How to Make the Most of Your Holiday Break

(CBS News) Whether you’re going on vacation, heading to a relative’s house, or spending quiet nights at home, the holidays are a great time to recharge. But if the last-minute shopping frenzy, holiday travel and family drama are stressing you out, it can take some extra effort to focus on your well-being so you can start the new year feeling rejuvenated.

“For many people, this is generally a time of year when there is reflection about how their year has gone, what they’re looking forward to in the coming year, and depending on their cultures, this can be a meaningful time for a variety of different religious expressions or just spirituality,” Jane Ehrman, a behavioral health specialist at the Wellness Institute of Cleveland Clinic, told CBS News.

Ehrman offers the following tips to make the most out of the time you have this holiday season.

Focus on gratitude, goodness, and generosity

“For all the things that are going on in our personal lives, in our communities, in our country and in the world that can be so stress-provoking – and this year has been particularly strong in those ways – there are a lot more things going on in our lives that are positive and good,” Ehrman said. “If we can focus on those, that increases our mood and our energy and gives us a bigger picture perspective.”

She recommends focusing on the goodness in your life by making time to express gratitude for those things. Keeping a journal in which you write several things you’re grateful for every day can help maintain your focus. “Sometimes it’s just the most basic things,” Ehrman said. “You woke up today. Some people didn’t.”

Finally, practicing generosity can go a long way in improving your mood and your overall outlook on life. “It isn’t just about opening your wallet – and for some people there may not be a lot in the wallet,” Ehrman said, “but it’s opening your heart and focusing on looking for the good in others.”

Visiting a nursing home or serving a meal to those in need are just some ways you can give back to others.

Slow down and disconnect

For much of the year, most of us are constantly on the move. The holidays can be a good time to slow down and remind yourself of what’s really important in life.

Ehrman suggests spending extra time with loved ones, going outside to take a walk (particularly after meals), and letting yourself sleep in an extra hour if you are able to.

Importantly, she says now is the time to disconnect from social media and put your smartphone down. “Interact with people face to face. Talk on the phone with people who are at a distance and connect with people that way,” Ehrman said. “Get real and up close with people. That has a lot of meaning and it can be very powerful.”

Allow your real feelings

For many people, the holidays aren’t the joyous occasions often portrayed in movies or on television.

Whether it’s because of the loss of a loved one or feelings of loneliness and isolation, if you’re feeling blue this time of year, be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to be sad.

“Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling rather than stuff it down,” Ehrman said. “Often, rather than feeling uncomfortable we tend to try to eat or blank it out or escape somehow. Admit to yourself that you are feeling sad and that this is a difficult time. Just being able to say that out loud to yourself can take some of that sting and ache out of your heart.”

Giving yourself space is also important. If you’re not feeling in a jolly mood or like you want to be around a lot of people, don’t force yourself to go to a party. Rather, make time to be alone and process your emotions.

However, make sure you have some balance. “What you give attention to gets bigger. So the more you focus on how alone you are and how different it is and how sad the loss is, in some ways the worse you feel,” Ehrman said. “So shift that while you’re also validating the fact that this is a difficult time.”

If you make a New Year’s resolution, make it attainable

Many people see the new year as a time to set goals. But if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution before, you know how easy it can be to let it fall by the wayside once February or March rolls around.

One way to make a resolution easier to stick with is to make it realistic, achievable and measurable. Stay away from generalizations like “I want have a healthier diet” or “I’m going to exercise more.”

“Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to eat better,’ say ‘I’m going to make sure I eat at least three servings of vegetable a day and my goal is to make it to four or five,’” Ehrman said.

Chart your progress in a diary or on a smartphone app so you can keep track of how well you’re doing and where you may need extra work.

If you have to work, take extra care of yourself

Unfortunately, many people do not get time off for the holidays and this time of year can be even more hectic than usual. Doctors, nurses, health care workers, police officers, firefighters, and hospitality staff are just some of the professions that can come with added stresses this season.

Ehrman recommends taking extra care of yourself at this time by eating nutritious foods and making sure you get the proper amount of sleep to be able to take on the challenges of the day.

Don’t forget the importance of alone time

“So often we’re so busy being with family and participating in events that we don’t make space to just be by ourselves and just be quiet and rest a little bit,” Ehrman said.

This may be difficult for many, as society conditions us to be constantly on the move and doing things – nobody wants to be considered lazy.

But the holidays are a great time to sit back and enjoy some time on our own.

“Alone time is really high-quality time,” Ehrman said, “to just sit and be without an agenda. We need to re-teach ourselves that this is quality time, too. And by doing that, you’re softening muscles, your respirations are deeper, your heart rate comes down, and that can help you feel better.”

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