Happy HolidaysThe article below is written by Department of Surgery Wellness Officer and Assistant Professor Brenessa Lindeman, M.D., MEHP, FACS.

Although a wonderful time of the year, holidays can be stressful as well, especially this year when the holidays will likely look different for many. As Wellness Officer for the Department of Surgery, I want to share some tips to reduce stress during the holiday season! Ensuring that you prioritize your mental and physical health will help you to enjoy and truly celebrate the holiday season.

1) Create a new tradition that makes you smile. Many of us will have to make some significant adjustments to our holiday traditions this season. However, it is still important to do things that make you happy. This will definitely take some creative thinking and planning ahead for how you will still be able to virtually and safely spend the holidays with those outside of your immediate family household.

Our endocrine surgery group recently utilized Zoom for a virtual white elephant party, and I am personally planning a Zoom Christmas morning to connect with remote family and friends. Like Thanksgiving, my hope is that Zoom will extend the time that individual accounts have to host Zoom meetings during the season. Either way, here are some virtual holiday party ideas.

2) Get some fresh air. Take a break from the kitchen (or your chosen screen device) and get some fresh air. Walking greatly reduces stress levels. As we may be experiencing a bit of loneliness this season due to refraining from being in large groups it is important to be reminded of nature’s beauty.

Walking can also be a way to get out of the house while still spending time with your immediate family. If it is possible to maintain a six feet distance and keep masks on at all times, call up a friend to go on a socially-distanced walk with you. Whether it is around a walking track, just around the block of your neighborhood, or an extended hike, walking is a great way to boost endorphins and get a bit of exercise.

3) Give a little. There are more people in need than before because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ravaging effects. If you have the means to, finding a way to give back to those in need this holiday season may bring you unexpected joy.

Many of us will sit down to holiday spreads that take up our entire table. However, a lot of families, individuals and children will sadly experience hunger this year. Consider donating to your colleagues who might experience hunger this year through the Blazers Against Hunger campaign. Additionally, Feeding America reports 1 in 9 Americans struggle with hunger. Their organization seeks to end hunger in the United States and build a path to a brighter, food-secure future. $1 = 10 meals. This worthy cause is definitely on my Christmas list this year.

Whatever the cause is closest to your heart, I encourage you to give what you are able to, and reap the benefits that follow from giving to others.

4) Get in the holiday spirit. We may be utilizing more Zoom and FaceTime calls than we ever thought possible for work purposes, but these can be transformed into meaningful experiences for yourself with or without loved ones too. Try playing a song, starting a puzzle, journaling or decorating your home and workspace. Making and/or consuming hot chocolate bombs is a great, trendy idea as well.

These activities are my favorite ways to lift my spirit during the holidays. They are fun to do alone or with immediate family in your household to spread some holiday cheer.

5) Plan ahead. We all know holidays can be hectic. This year, try planning your festivities ahead of time to reduce your holiday stress. The more that you do now, the less you will have to do later. Consider drafting a rough schedule for Zoom calls, creating the meetings, and sending out links now. Perhaps you write out your meal plans as well or schedule time to finish purchasing the rest of your gifts online.

Making plans now can give you and your loved ones time to process that the holidays will look very different this year. Planning ahead will allow you time to make the day as special as possible, even the virtual elements.

It is important to remember that we are all in this together. Many people might experience loneliness or sadness this holiday season without the opportunity to gather with family and loved ones. Make plans to call loved ones, start new traditions, and celebrate a little differently this year. And, I encourage each of you to utilize these wellness resources.

Have a safe and joyful holiday season!