Ah, the holiday season is here.
This is, for many, the busiest and most stressful time of year.Â At the same time it gets darker, colder and the desire to hibernate or dive into a vat of mashed potatoes escalates, so does the demand to be out later, socialize more, and add more to the to-do list, all while maneuvering through workplaces teeming with cookies and candies, parties laced with fattening finger-foods, and a near obscene cultural inundation of temptations. It’s the annual leap off the bandwagon into the cycle of sleep deprivation, caffeination, sugar saturation and neglected self-care that brings us, exhausted, to our ritual of penance the first week of January.
Staying sane and balanced over the next 2 months does NOT have to be a formidable challenge. Whatever success looks like for you, it can be achieved. The first step in success is identifying what you want to be different this year, then brainstorming ways to create change that allow you to participate in the holiday season without leaving your needs at the door.
For some, that may mean taking a pause on weight loss for weight maintenance, others may define their success this year by making sure they maintain their exercise. This can be done by setting a specific goal to train for, such as a holiday 5k or 10k, or it may mean making regular appointments with a trainer to keep you on task. Perhaps the most important change you can make is to emphasize the connection to friends and family this holiday season, and forgo as much of the gift-hunting and big parties as you can get away with for smaller, more meaningful connections. Some friends of mine have taken to holiday gift-making parties, where we come together as a group and make bath salts, soaps, or lotions to give to others. It allows us to spend quality time together and have a small homemade gift to give to others. This is a much meaningful way to spend a few hours than pacing through a shopping mall or browsing on the internet.
The greatest gift you can give to anyone in your life is your presence and your happiness. By committing to Radical Self Care, you allow yourself to be in the right frame of mind to present your best self to others. So how do you put the YOU back in yuletide?
1) Take stock of what is: what are the habits and tendencies that tear you down? What area of your life is calling for your attention, or would give you the greatest reward for your time and effort? What do you want to do differently this year?
2) Assess the tools and support you already have: maybe you have a colleague who has an unwavering commitment to walks during lunch. Join her. Maybe you have a friend or family member that you can ask advice of, or someone to join you and hold you accountable. This may be the time to hire the trainer you’ve been spying on at the gym or the one you met at that networking event over the summer. Now can be the time to get external support for your food challenges so you can make it through the holiday without regrets. In your energy levels are a challenge, this is an ideal time to work on correcting those, since holidays tend to be especially draining. What if you made it to January without the feeling that you had to undo damage?
3) Set reasonable expectations: You know your challenges. You know what is on your plate. Set yourself up for success by making goals which challenge you to live life differently, but do not ask you to revolutionize your entire life during one of the busiest times of the year. Sometimes it is helpful to bounce your ideas off a trusted friend to make sure you aren’t being too hard on yourself, or too easy either!
4) Measure your progress: Record your progress, be it in hours slept, number of workouts, inches lost, or the number of times you said yes to YOU when it would have been the norm to say yes to someone else. For weight loss or maintenance folks, I will let you know I am not a big fan of the scale – it does not differentiate between fat, water, or muscle and weight tends to fluctuate based on salt, hormones, changes in workouts, etc. Measurements, photos and how your clothing fits are far more accurate indicators of healthy fat loss. Also assess how you feel. Rate your energy level, motivation, digestion, and overall happiness. These are just as important as your body size, if not more so.
5) Identify Rewards and Consequences: Take this beyond “I will feel proud of myself” and “I will look better”. Celebrate in a big way by gifting yourself something you typically reserve only for special occasions or not at all. This could be a manicure, a massage, a weekend out of town…something which gets you excited and can be the carrot you dangle in front of yourself when you feel discouraged. Also, it can be helpful to offer a consequence as well. What is your payment for neglecting yourself? When I started instigating consequences for my own inaction, I started getting more $*!* done!Â It turns out making a donation to a cause that is against my moral fiber is a strong motivator for me to push past fear and get started on a book idea that I have. Telling myself I would quit doing something I loved was the motivation I needed to take action and rise from mediocre to excellent in my own training. What kind of external consequence would motivate you to make the changes you know are best for you?
6) Success takes planning, not luck: Have healthy options available to you at all times. Cook in larger portions and freeze extras for later in the week or when you know you will be too busy or tired to cook. If you are extremely busy,Â it is vitally important that you have plenty of frozen vegetables, bagged salad mixes, and other ready-to-eat healthy options waiting for you.Â VIBRANCE client Briana Rognlin summed up some great ideas we discussed in her article on what to do when you are too tired or busy to cook. Click here to read more.
Here are some personal rules I use to reduce the pressure and stress of the holidays:
* I buy in bulk and cook in quantity: By purchasing 4-5 pounds of chicken breasts, -3 pounds of fish, I can cook everything up in one big batch and have it on hand to quickly grab and munch when I need to. Right now there are a lot of brussel sprouts with cranberries and turkey bacon roasting in the oven, and my George Forman grill gets a run for its money every weekend. If something happens and I am ill-prepared, I will stop and get a rotisserie chicken or some sushi at the grocery store for a quick and easy meal.
* I politely request gift-free holidays and pepper my year with ‘I love you’ gifts for friends and family so they know I care all throughout the year, not just during the holidays (mind you, I don’t have children, and I am aware this is a luxury not everyone has). For those I know who feel compelled to give I encourage experiential gifts, donations made in my name, or gift cards to places I frequently shop. This is a general, not hard and fast, rule I have. Sometimes I will find an “I love you” gift in the fall and save it for the holidays.
* I only commit to the parties that mean the most to me, and I come armed….armed with defensive eating tactics and a healthy dish or snack I know make me feel ill! My favorite defensive eating skills: take the conversation away from the food table, keep my hands occupied with a clutch purse or wallet and a non-alcoholic drink, and making sure I never arrive hungry.
*I don’t hesitate to go to bed early, stay in bed longer, take long baths, and curl up to movies and hot cocoa. Winter is our natural hibernation time, and giving in to the body’s need for quiet, reflective time keeps my spirits and my immune system strong.
With some mindfulness and planning, you can begin 2012 energized and without any regrets. We have only 6 weeks until the new year – will you be so bold as to get a head start on a life changing resolution? There is no time like the present! For those of you who are already accustomed to saying YES to you, what are some of your go-to strategies to stay afloat during the holiday season?