Posted on December 2, 2012 by admin
The Holidays have arrived and Norman Rockwell-like family celebrations of joy, good cheer, gift giving and spectacular feasts and festivities are expected, right? At this time of celebration our expectations are often quite high and our responsibilities and schedules seem to grow exponentially. On top of all the normal day to day things like going to work (or in light of our current economy looking for a job), getting the kids to school and extracurricular activities and basically living our already full lives we find ourselves juggling budgets to buy gifts, attending extra family and work-related social events, decorating, cooking and the list goes on and on. Then if we do all this successfully, we are blessed with the actual holiday; where people you may only socialize with or even see once a year come and judge your party-giving skills, your cooking and the quality of the crystal ball reading you were required to do to find the ‘perfect gift’. In all of this commotion it’s often too easy to forget that self-care is still important. In fact ‘me time’ is often last on the list and frequently postponed until January.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season and truly believe it can be a wonderful, rewarding and fun time provided we approach it in the right way and don’t get overwhelmed. Through my work with patients and families I have come to understand some ways that this stressful time of year can remain joyous. I would like to share some general perspectives that seem to have helped folks with whom I work. I will also be reminding you of some core skills that can make coping with and even enjoying this season a little easier by allowing you to focus on realistic self-care goals during this busy season.
1- Holidays are not a season; they are a series of discrete events of varied duration interspersed with periods of preparation/aftermath but also with periods of holiday-free-time. What do I mean by that? All too often, in terms of self-care things like diet, exercise, stress management and finding time to take care of ourselves are relegated to ‘after the holidays’. The result being a period of about 2 months (from before Thanksgiving until after New Years) where we let ourselves go and backslide on our health goals. Instead of doing this, consider containing the individual events to a reasonable and accurate timeframe. Whether it’s a holiday party, a visit with friends, shopping, or the holiday event itself each needs to have a clear beginning and end (a few hours, a half day, or a couple days) after which you return ‘back to normal’ so that during the hours or days in between you do what’s best for you and your health.
2- Don’t make a single holiday event into an all-day healthy eating and exercise hiatus. So let’s say you have a holiday party tonight. All too often on holidays folks forget that if you eat a little less (but don’t starve yourself) during the day and be sure to get your exercise, you will benefit both in terms of overall calorie balance for the day but also psychologically you will feel more in control and better prepared to stay with your plan in the days that follow. So the extra calories you might take in at that one event don’t to build to being several days of feeling ‘off your plan.’ Do this for each ‘discrete event’ throughout the holidays and you won’t have a 10 pound mountain to overcome in January.
3- It’s ok to be frustrated. So many times I hear people beating themselves (or friends and family members) up over the fact that every minute of every event was not perfect, joyous and without disagreement. Think about it, at the height of one of the busiest times of the year, with all the pressure to make things perfect, we then throw groups of people together and expect them to get along perfectly. Not going to happen. Families and friends sometimes disagree; often we all act in ways that might get on people’s nerves – why would the holidays be any different? So think about how to minimize conflict by maximizing your acceptance of other people. More often than not if you try not to take things too personally you will be happier and your friends and family will too.
4- Take time for yourself. Face it, we all do better if we have some quiet time just for ourselves but that is usually the first thing to go when we are busy. Interestingly if you do take that time to recharge, other things seem to be handled more easily, day to day challenges seem less stressful and life seems a little less overwhelming. This is true every day including during the holiday season. So whether it’s taking an hour for a relaxing bath, reading or fitting in some exercise; down time rejuvenates and makes life easier to handle.
In addition to the tips and strategies above, there are a couple core self-care skills that you can apply during the holidays to improve the quality of your life.
Fight negative thinking.
We all have an “internal dialogue” that can be either positive or negative. Negative thinking often distorts facts and influences other thoughts, can interfere with our comfort level and our goals, and may impact emotions, self-esteem, and self-confidence. In thinking about the holidays, consider all the times that your internal dialogue gets triggered whether its at a social event, when preparing for a family gathering, or even when looking in the mirror. I am sure you can think of times your thoughts got in your way or upset you. You may recall times that you realized afterwards that your thoughts got you all worked up even beyond the true ‘facts’ of the situation. This holiday season take time to pause and monitor your thinking especially when you are upset. Understand how your thoughts may be making matters worse then take action to 1) Identify the thoughts that are not helping, 2) Stop those thoughts by simply saying stop, and 3) If possible replace the thoughts with something more calming. For example if you are fretting over a party you have planned, tell yourself “I know I have not thought of EVERYTHING but overall I have planned well for the party and its time to relax and have fun!” This process can work to improve your state of mind in almost every situation.
Set aside time to manage your stress and practice some relaxation strategies.
Managing stress effectively involves fighting the negative thinking that adds to daily stress, not taking on more than you can handle, asking for help when needed, and just keeping the holidays in perspective. However, even when you are able to do this successfully stress does creep in and over time it does build up unless you practice letting it go on a regular basis.
The body’s natural relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress. This physiologic state of calm allows our body and mind to rejuvenate. Physiologically, we cannot be both stressed and relaxed simultaneously so if you can learn to elicit the body’s relaxation response, the stress response can be effectively blocked or reduced. When our minds become focused through meditation, visualization, or relaxation, the body responds with physical changes, including decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, muscle tension, and oxygen consumption. Once you learn how to practice the relaxation response regularly you will notice feeling more relaxed throughout the day even when not actually doing a relaxation exercise. Practice makes perfect when it comes to relaxation.
Here is a quick and simple relaxation breathing exercise to get you started.
Make yourself comfortable. Lie on your back or sit in a chair in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes and begin focusing on your breathing. Notice how the breath feels as it flows into your body and then flows back out again – Take a few deep breaths…
Now place your hand on your stomach. Make sure you allow your stomach to rise as you breathe in followed by the air flowing up into your chest… make the breath last for a count of 3 or 4…as your lungs fill with wonderful, energizing air …Pause for just a moment
…then as you breathe out…allow your stomach and chest to fall as you quietly say the word relax under your breath. Repeat this as you continue to gently breathe in 2, 3, 4… and out 2, 3, 4 …
Continue this exercise for as long as you wish, 5, 10 or even 20 minutes. You will find the more you practice the better you become and the easier it is to feel relaxed. Then, when you don’t have time to stop to do this in a formal way, the practice will have ‘trained’ your body’s relaxation response so that just a few deep breaths and perhaps saying the word relax will trigger a calm feeling at any point during your day.
Some people find it easier to use a relaxation CD or audio file, there are many good ones available. Just try some out and see which ones you like the best – you can usually sample these CDs at your local bookstore or on the internet.
So remember, take some time to care for yourself this busy season and above all enjoy a happy and healthy holiday!
Dr. Martin Binks.
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