The following tips can help us connect to our inner strength to stay on track as we enjoy the time of year heavily associated with stuffing our faces and battles to the death over holiday deals.
Refresh your goals
We consistently need to remind ourselves of why we do what we do. If health is one of our values, we can still carry that with us as we enjoy ourselves. Oftentimes the stress we put ourselves through is a bigger detriment to our health than that extra bite of pumpkin pie. Instead we can sit down, reprioritize and explicitly write out the few things we want to focus on during this stressful time. Maybe you can bring an extra dish of vegetables to the family dinner, or go on a long walk after the big meals.
Fall and winter months are times to give thanks for the work we’ve done this year and reap the benefits of our harvest, not a time to be stabbing people over a popular Christmas gift. Stay focused and keep things in perspective!
With tables full of dense, winter foods, it can be easy to get caught up and eat far too much too fast. Here it is important to remember that the enjoyment and nourishment we receive from a meal often has little to do with how much we eat, but rather how we eat it. There are some simple ways to slow down and enjoy our food that won’t leave us passed out on the couch.
Start off slow by taking only small amounts of your favorite dishes. There’s always the opportunity for seconds so there’s no need to fill our plates right at the beginning. Take time to look at and smell the food. Notice the wood-like grain of the turkey pieces and how the Brussel sprouts stack on top of one another. We can move the food around with our forks to study and play with the food as our bodies prepare to fully digest it. Taking small bites and enjoying the flavors and textures will help us avoid overeating, as will staying aware of our heart and belly as we eat instead of getting wrapped up in the drama or craziness of the family coming together.
One big tip is to take a mid-meal break when we are halfway through our plate just to pause and breathe. Noticing how the food feels when its inside our stomachs can encourage our body to more fully digest it, and this will give our body time to communicate the satiety signal so we can be full and satisfied rather than bloated and uncomfortable.
It’s a natural pattern to slow down our movement during the winter months, but that’s not an excuse to stop moving alltogether. Even if intense weightlifting or crossfit workouts seem less appealing, relaxing walks, hikes or yoga classes can be a great way to stay active without adding to the stress. I like to find quick and simple bodyweight exercises like squats, pushups, dips and/or pull ups to do first thing in the morning just to get my body warmed up and get some blood flowing. Something like sun salutations are a time tested exercise for this. I might only do a couple reps and a little stretching. Just enough to feel good about the start of my day and to get me ready for the things I need to get done.
If going to a gym is not something you enjoy doing, then don’t stress about it. We don’t want to separate movement from our daily life anyway. We can find fun and simple ways to keep our body moving that adds pleasure to our life rather than costing willpower. Play a sport with your friends, play with your animals, pop in the earbuds and go for a long walk outside. Whatever you can do that works with your lifestyle and gives your body nourishment, do it!
Embrace the cold
Unless we live close to the equator, winter is a time of coldness. For many people, this can be quite dreadful, but I just want to offer another perspective here. Cold is not inherently a bad thing. We have the option of instead of cringing and shivering every time we go outside to really feel the cold just as a wonder of nature—a balance to the blazing heat of summer. It’s another sensation for us to experience and it can be a very nourishing one.
What happens to most people when they experience an initially uncomfortable sensation is to hold the breath and tense the body. This gets the stress chemicals firing and prepares our body for war. I invite you to try not doing that. Instead, when you feel that initial wave of discomfort, inhale and exhale completely, feeling how the energy of breathing can flow through your whole body to keep you warm. Pay attention to any tension that may be blocking the flow and allow yourself to relax that part of the body. Challenge yourself to get outside with less clothing than you might have previously. Stay a little longer and move past the initial stress response to let yourself relax and breathe. Consuming adequate water, fats and consistent protein can help tremendously as well.
Manage your stress
The biggest challenge of the holiday season is the crazy stress that our society encourages us to experience. Whether it’s trying to navigate the masses to find the right gift or orchestrating the coming together of family, there’s no shortage of stimulus to take our energy. This time, more than many others is important to maintain a regular stress management practice. Whether it’s breathing exercises, meditation, exercise or some sort of creative expression, remember to make time for the things that let you make time for everything else. We can only push ourselves so much before the universe pushes back. The universal principle of balance tells us that we can only work as much as we relax and we have to respect this.
This is both the simplest and the most difficult tip I have for you and one of the biggest challenges we face as a culture. Media, culture and society tells us that we always have to be doing something or working hard, but that’s not the whole story. We must also take time to do nothing. Sometimes working our stress management into a busy schedule can itself become stressful!
Just remember that in every moment, you have the opportunity to return to your breath and exhale completely. The exhale is the time to relax, let go and prepare to be given another inhale. Use these exhales to relax as completely as you can and leave the mind alone for a moment. Find these moments throughout your day to come back to center, and that will allow the stress to flow through you instead of it getting trapped in your body. When we are centered, we can focus on the positive aspects of these holidays: the spirits of love, gratitude, giving and community. These are the things that deserve space within our body.
So just remember to take care of yourself as you take care of others this holiday. Relax as much as you stress and give as much as you receive. Oh, and as always, smile :)