The Downward Holiday Spiral
…and how to get ahead of it
By Susan Singleton
Holiday stress is more than just having too much to do and not enough time to do it. The preparation for this extended holiday season began with Halloween on Oct. 31 and culminates with the New Year’s celebration ending Jan. 1.
To maneuver through the holidays gracefully and gain control over your own expectations and experience, you need to take a step back and discover what really goes on both biologically, mentally and physically during this eight-week period. Before getting to some advice for adjusting to the holidays, consider what you are facing.
The fall is really a very busy time of year. Summer ends, children are back to school, you transition from a very casual warm weather lifestyle to one that is more structured. Many people take on new interests. We slip into a very task-oriented, organizational mode. This is reflected in nature as we can see the animals scurrying around in preparation for the winter. We are fundamentally programmed to act this way as well. Our 24-hour grocery stores and endless supplies of food haven’t phased out this ingrained response. We are gearing up in order to gear down.
Candy! Candy! Candy! Who can resist. The weather turned cooler, days were shortened. We tend to not drink as much water during the cooler months and turn to hot caffeinated beverages instead. Your body also begins to crave protein and fats during this cooler weather in order to insulate itself, which can lead to nutritional imbalances if you ignore your intake. The whole holiday itself is about the hunt for candy, sugar and chocolate. This is the beginning of the spiral that leaves you mildly dehydrated, over-caffeinated, with sugar cravings, and the beginning of a nutritional imbalance caused by a shift in the seasons.
Once Thanksgiving hits, we really can’t deny the fact that the days are shorter, darker and cooler. Our bodies begin to reflect the need to slow down after the flurry of activity in the autumn. Instead, we hit the ground running and congregate nationwide for a day of overeating and preparation for marathon shopping. This is also a time for visiting and spending time with family that can include travel, highlight emotional issues and create tension.
Office parties, family get-togethers and social events can involve late nights, overly processed food and copious amounts of alcohol. Add to that the stresses of shopping and overspending, and creating an environment of Christmas euphoria for those around you. The demands of parties, shopping, houseguests and family reunions can also cause tension. Oh and guess what? You need to have your New Year resolutions and a plan for the “new you’ just seven short days later for the New Year.
The physical, mental and emotional demands of getting through this eight-week march of festivities takes a tremendous toll on our well-being. Additionally, the holiday season for many people is a time of self-evaluation, loneliness, reflection on past failures and anxiety about an uncertain future, which can spiral into depression.
Unfortunately, tradition and society work against our ability to maintain a proper balance during this time. Begin by acknowledging that you can do things differently this year. Take a few of these tips to heart this holiday season and see what a difference they can make:
*Keep expectations of the holiday season reasonable. Try to set realistic goals for yourself. Organize your time and make a list of the most important things you need to get done. Be realistic in what you can and cannot do. Do not put your entire focus on one day, ie: Thanksgiving. Remember this is a holiday season with many events.
*Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat at holiday parties, choose instead to eat fresh, lightly cooked plant-based, nonprocessed food the day of the event. Do not go to any party hungry, rushed or exhausted.
*Keep yourself well hydrated every day.
*Eating foods out of season can suppress your immune system and can make you prone to colds, flu and other illnesses. Eating out of season also causes a nutritional imbalance that will leave you fraught with cravings.
*Commit to adding a nutritionally dense smoothie to your day. Get a head start on your New Year’s resolution to eat healthy.
* Be aware of excessive drinking. Intake of liquor will only increase your feelings of stress and desperation. Not to mention that being in a continual hangover will snowball itself into the next few days.
* Try something new. Decide which parties and events you are NOT going to attend this year. Limit your time at the ones you attend.
*Spend time with supportive and caring people. Try to make new friends or contact someone you have not heard from in awhile.
Now that you know that there are many different forces working on you at this time of year, you can do one of two things. You can acknowledge and honor the requests that your body is asking of you in order to keep itself well, or you can get caught up in the frenzy and wear your body down. Make a simple change or two this year, be aware of what your body is asking of you and honor its influence.
Susan, a certified holistic health counselor, is the founder of Healthy Life Consulting, a holistic health and wellness practice.She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org