The holidays are coming! And, my stress levels are rising! Are your’s? Trying to wrap up end of the year responsibilities at work, finishing off the last of the shopping, getting cards out, anticipating spending days with family!, and packing up to be away for an extended period. And, with this increase in stress, responsibilities, and commitments, guess what goes by the wayside? For me, it appears to be three things . . . . sleep, exercise, and good eating behaviors. Now maybe you never get much sleep, maybe you’re not a regular exerciser, and maybe you don’t eat well during the rest of the calendar year, but no matter where you’re starting from, my guess is that you will do everything a little worse over these next few weeks. And, do you know what the worst thing is about sleeping less, exercising less, and eating more poorly because of stress? The worst thing is that these behaviors contribute to feeling even more stress! It’s a vicious cycle. The more stress we feel, the less we keep up the behaviors that help us to manage stress. For me, I keep popping pecan sandies and peanut butter brickle and merangues as if they are, well, candy. I don’t stop my behavior, but I also feel stressed realizing that by the end of the next 2 weeks, if I’m not careful, I will have gained weight that I don’t want to gain! And, that stresses me out even more!
So, what’s the answer to the dilemma? Well, since we’re talking about three different types of behaviors, it’s really on three fronts. But, they all tie into a common theme which is setting a plan designed to manage the stress over the holidays and sticking to that plan as much as possible. The plan should allow you to enjoy this special time of year while also helping you control the stress that you are naturally experiencing.
One part of the plan should focus on physical activity. And, it’s actually a good time of year to be physically active! I know that seems crazy to say because in most places it’s cold and the weather is bit dodgy and we’ve just got so much to do. But, the reason I say this is because being physically active with friends and family is a wonderful way to enjoy time with one another while also helping each other do something that’s good for health and well-being. And, one of the best ways to be physically active is to go out for a walk. Walking is a great way to stay healthy while also being social. When you take a walk with friends and family, you can decompress while visiting and interacting in a way that takes you away from the trappings of the house. If the weather is bad, dress for it. If the weather is good, enjoy it!
Another option that might make sense for some people is to check into opportunities at a local fitness center. Some provide the opportunity for a family or guest pass that will allow you to enjoy trips to the fitness center to exercise while also, again, getting away from the trappings of the house! Some may even offer a short-term free membership because they are interested in promoting their center to folks who might be interested in joining for a year as part of their New Year’s resolutions. Check into it now so you can be prepared to get your family active over the holidays. Even if the weather is terrible and you are not a member at a fitness center, consider going to a local indoor facility to walk (not to shop!). Maybe this is a local mall where you could walk in the corridors for 30 minutes or maybe this is a track at a local school or university. No matter where you are or what the weather is, I feel sure that if you are creative you can figure out a way to walk for 30 minutes and you will be surprised at how much better this makes you feel. There is nothing like getting out of the house and getting moving to make you feel good!
Another part of the plan should include paying attention to your rest. I know it’s hard to do with all of the demands on your time, with the fun of holiday parties, with trying to squeeze in time with friends and family, and with shopping, baking, wrapping, and decorating. But, getting enough sleep is so important for helping everyone to stay in good spirits and happy. Commit to getting to bed at a reasonable time and allow yourself to sleep long enough in the morning to be well rested. We’re started doing our wrapping early this year and feel so good about it. By staying up a little later these days well before our gift exchanges, we’re spreading out the work and also managing to get a reasonable amount of sleep now with hopes of maintaining that throughout the holidays.
The last part of the plan is to control your eating behaviors during these next several weeks. This requires a great deal of self-restraint, but is something you can do. I’m not saying that you should plan not to eat any desserts. In fact, that would be a mistake for a couple of reasons. If you plan to completely abstain from dessert, then what happens when you do partake? For many people who plan on complete abstinence, a small slip is enough to make them think “Well, that’s it. I didn’t stick to my plan so I’m going to throw it out the window completely”. They then give up completely on their plan and eat desserts like there’s no tomorrow. So, the key here is to come up with a plan that you’re comfortable with and that you really think you can stick to. Choose a number of “pick-up” desserts (like cookies and candies) that you’ll eat for each day. Pick a reasonable size for your piece of cake or pie that you will not feel guilty about (like a small or medium piece of cake or pie), but that will allow you to enjoy the holiday time. Once you identify this, I strongly encourage you to write it down somewhere. It doesn’t need to be public, just grab a piece of paper, write at the top: “I have committed to the following for my daily dessert limit for the holidays”, and then describe what you’ve decided on. And, if you have eggnog or other luxuriant drinks or snacks that will tempt you during the holidays, you will want to include those on your list as well. Once you’ve written it down, put it in your purse or billfold and keep it with you so you can remind yourself of your commitment over the holidays. Do your best to stick to your plan. Remember, you’ve identified an amount of dessert that you feel comfortable with and that will balance your enjoyment of this special time of year with your desire to maintain your weight and health. And, another idea here is to give away some of those goodies. Pass them on to someone else so they’re not in your house and you don’t have to be tempted by them.
So, that’s it. My advice/thoughts on how to plan for this wonderful and yet stressful time of year. Make a plan and be creative to get your exercise, spread your work out so that you can get enough rest to feel good, and identify a reasonable amount of desserts and treats to eat as your maximum each day and stick to that for the next few weeks. Let your ability to stay active, get rest, and eat reasonably help you to manage the stress and be able to ENJOY the holidays!