It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
For many of us, the end of the calendar year marks the advent of changing leaves, hearty recipes, vacations, cherished time with family, and holiday celebrations. This flurry of activity can derail healthy habits we’ve practiced for months leading up to the holiday season, which may leave us feeling less than our best once all the magical moments have passed. Here are some tips to keep your sense of mental, emotional, and physical balance as the year comes to a close.
1. Stick with the status quo.
Examine what current health and wellness practices you already have in place and see how you can maintain them through the revolving door of parties, family visits, and time off.
The holiday season tends to change the daily routine of many people, so now is probably not the time to embark on any dramatically new personal health goals. Instead, examine what current health and wellness practices you already have in place and see how you can maintain them through the revolving door of parties, family visits, and time off. Do you have a favorite yoga class you regularly attend each week? Instead of skipping it when friends and family come to town, see if some of them may join you for a new holiday tradition. Do you normally pack your own healthy lunches to take to work? Continue to do so as office holiday parties get into full swing. Staying on track with your current practices will likely make it easier for you to embark on larger goals when the holiday grind settles down.
2. Understand the winter blues.
Not all parts of the fall and winter are celebratory, especially if you live in a place where the weather during these seasons tends to become cold and gray, or where daylight hours become much shorter. While snowy weather and holiday lights against a night sky may look festive in a picture, seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression correlated with shorter daylight hours, which is more likely to affect people living in northern areas. The decreased exposure to bright light may disrupt your natural circadian rhythm and lead to mood shifts, as well as lead to an increased craving for sugary foods. Spending time outdoors or by large windows each day when sunlight is available, especially early in the morning, can help keep your moods stable. If the very thought of stepping outside for some sunshine in frigid temperatures puts you in more of a funk, some integrative and naturopathic physicians at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recommend sauna therapy (utilizing a sauna three or four times a week for 15 to 20 minutes) to help with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. (Note: Be sure to speak with a medical professional if low feelings persist for longer than two weeks, or before beginning sauna therapy.)
3. Get moving.
Speaking of sweating: Admittedly, cooler temperatures and busy schedules can leave little desire to do anything but hit the snooze button in the morning or put on your coziest clothes and relax with your DVR at the end of the day. But sticking with your regular asana practice throughout the holidays can help you maintain your current strength and fitness levels and diffuse the stress that can result from extra financial strain or just the “busyness” of the season.
4. Indulge consciously.
The concept of “indulging” takes on a whole new meaning during these few months—from holiday meals you might be anticipating all year, to the bevy of themed treats that show up with great regularity in the office kitchen, to amazing seasonal delights (pumpkin and peppermint ANYTHING, anyone?), to shopping extravaganzas—to possibly just spending days planted on the couch with football or movie marathons. The list could go on, but there’s something about this time of year that makes it awfully tempting to be tempted! And while it’s important to remember to enjoy ourselves, doing so consciously may also allow us to experience more satisfaction from less. Indulging consciously might mean richly savoring the aroma, sweetness, and texture of your sister’s secret-recipe holiday cheesecake just on Thanksgiving Day, rather than asking her to also make a couple extra for you to take home (what? I’ve never done this…). It could mean creating your own in-house peppermint mocha (*see below), with more nourishing, sustainable ingredients, rather than visiting the coffee shop drive-thru daily (better for your health, your wallet, and the environment!). Or best of all, it may encourage you to festively package holiday extras to deliver to the less fortunate in your community.
5. Create a go-to mini-mindfulness practice.
Having a small centering ritual when you find yourself under holiday-related pressure can be a valuable tool. Develop a short, positive affirmation, practice a breathing technique, reframe a stressful moment into one of gratitude, or stake claims on a quiet place where you can readily escape as needed (it may be inside of a coat closet with 20 of your “dearest” relatives from whom you’re seeking solace right outside—but hey, do what you have to).
Having a small centering ritual when you find yourself under holiday-related pressure can be a valuable tool.
If all else fails, just open your armpits! You can take a few breaths in urdhva hastasana (upward salute) or gomukhasana (cow face pose) arms just about anywhere. In the words of B. K. S. Iyengar: “If you open the armpits, the brain becomes light. You cannot brood or become depressed.” Now, what could be more holiday-spirited than that?
*My suggestion for a holiday peppermint mocha that's both festive and nourishing:
½ cup milk of choice, heated
1 cup hot, strong, brewed coffee, decaffeinated coffee, or chai
2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
1 spoon pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (add more based on your taste preferences)
¼ teaspoon pure peppermint extract (add more based on your taste preferences)
Blend all ingredients, pour, and top with crushed peppermint candy (optional).