This is NOT the time to start a diet, make a resolution or begin a drastic health regimen. It IS a time to hunker down and hold on to our sanity, our composure, and our good judgment. We can think about a new routine in the new year.
Today I’d like to share some tips to help you enjoy all the goodness of the season, without any of the detrimental side-effects. That’s a big promise, but give these ideas a try and be sure to let me know how they helped you navigate the stress of the season.
This is so important that I devote an entire chapter to it in my book. This is my definition of Mindful Awareness: “To keenly observe at all times what is happening in your environment, your thoughts and actions, as well as the feelings and actions of those around you – without making judgements.”
I’ll bet you can already see how this pertains to holiday survival. From the disquiet that can arise at family gatherings to the apprehension in preparing and participating in holiday festivities, to finding a parking place in a crowded mall, observing your situation and the feelings that come up without making judgment, is a tall order.
This time of year can bring many of us to a state of angst, depression and sometimes full-blown anger.
Mindful Awareness can save the day. And there is so much to be aware of – but here’s a start. Begin to notice when your bodymind is signaling stress. It could show up as shallow breathing, hot flashes, agitation, or over reacting to a situation.
STOP! Observe what’s going on in your body and mind. You can’t control the behavior of others, the delay of a traffic jam, or the stores and markets swarming with frantic shoppers.
Choose calm. Remember what’s important to you - happiness, affection, well-being for you and your loved ones.
Breathe. You can always choose to breathe – in a car, in line at the market, or preparing a meal. Breathe. Slowly. In and out. Get the yammering irritating thoughts out of your head by counting your breaths. Inhale one. Exhale two. Inhale three. Exhale four - and so on. When you get to ten, if you are not settled down, start again at number one.
Judge not. Before we move to the next tip – let’s not forget the part about “not making judgments”. This is important for yourself as well as others.
We are guilty of this in traffic, at the grocery store, or anywhere when we perceive someone as being inconsiderate or thoughtless.
We also judge ourselves. You may find yourself using negative self-talk about how you look in that outfit or how well you manage entertaining for example.
Judging only hurts the one who judges. When you notice that demon judgement whispering in your ear, mentally eschew it. Remember this old saying “Get thee behind me Satan!”? Shoo that bad boy away and get on with the good stuff – enjoying your holidays.
Let’s talk indulgence.
It’s really important to reframe this notion. Most of us are blessed in that neither we nor our families are going without food or shelter. We have the ability to enjoy healthful living on a regular if not daily basis. The holidays don’t need to be an excuse to recklessly abandon sane sensible wellness behaviors.
Food. Food is food. It isn’t love. It doesn’t make you happy. Eating more of it certainly doesn’t make you happy. While we can delight in a beautifully prepared meal and the pleasure of delicacies we may not get to enjoy on a daily basis, having it in excess doesn’t enhance nor store the enjoyment for later. It just makes us miserable, and opens the door for that demon judgement.
So what do you do?
Slow down. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal that you are full and satisfied. Eat consciously and slowly. Take in the aromas. Savor the flavors as they roll around in your mouth. Thoroughly chew your food – without talking. Completely swallow before your next bite.
Along with this, recognize that there will likely be LOTS of great stuff to try and enjoy. My wonderful Aunt Mable, who lost over 100 pounds (and kept it off), told me the way she did it was to put what she wanted on her plate, and then take a spoonful of each item off.
Remember Aunt Mable.
Deliberately take smaller portions. You can always go back for more if you’re still hungry. You won’t starve.
Food preparation and selection
Most recipes call for almost twice as much sugar as needed to satisfy the sweetness of the recipe. If you are cooking or baking, reduce the amount of sugar called for by a third or even half. With some recipes, you may be able to substitute healthier choices such as maple syrup, raw honey, coconut sugar, dates or stevia.
If you are preparing a meal, select foods that have a lower glycemic index and more fiber. This helps prevent the blood sugar rise and fall that happens with simple carbohydrates. For example, substitute purple or red potatoes – with skin – for the traditional Idaho whites in mashed potatoes.
If you are consuming, keep in mind that in both the short and long run, sugar will make you feel bad. Whether it is sugar in the form of carbs such as mashed potatoes, or the sugar in alcohol, or the obvious sugar in deserts, just like the rule in cooking, cut it back to a third of a serving or split that slice of pie with someone who would also like to survive the holidays. Cutting back on sugar this season will make you feel so much better, less fatigued and more refreshed. We need that all the time – but especially during the holidays.
This is not the time to justify over consumption of alcohol. During the holidays alcohol related deaths increase dramatically, as much as 35%, for driving fatalities. Alcohol is a depressant. During the holiday season, we also see a rise in suicide attempts. Stay safe. Help keep your family and friends safe. Be smart about alcohol. Besides, who needs to ruin a beautiful day by feeling dreadful the day after over-indulging.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Staying hydrated is essential for your overall health and well-being every day of the year. The holidays can derail us in all kinds of ways. Air travel, alcohol, caffeine, and central heating can all contribute to dehydration. Don’t wait until January first to resolve to hydrate. Water is really best. Other options are unsweetened herbal teas, or perhaps coconut water. Please stay away from sugary drinks, artificial sweeteners and caffeine.
Staying hydrated will give you more energy, help your digestion, help prevent weight gain and ward off those nasty viruses that love to ruin your holidays.
Be creative. Have fun figuring out new ways to get your heart rate up a bit and your muscles pumping. Here are some ideas. Take the kids to a playground and do what they do. Play fetch with the dog. Take dance lessons. If you’re stuck inside check out some new YouTube videos, (or your favorite Pilates DVD J). Truthfully, one of the BEST things you can do for your body is WALK. Almost everyone can walk in some form or fashion, it doesn’t take special equipment and it’s something the whole family can enjoy together. Whatever you choose, do something everyday. Movement reduces stress, keeps your muscles and joints healthy and of course, burns calories. Be like Nike and “Just do it.”
Create “Me Time”
Whether it’s ten minutes of meditation or breath work, reading a good book, taking a hot bath or having a massage. “Me Time” is NOT a selfish act. It is soulful, nourishing and essential to your well-being. I encourage you to make this time quiet time. Put the rest of the world outside, like Fred Flintstone’s cat. Escape from the news, empty chatter, and electronic noise and light. This time should be nurturing and foster peace of mind.
When we have peace of mind, we can achieve peace in our bodies. With these two things, we can cultivate peace in our environment, in our communities and in the world around us. And what better way to celebrate this season, than creating a paradigm for world peace?
This is my holiday wish for you – health and happiness, wisdom and warmth, placidity and peace.
Until next time…
Be well my friends.
P.S. You can find fully expanded explanations of these concepts in “From Overwhelmed to Inspired”. What a great gift to yourself or a loved one and just the right size for a stocking!