(Originally written for MeetMindful)
Some consider the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s the most wonderful time of the year, while others are filled with dread about the holidays. This season is often accompanied by a glut of sugary treats, a lack of exercise, hours in planes and cars, toxic family interactions, days spent in malls, and a relentless push to spend and consume, leaving many of us feeling the need for some sort of cleanse when it’s over.
I’ll address each of these forms of “intoxication” and some strategies for recovering from them. But I feel compelled as a holistically-oriented doctor to say that the healthiest way to deal with the accumulation of gunk – whether excess body fat or the less tangible psychological gunk of family conflict and commercial overload – is to avoid accumulating it in the first place. It’s much easier to not gain weight than it is to lose it, and it’s much easier to avoid generating conflict than it is to clean it up.
When we travel, we tend to suffer from the postural stress of being in a cramped position, moving very little, and carrying bags. This is compounded by a tendency to get dehydrated and to eat poorly when in vehicles. We’re also exposed to new germs, and because we’re away from our home and routine, many of us suffer from digestive upset or bowel irregularity.
To avoid the postural strain of travel, try to use rolling bags exclusively, rather than carrying or wearing your luggage. If you have to carry a bag, switch sides frequently. Wear a shoulder bag across your chest. If you have a backpack, always use both straps, and if it has a waist belt, wear that too. While traveling, remember to move and stretch as often as you can.
To keep your digestive system functioning well, try to eat at the same times, and in the same amounts, each day. Don’t let fullness be your cue to stop eating. If you eat slowly, you’ll be better able to perceive when you’re not hungry anymore, and this usually happens well before you’re at capacity. As a general rule, eat only until you feel about 80% full.
Sugary treats are ubiquitous at this time of year, and Santa is living proof of what happens to us when we eat too many. It’s easy to let our personal responsibility to care for our body become diffused by those around us. We might tell ourselves, “If the whole office is having candy for breakfast, why shouldn’t I?” But don’t let yourself fall off the health wagon just because everyone else is doing it.
A special occasion shouldn’t be an excuse to treat yourself poorly. You’re a grownup. You can eat three meals of candy canes a day if you want. It’s not like you get a special dispensation to do it without consequences during the holidays. And the thing is, if the holidays are stressful for you, eating poorly will only contribute to a more reactive nervous system and less ability to think clearly and rationally. High quality fuel helps to ground us and promotes a lucid mind.
Prepare for travel by bringing your own healthy stuff to eat. Don’t choose garbagy foods out of convenience. Boil some eggs, chop some veggies, grab some fruit, bag up some nuts, and bring it all with you. If you lack self-control, prepare for parties by eating a healthy meal first. Then don’t hang out near the snack table.
During travel and party time, drink plenty of water. Shoot for at least half as many ounces as the number of pounds you weigh, per day. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, that means drinking 75 ounces of water (ideally, non-iced) evenly over the course of each day. Being well hydrated will ensure that your detoxification mechanisms function well and your mind is sharp. If you’re flying, keep in mind that the dry air in airplane cabins makes the mucous membranes of our noses ineffective at trapping germs. You don’t want to be stuck in a germ box with no defenses, so drink up. If you still get sick, the water will help keep your mucous thin and easy to expel.
Between those decadent holiday meals and during travel, you’ll rebound faster if you keep exercising. Get your heart and respiration rates up, and break a sweat if you have time. If you feel bad for abandoning your crowd, become the ringleader! Organize a brisk walk around the neighborhood so everyone can continue to hang out while doing something good for yourselves. If you think you’ll have trouble rousing your group in the midst of the sugar and present coma, try to get everyone to agree to a fitness plan beforehand. A more pleasant party experience is guaranteed.
If you find yourself spending hours in shopping environments, be sure to beef up on the immune support. I have adults take 5000 units of vitamin D per day in the winter, plus at least 1000 milligrams of vitamin C. Keep those fingers out of your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth unless you just washed them!
If the whole consumption thing is stressing you out, give in your own way. Did you hear about that guy who ended a whole day of “paying it forward” in the drive through line at a Starbucks? Each customer bought the drink of the person behind them until this guy refused. Lots of people called him a jerk. He explained that he likes to be generous, but prefers to do it on his on terms – not because he’s obligated. So, if you feel obligated to spend everything you saved at the end of the year, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Because it’s Jesus’s birthday? There are all kinds of ways to give, and you can find one that feels good to you.
When spending holidays with friends and relatives who are challenging having the above self-care routines in place will make a big difference. It’s easy to get in a mental funk when you’re full of sugar and not moving. Don’t let that happen.
When in the midst of people who push your buttons, rise to the occasion. Make it an opportunity to discover, heal, and deactivate your buttons. Feel what comes up in your body when you’re in interpersonal conflict. Welcome that feeling, breathe into it, have no resistance to it, and let it go. If you deactivate a button, it can’t be pushed anymore. Notice how, when you don’t engage with them, the comments and energies that might have provoked you just pass through you like you’re the Ghost of Christmas Past.
If you only ever expose yourself to thoughtful people who don’t have diagnosed personality disorders, how will you ever get to hone your coping mechanisms and conflict management skills? That’s what the holidays are for. Remember that even though it takes two to have a conflict, it only takes one committed person to end the conflict. Take a stand for harmony. Be a positive influence on your environment. Enhance your circumstances.
When it’s all over, it’s time for even more water. Water really is the universal cleanser. Take a bath (ideally with a few pounds of Epsom salt in it), and imagine that all the holiday gunk is being drawn out of you. (If you don’t have time for a bath, at least shower frequently or take a foot bath.) Get in a sauna and let the sweat carry more of that gunk out. And of course, keep drinking it. As you do so, imagine that you’re giving yourself an internal body-mind shower.
Try using your breath to let go of anything you’ve taken on that doesn’t feel good. As you inhale, imagine that you’re drawing the breath into every nook and cranny of your being, gathering up all the darkness and waste. And when you exhale, imagine that you’re letting it all out. In the midst of the temptation to eat a chocolate Santa or to yell at your sister, breathe. Feel where you’re tightening up in your body, breathe into that place, soften it, and let it go. Finally, schedule a massage for yourself. It’s just a basic and enjoyable way to calm your nervous system and have the stress of the holidays worked out of your system.
Wishing you a healthy holiday season – or at least a speedy recovery.