Healthy Ways to Navigate the Holidays
Updated: Feb 1
It’s hard to believe that it’s already November and the holidays are right around the corner. The holiday season is a very joyous and fun time of year, but it can also come with a great deal of stress. I recently polled my community about the biggest wellness-related challenges they faced during the holidays, and here’s some of the top responses I received:
Stressing over trying to make the holidays “perfect” for everyone
Overindulging on holiday foods, especially sweets
Finding time to exercise, especially as days get shorter and colder
Prioritizing self-care and sleep when there’s so much on the “to-do” list
Can you resonate with any (or all of these)? If so, don’t fret! Read-on for Healthy Ways to Navigate the Holidays.
Tip #1: Stop striving for perfection
We all want to have a “perfect” holiday season…but what does that really mean? Perhaps you think back on your childhood and want to re-create those magical moments, or maybe you are trying to start your own holiday traditions. Whatever it is, I caution you that striving for perfection is one of the biggest causes of holiday stress. In my recent survey about the holidays, many of my respondents indicated that they feel stress, exhaustion, and even dread when they think about the holidays and this is largely because we put so much pressure on ourselves to create the perfect holiday experience. Is your focus on buying the perfect gifts, making the perfect meal, or throwing the perfect party? Do you feel the need to pack holiday activities into every free moment and say ‘yes’ to every party, gathering, or event? If so, then by the time the holidays arrive you may be so burned out and exhausted that it’s hard to even enjoy the moments with the ones you love most.
This year, I encourage you to stop striving for perfection. Pick one area that stresses you out the most and implement Precision Nutrition’s Three Ds: Delete, Delegate, Do Less model. First evaluate the activity that’s stressing you out the most. Are there parts that can be “deleted?” Maybe “nice to haves” that aren’t really necessary? Next, delegate. Are there things that have to get done, but not necessarily by you? If so, delegate! Ask your spouse, significant other, parent, friend, etc. if they can help you out. Finally, do less. This one is easier said than done, but I encourage you to give it a try! What is “good enough” for this particular thing? Do all the presents have to be meticulously wrapped in matching paper and bows? Probably not. Why not try gift bags instead. Does buying presents for your whole family stress you out? Propose a secret Santa or gift swap instead.
Likely you are putting a lot of this pressure on yourself. Set realistic expectations for the holidays and stop striving for perfection. You and everyone around you will have a happier holiday season when there’s less stress.
Tip #2: All foods can fit into a healthy diet, just practice moderation
Most holidays these days tend to revolve around food. Whether it be big family meals, special holiday traditions, or endless parties and functions. It seems like from mid-November to early-January is non-stop food temptations. Maybe this part of the holidays is what stresses you out most. Perhaps you are struggling with establishing healthy eating habits and you are afraid the holidays will derail any progress you’ve made. Or maybe you feel on track now but know you won’t be able to resist the holiday treat temptations. Wherever you are in your healthy eating journey I want you to remember this: all foods can fit into a healthy diet, just practice moderation. No one wants to feel like they are overly restricted during the holidays, right? Try these strategies below to help you navigate holiday meals and parties:
If someone else is hosting, ask if you can bring a healthy appetizer, main, side dish, or dessert
If you are hosting, great! That means you control the menu
Find healthy versions of your favorite holiday dishes (for example, check out this healthy green bean casserole)
Cook reasonable amounts of each dish so you aren’t overwhelmed with leftovers
Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables
Identify your "must have" food items that you really enjoy and take moderate size portions, then pass on foods that you can do without – especially when it comes to sweets
Take small portions to start, wait about 20 minutes and if you are still hungry, go back for another small portion
Consume alcohol in moderation
Tip #3: Work physical activity into your daily routine
I’m sure you know the tremendous physical, mental, and emotional benefits of exercise. Not only does being physically active help build muscle, strengthen your heart, and help with weight management, it’s also a great way to manage stress and boost your mood. However, despite all of the benefits, it’s easy to let your exercise routine slip during the holidays due to the shorter, colder, and busier days. Instead of falling off the exercise wagon this year, strive to work physical activity into your daily routine. Prioritizing exercise in the morning always helps, regardless of the time of year. Working out first thing in the AM ensures that you fit it in. If you wait until later in the day, it’s more likely you’ll get busy with your day and push exercise to the “later” bucket, decreasing the chances it will get done. There are also great opportunities to exercise with family and friends during this time of year. Sign-up for a holiday themed 5K run or walk, take a fun fitness class with friends, or play a friendly game of flag football with family during the holiday celebrations.
Outside of formal exercise, there are many ways to be physically active throughout the holiday season. Instead of driving to look at Christmas lights, try going for a walk in your neighborhood instead. Add some dancing to your holiday party. Even decorating your house can boost your activity (e.g., dragging boxes out of storage). Plan an active family outing, like bowling or ice skating, to bond with loved ones while also moving your body! Finally, set a holiday step challenge with a fun prize at the end to be awarded on New Year’s Day.
Tip #4: Recharge your battery with proper sleep and self-care
With a never-ending holiday to-do list it can be all too tempting to sacrifice sleep or self-care time, but skimping on these important wellness areas can really impact your physical and mental health. Ensure you are allocating at least 7-9 hours for sleep every night. Especially on the nights surrounding a given holiday. Staying up late cooking or wrapping presents will wear you out and deplete your energy to enjoy the actual holiday. Trouble falling asleep? Try a hot bath or shower about 90-minutes before bedtime to relax you. Waking up in the middle of the night stressing about your to-do list? Try “off-loading” your brain before bed into a journal or planning document and then keep a piece of paper on your bedside table to jot down any items you wake-up thinking about. This way you can document your thoughts somewhere and go back to sleep without worrying that you’ll forget in the morning.
As for self-care, it doesn’t have to be anything big or elaborate, it can be setting aside 5-10 minutes a day to enjoy a cup of tea and write in a journal. The holidays are also a great time to connect with family and friends, so perhaps plan a nice date night with your significant other or an outing with friends for a massage, pedicure, or even coffee. Self-care activities also make excellent gift ideas. Brainstorm a self-care checklist and then ask for gift certificates, baby sitting services, etc. to make those activities happen!
This is also a great time to practice the 3Ds (Delete, Delegate, and Do Less) that were discussed above. Focus on only what needs to get done, ask for help and support, and remember to embrace “good enough.” This model will help lower your stress and carve out more time for valuable sleep and self-care.
For more tips on reducing holiday stress, check out my interview on the Quiet Waters Podcast.
Until next time…Eat Well. Live Well. Be Well.