Friday Five – Staying on Track and Healthy During the Holidays

Welcome to the Friday Five Linkup, hosted by my blog buds/local tweeps

Cynthia at You Signed Up for What?!,
Courtney at EatPrayRunDC and
Mar at Mar on the Run.
Make sure to stop by their blogs for their picks and hop along to the other bloggers in the linkup, featured at the bottom of their pages!

November through January can be a hectic, stressful time – how do you stay on track and healthy during the holiday season?

Thanksgiving brownie turkey

Thanksgiving brownie turkey

US Capitol and The People's Tree 2013

US Capitol and The People’s Tree 2013

First things first…I’m no expert, I’m not any better at this than anyone else. I have a pretty simple life, being a DINK with a great job, family elsewhere (we’re not even visiting family this season, we’re racing), a great deal of choice in how I spend my time and only two people to satisfy (me and DH) with what I do and how I do it. I imagine most of you are NOT in that situation. What follows is what I’ve read, heard, learned, thought about, but don’t always apply. If it helps you, I’d be pleased. But if it makes you laugh at my naiveté, I’ll take that too – maybe it’ll lower your stress.

For those of you who don’t celebrate any of the holidays in the next few months, maybe these ideas will help you anyway, in whatever periods of your life are especially busy and filled with obligations and expectations on top of daily life.

PRIORITIZATION and PRAGMATISM

You can’t do it all at once. No one can. It’s just the way life is. (I know, I know…I don’t like it either) So be kind to yourself and others and prioritize. Pick 3 things that you’d like to “protect” during the season and focus on those, knowing that you’ll need to reduce expectations in other areas – your own expectations as much as anyone else’s. Clear communication of the priorities, once they’re decided (solo or with your family) will help you stick to them and help you politely say “Thanks for asking. “I’d love to, but I can’t fit that in. ” (that’s all you have to say….)

For example,

  • Got a race you’re training for? Getting your long and quality runs in may be one of your top 3. You might need to skip an easy run, a strength session or some other activity to fit them in.
  • Want to make sure you have lots of quality time with family you don’t see often? TV watching, internet time and some school/work/group activities (parties, bake sales, etc.) might need to be skipped. The DVR can help here, and we’ll all welcome you back to the internet when you return.
  • Are there traditions you want to share with family and friends, or ones you want to start? (making cookies, visiting an exhibit, or something like setting aside an evening for ordering pizza, playing carols – or watching Die Hard – and wrapping gifts?)

May I suggest that regardless of your “3 things”, get as much sleep as possible to help keep you healthy, sane and in good spirits. This benefits both you and those around you and makes everything else easier.

PLANNING and PREPARATION

One of your priorities is probably keeping physically healthy, which includes what you eat. It’s very easy to go off your normal eating pattern at the holidays – so much temptation combined with fatigue, stress,  being off schedule or away from home, attending office or school events. If you’re concerned you’ll eat in a way you don’t really want to or would regret later, don’t go into the situation without a plan. Spend some time thinking about what you really enjoy and (assuming you’re a moderator, not an abstainer like me), decided ahead of time what to treat yourself to. Perhaps foods or beverages only available at the holidays, whether homemade or otherwise? One cookie, three bites of something, or some other small portion of a beloved food won’t make too much difference, as long as you balance it out with healthy eating the rest of the time. If you know you’re going to an event where there’s just too much good stuff to pass up, some of the tricks you’ve read about actually work, like planning those calories into your daily budget, eating salad and drinking water just before you go, taking enough for one bite of everything and then stopping, etc. Decide ahead of time what you’re going to do, and consider telling someone else who can help you stick to it.

Keep the kitchen at home stocked with healthy food – even if you need to buy it pre-made or spend some time prepping it. Make a list of things you might want to make sure you have on hand for quick dinners and packable breakfasts and lunches (don’t forget healthy snacks) and do one massive run for non-perishables, picking up perishables weekly. Protein shakes, healthy “bars”, fruit, cut up veggies, salads, soup/chili (frozen, canned or a pot/crockpot version), potatoes or sweet potatoes that can be microwaved, eggs or egg whites for quick scrambles, etc. You may get bored eating the same thing a lot, but at least it’ll be healthy, and you’ll probably be getting enough variety and treats elsewhere.

If you know that you’re going to be around people who make you crazy (families often contain such people along with the ones you dearly love seeing), come up with strategies to cope. Take a walk, tell funny stories in your head, do what you need to do to get a break for yourself and be able to enjoy what you can while trying to accept everything else as part of the deal. Create a code for “get me out of here” with a sibling or significant other. Or try a new approach – engage someone who makes you crazy in discussion, try to see them from a new perspective. (none of this means hang out with any toxic folks – that’s to be politely avoided as best you can)

Make plans and schedules for November and December. This can actually be kind of fun, planning all the things you’re looking forward to doing! Post them where all in your household can see and make sure to take a little time daily and weekly to review the schedule and communicate what everyone is doing when and where. There will be conflicts, whether of obligations or desires, and misunderstandings or mistakes. At those times, go back to your priorities and think for a moment “in January, or next year, how will I wish I handled this” and then respond.

FUN and FLEXIBILITY

Keep going with a beloved tradition, choose to make a new one (seek out unique events or activities) or let one emerge “organically”. If you get a goofy impulse for something fun or generous, go with it! Try something new or do something really old…when was the last time you made paper chains of red and green construction paper strips held together with glue stick and used them to decorate? (I’ve done it – in the last 5 years!)

All the prioritization, pragmatism, planning, and preparation is a setup, a framework to help you enjoy the good stuff, keep going what needs to keep going (regular exercise, healthy eating, enough sleep), and stay at least as “sane” as you are the rest of the year. But things will get messed up, plans will change at the last minute, good intentions may meet their match in homemade Spritz cookies and eggnog, and the cat or dog or child will destroy something fragile or important to you, possibly even something irreplaceable. When it all goes awry, take a breath, cut yourself some slack, and laugh. It may make a funny story for future holiday seasons. Try to keep the perspective that if everyone’s ok, that’s all that matters, the rest is just stuff.

PERSPECTIVE

There are likely to  be those of you going through the first holiday season after the loss of a loved one. From my personal experience, keeping things the same can be either comforting or incredibly painful as the missed person’s presence is so deeply felt. For the first couple of holidays after my mom died in September of 1992, I tried very hard to keep up the family traditions for me, my Dad and my mom’s mom who lived close by. But in some ways it made things worse for me as it was just so obvious that she wasn’t there. The hole in our lives and hearts was wide, gaping and raw. I learned I had to stop trying to make everything the same because it never would be the same, and that was only right. I held on to some small traditions, made new ones, and found ways to honor and remember her that allowed me to move forward.

It may help you to help someone else; I know it did (and does) help me. I helped out one evening at a church packaging food for a food pantry. You might want to wrap gifts for people at a homeless shelter, visit a children’s hospital or nursing home, or other such important activities. You can even dedicate the time (or a donation if you’re not up to the actual doing) in memory of your loved one. If you’re not affiliated with an organization, you can look on the web or in your local newspaper for opportunities, or call around to the types of places I mention. Another resource is the organization OneBrick (in many areas of the country) which offers one-time volunteer opportunities with a bit of a social event feel to them – no long-term commitment required.

However you grieve and deal with the season only has to be right for you, not anyone else. Be kind to yourself. Seek solitude and silence or the comfort of friends and family as you feel the need and feel able. Don’t be afraid to say “I just can’t” but try not to isolate yourself from people and events that might bring you little bits of pleasure or distract you even for a moment. It’s not a betrayal or diminishment of the person you’ve lost or of your love for them to feel pleasure or enjoy yourself. That’s what they’d want for you. Just keep breathing and letting yourself feel however you feel, and as time passes, your feelings will evolve and you will feel differently. I send you my best.