The Holiday Season is upon us!
While it may seem counter-intuitive, the Holiday Season offers rich opportunities to cultivate wellness. It really depends on your perspective. Taking the time to develop a few intentions (and strategies) can really increase your ability to soak up the seasonal benefits and shrug off the rest.
While this season can be one of joy, excitement, festiveness, it can also be one of stress. Our schedules fill up, our routines are interrupted, and our budgets become strained. Temptation abounds, and the cumulative effort required to stay on track (if we even try) is exhausting. Sometimes, all of the healthy progress we made over the fall no longer seems worth the work of continuing - will power is, after all, an exhaustible resource. If you are like many of us who try to live a healthy lifestyle, the temporary interruption of our usual diet and wellness regime may add feeling of guilt to our Holiday stress load. So how can you enjoy the Holiday season in a health and well-being promoting way, while still partaking in the festivities and enjoying a much-needed break? Let's re-frame our perspective and try looking at "wellness" from a different angle.
Firstly, a few weeks of rest and enjoyment will not result in a 20lb change in your weight, or an insurmountable decrease in physical fitness. In fact, your body may even benefit from the break. Using enjoyable winter walks, yoga, stretching and other light activities will allow you maintain or even increase your range of motion, give you a boost of stress relieving feel-good hormones, and allow your body to recover from your Autumn exercise regimen. As I will discuss in the following paragraphs, these lower-intensity activities also give you rich opportunities to cultivate emotional and mental health (by savoring healthy physical sensations, enjoying nature, connecting with people you love, and practicing gratitude) in a way that is VERY difficult when you are huffing and puffing during an intense workout. You may also apply this kind of thinking to eating treats. While I am not suggesting that you give yourself a green light for unrestrained binge eating, I am suggesting that you allow yourself to enjoy your favorite holiday treats, partake in the joy of shared meals (including dessert!), and give yourself permission to savor culinary experiences without guilt. Celebrate the things you do right (those fruit and veggie trays look fantastic!) and don't sweat the small stuff. The season is short, and feelings of deprivation, isolation or guilt flood you with negative emotions (and stress hormones), which are more destructive than that chocolate brownie and likely to sap your motivation in the new year.
Mental and Emotional Wellness
We can also choose to look at the Holidays as an opportunity to cultivate resilience. Resilience is a word that many of us have heard, and likely used, when discussing our ability to cope with challenges. Do you know people who seem to bounce back really quickly after a misadventure? What about others who seem to take a long time to recover? Do you ever feel that there are times in your life when you feel better able to cope with challenges than others? This is normal. When we are faced with challenges (whether these are small and unexpected interruptions to normalcy, or major life events), we draw from our reserves of positive emotions, strength and stamina and our skills in emotional regulation in order to cope.
When positive things happen, we can choose to a) live it and move on; or b) consciously absorb it and file it in our brain. The holidays offer an abundance of opportunities to practice the skills of emotional awareness (both negative and positive), and a chance to store up positive experiences and mindfully notice the impermanence of negative ones. This practice can include physical sensations, interactions with others, emotional triggers, etc.
The Practice of Savoring
How does this work? First of all, decide how and when you are going to do this. You can decide to "go with the flow", trusting yourself to notice positive experiences throughout the day, or you can plan on reliving positive experiences at the end of each day. Whenever you choose to do it, the actual work involved is simple. Relive (or continue living) a positive experience. Consider the people and context of the experience, and allow yourself to enjoy the positive emotions that arise (and relive them). Keep your heart and mind engaged as you replay (or continue to enjoy) your favorite aspects of this experience, staying here for as long as you can (20-30 seconds or more). Cultivate feelings of gratitude for this experience - it may never happen again, but how wonderful that you experienced this today. These experiences do not need to be big (it could be as simple as having a great laugh with a friend, or watching the wonder and joy of a young child who has discovered that it is snowing). The important part is that you "savor", or catch the experience instead of letting it pass unnoticed.
Savoring and Positive Psychology
If you feel a little silly doing this, it may be helpful to watch Dr. Rick Hanson's Tedx Talk "Hardwiring Happiness". There are also a long list of other resources, ranging from Ted Talks to peer-reviewed articles available online. Taking a little time to familiarize yourself with the neurological, endocrine, and psychological benefits of savoring, mindfulness, and their applications to resilience and positive psychology will help you sooth reservations.
Here are a few links that you may enjoy:
Positive Psychology and Savoring:
Food and Eating:
I with you a happy, healthy and enriching holiday season! As always, feel free to post your successes and experiences with these practices in the comments section below. I love to hear your stories, celebrate your successes and respond to your questions and suggestions! From my heart to yours, Happy Holidays!
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