Health and Fitness

8 Ways to Make Exercising About Joy During the Holidays—Not Guilt or Shame


While it’s not necessarily possible to avoid all of the shoulds and the other triggers that stick to everything worse than holiday glitter, there are some things you can do to protect your peace during this time. Here are a few things that I have found helpful for myself to ward off the guilt surrounding movement and food and maybe—hopefully!—convert it into some joy instead.

1. Check in with yourself in an extra mindful way.

Yes, you should be checking in with yourself regularly. Taking the time to pay attention to your needs and what you’re feeling should be a go-to whether it’s the holidays or any random Tuesday. But since this time of year can bring conflict and loneliness right alongside the comfort and joy, it’s especially needed. Be extra mindful in asking yourself, what will bring you joy? And then act on whatever that is as much as you can.

Maybe it’s eating your grandmother’s homemade cookies. Maybe it’s journaling whatever you’re feeling. Or maybe it’s going on a long run while everyone else is out shopping. I’ve learned that as an introverted extravert, I love being around people, but I also need to step back and recharge alone. While this isn’t only particular to the holidays, it’s exemplified this time of year. Things like holiday mall shopping, a lot of small talk, and gatherings with any drama or tension tends to sap a lot of my energy. Movement is an antidote for me, so getting outside to be by myself on a run or walk can be enough to recharge me and really change my whole vibe. So for me, solo exercise is something that pops up frequently during my self check-in. Not to get all Marie Kondo on you, but there is no better time to lean into whatever sparks a whole bunch of joy than the holidays.

2. Ask yourself to expand on the “why” that’s driving your guilt.

If during your self check-ins, you notice that you feel like you are forcing yourself to do something or not do something, press pause and ask yourself why. Same if you feel guilty about making or not making a certain choice. What or who is behind this?

And think: If you were to do it, would there be any joy at the end? Say, for instance, you have already been over-training, over-working, over-socializing, and under-sleeping, but your sister pressures you to join her for a 6 a.m. fitness class when all you really want to do is sleep. Chances are, there’s probably not a lot of joy there. In that case, I suggest you go back to #1 and note how you are feeling and where you can bring in joy instead.

3. Give yourself permission.

Period. For whatever. If you need to get away from family and go for a walk or go to the gym, great, go. If you need to cancel your workout and take a rest day so that you can bake with your kids or nieces and nephews, great, do that. If you need to walk away from a conversation, do that. Giving yourself the permission to decide for yourself how you want to spend your own time—and the grace to understand that your decision is valid—can be a great antidote for the guilt that circulates during this time. Doing this can be tricky, but enlisting a friend to help encourage you to prioritize yourself can be helpful, as SELF reported previously. So can writing down an affirmation on your phone (or even just a reminder in your notes)—and re-reading it when you find yourself struggling to give yourself that permission.

4. Take the opportunity to switch up your routine.

If you’re traveling or staying with friends and family, allow yourself the chance to do something different. This can be especially helpful if you notice in your self-inventory that your regular workout routine is sparking less joy than usual or if you’re feeling the monotony of it. “Different” can mean taking a rest week, enjoying touristy walks, trying local fitness classes (check for mask and vaccine mandates!), playing in the snow, or just doing some at-home mobility work. Or maybe it’s about bringing in a social aspect to your fitness routine—say, by meeting up with visiting friends for a hike, or taking a walking tour together around the city instead of navigating by car.



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