“The holidays are coming!” should be a joyous cry of delight. Unfortunately for someone trying to maintain healthy changes and stick to their wellness plan, it can sound like a warning from a watchtower that the barbarians are about to invade and pillage our progress!
You know the fear. Every conceivable effort to knock you off your wellness wagon is on it’s way. We’re talking sugar, massive carbo-loading lethargy, parties, workplace holiday treats to share (and jettison onto our poor colleagues). Much too much television sports and holiday specials. Sedentary times are coming along with empty calories and everybody’s favorite - stress!
Seems like it’s a double-edged sword. Family get-togethers can be stressful but they also provide the connectedness we thrive on. Holiday food traditions are way up on our lists of both “danger foods” and foods we absolutely love. Comfort food was invented here. Give me some version of my Mom’s Date & Nut Pinwheel Cookies and I’m in heaven!
So, how can we be “well” throughout the holidays? Here’s a few thoughts to keep in mind and some strategy to help you continue your forward momentum toward your wellness visions by applying “The Ten Tenets of Wellness” (see article on our website resources section) Tenet Number Nine: “You don’t have to be perfect to be well.”
If you are staying on track with your wellness journey on a truly regular basis, you can afford a “free day”. Just don’t kid yourself about how many of these you are taking! Now you may be someone who really does have to “stay on the wagon”. You know that you really do have medical restrictions, or perhaps you know that when it comes to something like sugar there is no “just a little bit” or “just one day”. For you it’s not about perfection, it’s about realizing that the price just isn’t worth paying.
For most folks though, staying active physically and following your own wellness plan can allow you to kick back and watch all of those football games with family and know that it’s not the way you spend every weekend. You eat so well six days a week that this holiday you can allow your guidelines to slide. A key to all of this is TRACKING. Tracking when you are active, and when you are eating well vs. allowing exceptions keeps you honest with yourself. You avoid the self-BS’ing behavior that gets you in trouble. Make “exceptions to the rule” very conscious. Write them down if you need to, you may never keep track otherwise. A string of office parties, social events, rendezvous with old friends, visiting relatives and your own proclivity for baking those cookies, etc. will knock you way off the wellness wagon if you don’t keep track by writing it all down!
Wellness does not mean SELF-DENIAL, it means SELF-PERMISSION. Self-permission means consciously CHOOSING how to live your life every day. Every day including holidays. Be realistic and compassionate with yourself. This is NOT a time to make up for “sins of the past”! Holidays are a time to deeply enjoy traditions, family, friends, and connectedness. They aren’t a time to start a diet or clamp down and “Scrooge” yourself into being well!
Another way to be more conscious about the holidays is to make AGREEMENTS with friends and family about HOW you want to experience the holidays. It may mean sticking to some wonderful traditions, it may mean experimenting with something very different! You may decide to spend some time volunteering to help others. You may collectively decide to abandon expensive gift giving among your tribe of independent young adult children. You may explore ways to make the holidays more about experience than about things. That will cut down on the financial stress for sure. You may look at how your family is living and decide to replace lots of gifts for your kiddos with time together with them. More “stuff” does not make up for the time you are not spending with them as any kid or therapist will tell you!
Some of that time together and new ways to experience the holiday season may include being physically active! Hey, why not have this time of year be one where you may even get more movement and fun instead of less? Hike, bike, walk, ski, snowshoe, make snowmen, and above all, have fun!
The mid-winter time of year in the Northern Hemisphere has always been a time of slowing down, drawing back and going within, both in terms of physically and spiritually. It is a great time for reflection, for not-doing over doing. What a great time to sit with a cup of coffee or tea and read a great book, or write in your journal! It may be a time when you choose to go deeper into the spiritual traditions of your faith, or a time to explore what new shape and direction all of that needs to take for you. It may be a great time to, ironically, rest. Mid-winter is a great time to “honor the Yin”, the quiet, the passive, the restful, the rejuvenating, instead of the active, frantic and stressed-out. You may want to claim this time of year as your time to rest and renew. Doing less may benefit you more. Give yourself permission to say no to a lot of good things.
It may also be a time to fill your own cup with friendship, but do it in a less stressful way. Instead of being the “hostess with the mostess”, go for the potluck model. Make getting together with friends a priority but make conscious agreements with them to emphasize the getting together not the “entertaining”. Make your HOLIDAY MANTRA: DO IT THE EASY WAY!
It all starts with another “mindset shift”. If you see the holidays as a gauntlet of obligations and stressful events to be run, then it will be. If you see it as an opportunity to slow down, honor the season, honor your own needs as well as the true needs of others, a chance to connect and love, a time to add to your own spiritual reservoir, then it will be just that.
Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC