioritize giving to others over taking time to recharge our own batteries. I see many people consuming more coffee, sitting in their cars on their phones in parking lots, frenzied and run-down at the same time. I am guilty of this as well and every year try to scale back and take the extra activity level in stride.

You can be strict on your diet during the holidays, but if you are stressed out, your cortisol levels will raise. With elevated cortisol, not only is it hard to lose weight, but it also becomes impossible to put yourself in the “green zone” of the parasympathetic nervous system. Our adrenals get run down, which starts a cascade of negative biochemical symptoms. From inflammation to anxiety to sleep trouble and more.

We need to rest and restore each day, so our bodies can repair and heal, just as much as we need the “fight or flight’ system of action. The parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate and increases intestinal and gland activity, while the sympathetic nervous system activates the target muscles and glands, causing the body to speed up and become more alert. When there is an imbalance between the two systems, we feel “off” in every area of our lives.

As I’ve said before, nutrition encompasses much more than the food we eat. The key to discovering wellness and optimum nutrition is nourishing our primary foods so the good food we ingest has a better impact on our health. We need balance in our physical activity, social life, career, relationships and more. If we don’t first take care of ourselves, we can’t take good care of others.

How can we reduce our cortisol levels this season? How do you start reversing the trend of anxiety so we don’t enter December on fumes?

img_1062Self-care can be the answer. And not the big moments we look forward to all year: the girls‘ trip to Napa or weekend getaway with your spouse. I’m talking about the 15-30 minutes every day where you do something meaningful for yourself. Where you can shut off your brain and push pause on your schedule.

It involves something outside of your normal routine of action. If you are a runner and training for a race, self-care on your run day would not be the actual run. It could be 15 minutes in a hot tub after your finish.

If you take your kids to the park, self-care would not be sitting at a table by yourself while your kids play. Part of your sympathetic nervous system is still conscious and engaged in this scenario, ready to push someone on a swing or yell out “don’t knock over that sand castle.”

Self-care, the way I see it, means something you do that gives you spiritual and emotional fuel. That helps slow your heart rate down and offers a small moment of peace and joy. It can be meeting a friend for coffee, or taking 10 minutes to meditate in the morning after your kids get on the bus. Stopping for a green smoothie and reading a book in a cafe for 20 minutes before heading to a meeting.

If you need to schedule “self-care” in your phone like you would an appointment, I encourage you to do it. Often we categorize self-care as an indulgence, a treat, or something to feel guilty about it. It often becomes the first thing to go.

The busier we are, the more we are there for others, the more important self-care becomes. A non-negotiable part of your day so you remember to slow down and relax. As you take time to breathe deeply, the negative affects of elevated cortisol will alleviate and your health and anxiety will improve.

Take a minute or two to jot down the first 10 things that come to mind when you think of self-care. Things that make you happy, that you crave when you feel stressed: a pedicure. Listening to music – not in the car, but in your living room, with nowhere else to be. Cooking. Yoga. Reading. A bubble bath. Journaling. Whatever gives you joy.

And set aside time each time to do one of them. They will eventually become as necessary as eating a balanced breakfast to nourish your body. You will be nourishing your spirit, the best part of you. Perhaps then you won’t feel as much anxiety looking over your calendar, or dreading another gift to buy or party to attend. You may feel more capable, confident, and calm, which translates into taking better care of those you love.

Join me in this December Self-Care challenge. Practice self-care every day for one month, and notice how you feel on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps it will then become a rich, important and necessary part of your life as we move into 2017.