Holidays can be a mixed bag for people. Sure, we get to catch up and celebrate with family and friends, but with the usual stressors of time, finances and family dynamics, it’s easy to lose sight of the deeper meaning and spirit of the holidays altogether. It’s also not uncommon for the stress of the holidays to derail the focus that we’ve put into our wellness, leaving us vulnerable to falling back into those bad habits we’ve worked so hard to change. And this is in the best of years.
It’s no secret that 2020 has brought us the added pressures of Covid fears, political differences and divergent opinions on social issues. Even the question of whether or not to get together with the entire family this year – and if it’s with or without face coverings and distancing protocols – can elicit stressful conversations.
It’s up to us – and only us – to make the best of whatever our situation may look like this holiday season. And it may not always be easy, but it’s more important than ever to remind ourselves to slow down and tune in.
Make it a priority to actively incorporate behaviors that enhance our mindfulness and sense of peace and gratitude.
In his work as an addiction specialist, David Galarneau, MD, vice chair of academics and research in the psychiatry department at Ochsner Health, guides patients as they work to change their behaviors, helping them develop sustainable lifestyle changes. He encourages us to identify what he refers to as ‘chinks in our armor’ that leave us vulnerable to destructive behaviors around food, alcohol, movement (or lack of it) and other key elements of our self-care.
What are our triggers – those people, places and/or things that can lead us off path? Dr. Galarneau guides us to do a bit of self-analysis: In past holidays, what were some of the issues that pulled us off-track? History often repeats itself, he notes, and a bit of self-exploration can help to prevent us from making the same mistakes over again.
These triggers can leave us feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, helpless, fearful – or, for lack of a better word, ‘stressed’. (Personally, I choose to not use the phrase “I’m stressed” – it doesn’t get to the root of what I’m really feeling, and I find that it only heightens my stress response when I say these words).
Whatever that negative feeling may be that we’re experiencing, it can be tempting to self-soothe with food or alcohol. This self-soothing, however, can quickly turn into self-sabotage, undermining those well-established healthy behaviors that we’ve worked so diligently to implement.
Protecting our whole-body wellness
One of the most tried-and-true strategies we can implement to insulate ourselves from holiday stressors is to maintain our usual routine as much as possible. Staying consistent with what we know works. Holidays can throw us a curve ball, of course, limiting our already-tight free time. So start by identifying the strongest aspects of your daily routine that you really want (and need) to work to protect. It may be your morning walk, your evening yoga, your protein-rich breakfast or even simply going to bed at your usual time. When things start to unravel a bit (and inevitably they will), these are the behaviors that, as much as possible, are your non-negotiables.
For more on a stress-less holiday season, see my article for Six Strategies to Slow Down and Enjoy More), and check out my FUELED Wellness + Nutrition Podcast about Choosing Joy + Strategies to De-Stress this Holiday Season.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.