December is finally here! Which means that my Spotify is set to play carols non-stop, festive lights are going up and holiday goodies are everywhere. Grocery stores, farmer’s markets, our workplaces – everywhere we turn there are temptations that are just too good to turn down! This gauntlet of goodies would be enough to maneuver on it’s own, but December has a slew of stressful aspects. There’s the temperature drop – brrr! – and the gloomy gray skies that seem to be swooping in on a near-daily basis. Not to mention all those gifts to buy, relatives to say hi to and the constant time-crunch that goes with it all. So how do people stay healthy during a stress-filled month when they’re run down from extra social activities and sweets are getting passed around faster than the cold in kindergarten??
The truth is that most people don’t.
That’s because too few of us go into December with a solid self-care plan – which means that most of us experience burnout on some levels. Want to beat the odds? Here’s how you can make this your happiest, healthiest holiday season yet!
Keep Up Your Exercise Routine
As I discussed in my article No Excuses November, it’s ideal if you can head into December with a solid workout routine already under your belt. If you’re late to the table, however, don’t fret! Find a few classes at your gym or download a free app such as the “Nike Training Club” and get moving! Aim for 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity movement per week. Feeling pinched for time? Three 30 minute sessions of cardio or strength exercises, combined with 10,000 steps a day will keep you in great shape!
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is always crucial, but it can be hard to come by in a month packed with late night holiday events. As tempting as it is to gab into the early AM and be the life of the party at every party, it’s just not possible. Pick your “priority parties” that you feel strongly are worth skimping on a bit of sleep for and make yourself head home at a reasonable hour for the rest. It might feel like you’re missing out a bit in the moment, but keeping yourself healthy and sane for the month will help ensure that you don’t have to miss out on anything entirely due to illness or exhaustion.
Let The Guilt Go
If you eat a cookie, you eat a cookie. If you eat five cookies, you eat five cookies. Let your nibbling and noshing be happy and delicious. Period. There’s no room for guilt at the table, so try not to second guess the second helping you just had. No more room? Say no. That’s okay too. But try not to beat yourself up about a few extra treats – it’s normal to indulge from time to time! Besides, sometimes it’s fun to eat a bit more than you expect to just because something is so delicious, or because you’re sharing it with friends and loved ones. Savor the moment, then move on and let that be that.
Reduce Added Sugars When Alone
Y’all know I eat and enjoy sugar (I wrote about that in my Why I Eat Sugar piece), but I will admit to being wary of eating too much of it, particularly during the holidays. That’s because sugar has an addictive quality on the brain, meaning that the more you eat the more you crave. And while it’s all fine and well to ignore a craving now and then, it can be – really – difficult to do so during the holidays when the source of that craving is all around! Skipping added sugars and sweeteners during the day (particularly when you know you have festive goodies ahead of you that night!), can be beneficial to both the body and the brain. Just make sure you don’t get so strict that you end up binging at night! Pro Tip: I like to eat a high sugar fruit (such as a banana or some Craisins), in the afternoon so that I feel satisfied and don’t go overboard when I start to eat cookies or chocolate with friends later in the evening! Simple, but effective!
Spend Time Outdoors
Even if you aren’t ready to sing “Let it Go” at the top of a mountain a la Frozen’s Elsa, getting some outdoor time in is important for overall holistic health. Studies have shown that being outside in nature has a calming effect on people, even boosting depression and reducing anxiety. Still not enough to make you get outside and go? Nature is the ultimate, FREE gym! Go for a run, a walk, or even make your own circuit using park benches for push ups and tricep dips!
Limit Alcohol to Social Occasions
I know, I know, technically this goes under the “Reduce Added Sugars When Alone” category. But it’s so important that it deserves a bullet of it’s own! After all, for many people alcohol is the #1 weight gain culprit of the season. Why? Because the body breaks down alcohol into glycogen, the same way it does cookies or cake. The way to think about it is this: one glass of wine = one small slice of cake. And while a slice or two of (anti-oxidant rich!) “cake” is relatively harmless, the added sugar can make you feel bloated and add to your waistline. An easy trick is to save the alcohol for social occasions and special events this month. Lord knows there will be enough of them!
Drink Enough Water
Help your kidneys flush out your system by giving yourself six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. This will help your digestive system to work optimally – goodbye, belly bloat! – and keep you hydrated and feeling fresh during a month full of high sodium dishes and cranked up indoor heating. Can’t bear to drink just plain water? Add a slice or two of cucumber or a few pieces or mint to your water bottle to keep it interesting.
Be In the Moment
Getting mindful is all the rage these days. And for good reason! Meditation and mindfulness have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression and have a calming effect on people. Which is why, in a month prone to shopping madness, social exhaustion and potentially stressful interactions with relatives and friends alike, being in the moment can make all the difference. Try setting a timer for three minutes a day and just sitting, focusing on your breathing. Need a bit more structure? 4-7-8 breathing is my go-to. Inhale for four counts, hold your breath in for seven counts and then exhale for eight counts. Keeping your mind on your breath will give you a moment of peace in an otherwise hectic season and will help you to reset and take a step back from the chaos around you. The best part is that you can always skip the timer and just do a few 4-7-8 breaths wherever you are, whenever you need them!
Despite the chaos, December really is a magical month. It’s the time for being with those we love and for wishing others well, to celebrate the lights in a gloomy time of year and to think back and appreciate all that we’ve done with the past year. Yes, the stress of the season can be infectious. But if you follow the self-care tips above and keep focused on the core of the season (that includes keeping the little Grinch on your shoulder quiet!), it truly can be the best time of the year!
If you have any other self-care tips for the holidays I’d love to hear them! Share below please!