When winter comes, many animals feel the instinct to hibernate. And sometimes, it’s all we humans can do not to follow suit. With darker days come feelings of sleepiness, sluggishness, and a general desire to just curl up on the couch and do nothing. There’s nothing wrong in succumbing to the siren song of the sofa from time to time—we love a Friday evening in with a movie just as much as anyone else—but when inertia becomes a habit, our minds and spirits can really suffer.
The coming of the New Year has historically been a time to reflect upon the past twelve months and consider what to do with the next. With such cold and dark days, the winter is a natural time to draw into one’s self for introspection and contemplation. With the bustle and activity of the holiday season over and three months of quiet winter left, now’s the time to recoup and think about making changes in our lives.
Does the holiday season leave you feeling frazzled and maxed to the tipping point? With all the shopping, parties, and other social events, as well as the demands that we (and others) place on ourselves and our time, it’s no wonder that many of us dread “the most wonderful time of the year” and wish it were just January already. So, rather than let yourself be turned into a Grinch, follow these simple steps to reclaim the holiday season and rediscover the joy that lies within it.
1. Plan Ahead
Create an activity calendar for the month of December. Mark down all your social commitments, and then plan your shopping outings and mark them down as well. Be sure to schedule blocks of time for exercise, yoga classes, and decompression activities, so that you can stay on track throughout the holiday season and keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed.
Now, work on your food plan. Set aside a specific time each week to write a detailed shopping list and go to the grocery store. This will ensure you have the food you need for the holiday season—ingredients to make potluck dishes, quick meals for when you’re in a rush—without having to run out at the last minute or being pressured to order unhealthy takeout.
2. Pack Healthy Meals and Snacks to Go
In the middle of a long day of shopping at the mall, it can be difficult to avoid a stop at the food court. However, if you think ahead and plan accordingly, you can have a healthy meal or snack right at your fingertips (or in your handbag, or your car). These packable and easy-to-prepare foods can fuel your activity throughout the day, providing enough nutrition and energy to prevent your blood sugar, energy, and mood from dropping.
Breakfast of Champions
Put 1/2 cup of dry instant oatmeal into a thermos, along with a pinch of sugar. Throw the thermos in your bag, and when you’re ready to eat, simply ask for a cup of hot water from a coffee shop and pour it into the thermos. Cover, wait two minutes, and enjoy!
Nut Butter and Apple/Banana Sandwich
Using 2 slices of high-protein, fiber-rich bread, make a sandwich with 2 tablespoons of nut or seed butter and thinly sliced apple or banana.
In a frying pan, sauté 1/2 cup chopped red peppers and 1 cup sliced mushrooms in 1 tablespoon butter. Add 2 cups chopped spinach and or broccoli. Beat 8 eggs and 1 cup of egg whites with a dash of Himalayan salt and pepper. Pour beaten eggs over cooked vegetables in the frying pan. Cover and cook over medium heat, poking the egg occasionally to allow the egg to reach the bottom of the pan. Pop into the oven at 350 degrees until the top of the frittata is cooked. Cool and refrigerate, and then divide into 4–6 pieces. Eat cold.
Blend a serving of protein powder with 10 oz unsweetened almond or coconut milk, 1 tablespoon almond or coconut butter, and 1/2 banana. Pour into a portable drinking bottle.
Blend together 1–2 stalks of sliced celery, 4 inches of peeled and sliced cucumber, 2–3 inches of peeled and sliced fresh ginger root, 1/2 granny smith apple, 1–2 cups of baby kale, and 12 oz of water. You can also add 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds, 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds, and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds. Pour into a portable drinking bottle.
Lunch on the Go
Soup in a Thermos
In a soup pot, prepare a hearty blend of vegetables and legumes that can be conveniently transported in a thermos. A hearty stick-to-your-ribs soup is comforting and nourishing when you are beginning to feel depleted, and satisfying enough to meet your lunchtime needs.
Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Layer sliced turkey on a leaf of green or red lettuce; spread with guacamole, hummus, or a healthy mayonnaise; dress with vertically sliced mixed peppers and cucumber; and roll into a wrap. Keep in a cooler in your car till you are ready to eat.
Crudites and Hummus or Guacamole
Pack two cups of mixed, cut-up vegetables like baby carrots, grape or cherry tomatoes, mixed peppers, cucumber, celery, green beans, snap peas, sliced fennel, and radishes. Bring along a single-serving container of hummus or guacamole and a 100-calorie pack of pretzels to add to the crunch.
Hard-boiled eggs are easy to pack and eat at any time. I will often have one mid-morning with a green smoothie. This gives me plenty of energy and stamina and prevents me from succumbing to cravings.
Healthy Pre-Purchased Snacks
If you don’t have time to prepare a snack, try to avoid reaching for a candy bar or a sugary granola bar. String cheese, single-serving packets of nuts, apple or pear slices, and protein bars made without artificial sweeteners are smarter choices—and, unlike candy bars, you won’t get a sugar crash an hour after you eat them.
3. Eat Before You Go to a Party
Don’t go to a social event hungry—you will inevitably graze on foods you will regret. Before you leave the house, eat a modest amount of protein and fat to keep you comfortable, and leave just enough room to try a few bites as you enjoy the social experience.
4. Hydrate Adequately
Indoor temperature is often cranked up at this time of the year, and our intake of caffeine, sweet drinks, and alcohol typically increases. All this leads to dehydration, which can negatively impact your health. Make certain you carry a water bottle and are drinking throughout the day. Set a target of at least 10 glasses of unadulterated, filtered water.
5. Manage Your Stress
The increased demands of the holiday season trigger the body’s stress response, resulting in heightened cortisol levels. This, in turn, can lead to higher blood sugar and insulin levels, a lower metabolic rate, weight gain, unproductive sleep, and a weakened immune system. These health issues are then compounded by holiday comfort foods, increased alcohol consumption, a lack of meaningful exercise, and reduced hours of sleep. The result is an unhappy holiday season for your health.
To lessen your likelihood of being overwhelmed by stress, be sure to set aside enough decompression time for yourself. And if your holiday to-do list feels too overwhelming, let go of your sense of control and your desire for perfection and simply cross some things off the list or delegate some to a partner. Try to avoid the trap of feeling like you have to do it all.
6. Move to Soothe
Sustained aerobic exercise is one of the best antidotes to stress. It conditions your muscles and your cardiovascular system, strengthens your bones, promotes elimination, and lowers your cortisol, blood sugar, and insulin levels, which typically increase in response to stress. It also helps to compensate for the extra calories we consume at this time of the year. If you postpone your exercise to the end of the day, it is very likely you will not get to it, so my recommendation is get up and get going first thing in the morning. Try to vary your activity so that you condition all your different muscle groups without provoking an overuse injury. Shoot for about 45–60 minutes, including a warm-up and cool-down period.
7. Stretch to Relieve Muscle Tension
By the time you have gotten through a long day of activities, your muscles may be just as tight and exhausted as you generally feel. Run a hot bath and add Epsom salt, baking soda, and lavender essential oil, and then soak for 20 minutes. When your muscles are more relaxed, put on some comfy clothes, dim the lights, and stretch for 20 minutes to resolve any muscular tension before it accumulates into injury. Be sure to stretch out your lower and upper back, which may be at higher risk of pain and tenderness due to the additional walking, standing, and carrying you will be doing this time of year.
8. Get to Sleep
Make certain you have planned sufficiently through the day to get to sleep on time. Adequate sleep is not only restorative to your energy, but can rein in your cortisol levels, leading to lessened stress, a more stable weight, and a stronger memory.
We all know it’s coming. Not long from now, we’ll be waking up when it’s still dark, going to work when it’s still dark, and getting out of work when it’s already dark. This constant darkness is a recipe for the feelings of sadness, sluggishness, and hopelessness that are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
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