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Surviving the Holidays

Can you believe it’s December already? Regardless of which holidays you celebrate, if you live in America, your life at this time of year is bound to be filled with activities, stress, and food. Here is my annual compilation of tips to help you survive the last month of the year in better shape than usual. Pick your favorites and don’t forget to feed every part of yourself during the holidays – mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical.

It will be harder to take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself. As much as possible, maintain your regular sleep, exercise, and eating patterns. This is not the time to go on a diet or make drastic changes to your lifestyle. It is also not a good time to be sleep deprived. Don’t skip meals, even if you have a big one coming up soon. It is so helpful to eat on time so that you’re not starving when you are surrounded by food. That makes it easier to stay calm and listen to your body, so you can eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, rest when you’re tired, and relax when you’re stressed.

Recognize your limits and practice saying no. This includes when people offer you food. Never overeat because of pressure from others. If you eat more than usual at a holiday meal or party, remind yourself that overeating occasionally does not cause instant weight gain, and that your body knows what to do with that food. It is normal to eat more than usual during the holidays, and it really is okay. In all likelihood you will return to your normal eating habits the next day, and your body weight will, too. Think of activities the whole family can do instead of sitting around eating.

Be flexible about your expectations — almost nothing can turn out exactly as planned, so hoping for it will only lead to disappointment. Plan ahead how you will cope with difficult family members or situations by preparing your responses and picking a “safe spot” you can escape to if gatherings become stressful.

Try not to count calories or weigh yourself if either of these adds to your stress. If the thought of not weighing worries you, find a friend who will weigh you backward and reassure you as long as you are within a 5 pound range. This way you will know you are within your usual weight range without panicking over a 1 or 2 pound gain that could easily be due to water retention after a big meal.

Get as organized as possible so you don’t have to duplicate effort. Write shopping lists and errand lists and organize them by geography. Don’t schedule so many activities that you become exhausted. List all the parties to which you are invited, all your errands, etc. Prioritize, then cross off those that are honestly not necessary or that will only add to your stress. Determine what you enjoy most during the holidays and schedule time for it. Determine what you enjoy least and cross it off your list! If you are really honest with yourself, you may realize most of your time is scheduled to make others happy. A little selfishness goes a long way this time of year toward making you happy.

Find a prayer, affirmation, or saying that is meaningful to you, and carry it in your wallet or purse. Turn to it for comfort or a reality check when stress gets high. Try to look “on the bright side” whenever you can; laugh as much as possible, even (especially!) at your own mistakes. If you feel like you’re the only one who gets crabby at this time of year, make a pact with a friend or loved one to just vent to each other for 5 or 10 minutes each day.

Finally, find time to be spiritual and make this time of year meaningful in your own way, whether it is through religion, faith, meditation, giving thanks, art or your own expression of yourself. Taking care of your body, mind, and spirit is the best way to survive the holidays without sacrificing your health.