Healthy Holidays – Your guide to physical and emotional health for the holidays
By Rachel Eva Dew, DNM, PhD.
Don’t just survive the holiday season, set yourself up to THRIVE! The holiday season has officially arrived holding all the joys, pains, fears, expectations, anxieties, to-do lists and other challenges we are ANTICIPATING. Maybe, just maybe THIS holiday season can be different. Maybe instead of surviving the holidays, you can THRIVE through the season. How? It will take intentionality, a willingness to shift your mind set and actions to reflect those. It will take a pro-active approach versus a reactive approach. What do you think? Are you up for the challenge? Although this may take planning and work, aren’t the benefits of a THRIVING holiday season worth the efforts of taking steps now?
Physical health for the holidays
The number one approach that I recommend is taking a BALANCED APPROACH. This season is typically filled with sugary treats, high calorie meals chocked full of excess carbohydrates and more ‘laying around’ than usual. Allowing yourself the space and freedom to full celebrate with loved ones is important, but without a balanced approach you can easily find yourself come January 2nd that you have had significant health and wellbeing setbacks.
Try to limit sugar and carbohydrate intake… a celebratory meal on a holiday doesn’t need to become a two-week sugar-fest! Again, take the balanced approach. Eat smaller, more frequent meals that are as balanced as possible… lean protein, lots of fresh greens and don’t forget the healthy fats (avocado, nuts, egg yolks and olive oil).
Move Your Body
Get up and move frequently, it’s even better if you can get outside! Take walks or play sports, garden, or partake in outdoor games with your loved ones. Exercise where you can and most importantly have fun with exercise and movement… be consistent.
Water, water, water
Make sure that you are getting enough water! This is so important to help your body function properly. It will also help support your liver, kidneys, brain and immune system. With all the alcohol, holiday drinks and merriment it is easy to become dehydrated. Even low-level dehydration has a negative impact on your body. I typically recommend ½-1 ounce of water per body pound of your weight each day.
Amidst the holiday foods, stress, and travel, often the balance of your gut health will shift. You can easily support gut health with all the other recommendations within this article. Also consider adding pre and probiotics as well as digestive enzymes to your holiday routine.
Sleep is critically important to healthy hormone function, stress, immune system function, gut health and even mental health. Often when we travel or shift our routines it can throw off our circadian rhythm – a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. When your sleep cycle is thrown off it can have a significant negative impact! Try these simple steps to increase your sleep quality and support a balanced circadian rhythm:
1. Turn off all electronics 60-90 minutes before bed
2. Sleep in total darkness (wear an eye mask)
3. Give yourself time to wind-down and relax before bed
4. Focus on getting 8 hours of sleep
Stress is one of the leading contributors to illness, disease, and decreased wellness. The holidays can be a more stressful time for many of us. It is important to take a three-step approach to stress:
1. Decrease stress intentionally where you can
2. Manage the stress that you have through mindfulness, self-care and meditation
3. Apply tools and techniques to increase your capacity to deal with stress with things like proper sleep, rest, self-care, exercise and healthy nutrition
Mental and emotional wellbeing is a HUGE contributing factor for health (or lack of health). So create a plan to protect, honor and care for your mental and emotional wellness during the holidays.
Speaking of mental and emotional wellness…
Emotional health for the holidays
First, commit to approaching the upcoming season with the following mindset:
I can only change me, my perspective and how I experience things. And because I can change these things, I can experience the holiday season how I want to experience them.
Second, decide to proactively approach the holiday season with intention, attention & intentional action.
Intention, Attention & Intentional Action
Here are some additional ‘how to’ steps that you can take to create the THRIVING holiday season you desire, so grab a pen and a notebook and answer these questions as boldly and honestly as you can:
1. What DO you want?
Many times, people spend their time and energy focused on what they DON’T want…so what is it that you DO want to have, do or experience this holiday season? Remember to keep your answers focused on yourself, meaning do not list all the things you want other people or circumstances to be, do or behave like. Instead, list what YOU want to experience, do or have… these are the things that you will be able to impact and shift.
For example, I may want my crazy aunt Nancy to not be so critical of me. Since I certainly can’t control or change her, I would refocus my goal on what I can control…my mind set, my reactions, my experience of Nancy. What that could look like is; ‘if Nancy gets critical towards me I don’t want to lose my temper, I want to experience peace and loving thoughts no matter what anyone else behaves like’.
So now, make a list of what it is that you really, really want to have, do and experience this holiday season.
2. Ask yourself why, what is the motivation behind your wants and actions.
Next, take that list that you made and for each thing that you wrote down that you wanted to have, do and/or experience, ask yourself ‘WHY, what is the motivation behind my wants?’, write down your answers and be honest with yourself. You may be surprised at what you discover. The truth will set you free, free from negative emotions and beliefs or mind sets that keep you from what you want.
3. Write down your expectations and then edit them to be boundaries you set for yourself NOT for them.
First write down your expectations, expectations are like wants that we project with emotion attached to them, for example… I expect nice gifts or else it means I am not loved enough. Give yourself permission to rlet loose and write every expectation that you may have no matter how big, small, unrealistic, simple or outlandishly ridiculous it may be… write it all down in a list format.
Next, let’s take a look at boundaries. I used to think boundaries were something you told people that expressed what they could and could not do within a relationship with me. This could not be further from the truth, what I just described is ‘being controlling; not ‘setting a boundary’. Boundaries are the perimeters we set for ourselves with ourselves. It’s the agreements we make in order to lovingly take care of ourselves in the world and in relationships with others. So now that I have explained the difference take that list of expectations you have and write a boundary for yourself next to each.
This is an example of what it could look like:
1. I have an expectation that everyone will get along/ I set a boundary with myself that if people begin to fight that I will not participate and I will go for a walk.
2. I have an expectation that I will eat too much and feel terrible afterwards/ I will set a boundary with myself that I will eat whatever I want but I will eat small portions and then go for a long walk outside afterwards.
4. Go in ‘full’ not ‘empty’.
This is where getting serious about being proactive is the rubber meeting the road so to speak, if you want to THRIVE this holiday season STOP RIGHT NOW and plan some serious rest and renewal time ASAP! If you go into the season worn out, drained and on empty what do you have to offer yourself or the ones you love? You can’t write a check on an overdrawn bank account. Make some serious deposits now!
Write a few ideas for things you can do to replenish your energy and go into the season renewed and revitalized.
5. Make a self-care sandwich.
What is a sandwich? Well, you take two pieces of bread and put something in the middle, then you have a sandwich. What I am inviting you to do is to create a self-care sandwich around each and every holiday event throughout the season. The acts of self-care will be your bread (one on either side) and the holiday event will be the center.
This allows you to go in full as well as restore yourself before returning to life’s daily demands. This can look any way that you find helpful. One example is, say you go fly to visit family Friday thru Monday one week over the holidays. A good self-care sandwich could look like also taking Thursday and Tuesday off of work and having a pajama and movie marathon day at home. Self-care actions can be anything that help you feel recharged, renewed and relaxed.
Go ahead and write down your holiday event plans and then write down some ideas to create ‘self-care sandwiches’ around them.
6. Ask yourself what can I let go of in order to create more of what I do want?
Often people get very attached to the way they see things or their opinion about the way something is supposed to go. I invite you to let go of these types of beliefs and mind sets that may limit you from experiencing and creating a thriving holiday season. What do you need to let go of in order to create or experience more of what you DO want? It might be letting go of being right, or of being perfect, or of trying to fulfill or be what you think others want or need you to be. Or it may be something else.
Write a list of the things you need to let go of in order to create more of what you do want during the holidays. Then take a look at that list and ask yourself if you are truly willing to let that stuff go. Then hold yourself accountable to really let it go. You may have to remind yourself numerous times not to jump back on that old hamster wheel and take another spin or two round and round. That’s ok, just stick with your agreement with yourself to let it go, remind yourself and redirect your thoughts to what you do want to create instead.
7. Approaching it all in a balanced way.
When I was young, I would party on full blast and whatever the consequences were from lack of sleep, etc. I would simply deal with them when they came around… that was not a mature approach to celebration or to living life. When we are intentional and balanced, we get the outcome we want.
I invite you to budget, budget your time, energy, and money. Give yourself some parameters of what IS balanced celebration of these holidays for you. That may mean eating one cookie but not 20. It may mean buying smaller gifts or committing to fewer events. If you have celebrated at least a few holidays in your life you probably have some idea what has felt unbalanced or ‘over the top’ or has led to negative results and what has felt balanced and positive.
Write about what you feel would be balanced for you during this holiday season. Make a game plan! May you experience joy, love, peace and balance this holiday season exactly the way you desire it to be!