It’s funny where inspiration comes from. Over the years, I think I’ve read countless articles and posts about “Surviving the Holiday Season” or “How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain.” So I was thinking about putting together my own take on such seasonal tips.
But then I got to thinking about the implications behind titles like that, and I kind of started to get mad. When did “the holidays” and Christmas in particular become something to survive or get through? Why is not gaining weight the barometer of healthy living success in a month that’s (supposed to be) all about treating yourself sharing moments and memories with those you love? Why do we we stress ourselves out to be seen here or there, buy the perfect gift and look amazing for all those holiday parties?
For me personally, Christmas is one of the high points of my faith. And beyond that, I just love everything about the season – the music, baking (and eating) all the treats you only enjoy this time of year, being cozy inside with candles and lights, seeing a loved one’s eyes light up and feel special when you give them a gift; and cherishing time with them too.
While I know that for many reasons Christmas is difficult for a lot of people, I don’t think it’s something to “survive.” And so I’m not writing a “holiday survival guide.” But I do know that it is a different time of year – that brings with it different opportunities and obligations that can leave me (and you too, I’m guessing) feeling frazzled or maxed out at times. So I present to you the (first annual ?!?) …
Girl Who Dared Guide to Thriving This Holiday Season
I will open by saying what I always try to get across: this is what works for me. I am not a perfect human, and I am not you. Feel free to read this post, and pick and choose the takeaways that ring true and make the most sense for you. This is not the “be-all, end-all” perfect way I think everyone should “do Christmas.” Rather it is a curated collection of bits of wisdom and practical tips that have worked for me over the years. Follow it (or not) as you see fit.
Food: Be Smart, but Give Yourself a Break
Let’s cut to the chase: food and drink are a big part of Christmas and the holidays. As I said in the opener, I’ve read countless posts about avoiding holiday weight gain. But as I thought about writing my own tips, I realized (full disclosure): I’ve never avoided holiday weight gain! Even the years when I’ve been deathly ill for some part of December, I always manage to come out the other side with a few extra pounds (if I’m being honest, more like 5-10. Seriously).
I was thinking about it, and as someone who’s always been the same person inside but lived in a few different body shapes and sizes, here are a few nuggets I’ve gleaned. Having abs is fun. Being “skinny” (whatever the heck that means to you) is fun (especially if you are used to being heavier). But you know what else is fun? Being spontaneous and treating yourself. Enjoying a glass of bubbles just because. Baking cookies and then eating them too (and of course a good amount of dough in the process).
This doesn’t mean December has to be a free-for-all, no-holds-barred, eat-everything-you-want-until-January festival of gluttony, but I do think this is the time of year to relax the rules a bit and be kind to yourself. If you are smart about indulgences, stay hydrated (with water before you start on all those festive drinks), and plan ahead, you can minimize the consequences.
For me, I’ve learned (sadly) that sugar and alcohol add up quick (bummer right?). There’s no way around it – I know that if I overdo it on two of my favourite holiday food groups, it won’t be without consequences. So I try to get as healthy of a start to the day as I can (exercise, plus lots of lean protein and veggies) and then enjoy myself, try not to freak out, and don’t overdo it.
That’s another thing I’ve learned. While I love food and drink and can easily get carried away, I am trying to get better at cutting myself off when I’ve had enough. I’ve found that if I don’t let myself get to the point of being stuffed or uncomfortably full, the “damage” is much more minimal. And as I said before – water, water, water! Before holiday parties, during the holiday parties, and after you get home – just grab a glass. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself.
You know how I told you I always gain weight around the holidays? Here’s another thing I always (for the last few years anyway) do – lose it in January and February. Yes, it might be frustrating. It might take awhile. But it’s OK. You and I are smart, capable people. Don’t you think it’s time we trusted ourselves, let our hair down a bit, enjoyed December, knowing we’ll get back to routine in January? That’s “survival” I can get behind.
The Social Scene
December can feel like a mad rush, am I right? A party here, an open house there, an invite for brunch out, and before you know it you’re maxed out, desperate for some alone time with your couch, cup of tea and Netflix. Friends – it doesn’t have to be this way!
Again – I stress that I don’t think that the holidays are meant to be something we have to survive. Pretty sure that’s not how Jesus wants you to celebrate his birthday. But how to juggle invites, obligations and holiday FOMO?
My main takeaway here is to know yourself, and where you fall on the introvert/extrovert scale. I have one friend who said that this year she and her husband were looking at their December calendar, picking a few things, and saying no to the rest. Another friend was planning to dive headlong into the December party season. I always describe myself as an “introvert/extrovert hybrid.”
My point is: know where you get your energy from, and what depletes you. Do you love going to a party and working the room? Great – dress up, dazzle and say yes to as many invites as you choose. Or are parties and get togethers exhausting to you? Guess what? You have a guilt-free pass to say no.
I hosted a holiday tea party and open house the first weekend of December the past two years (which was super-fun and I love doing to have many of my family and friends all in one place and treat them with delicious things I spent all weekend baking). I also went to Christmas parties both that weekend and this past weekend. But I built in time to be at home by myself. I intentionally left windows of time unfilled. I didn’t go to things I could have dropped in at.
Not because I was being rude. Not because I don’t care about and want to be at holiday events. But because I want to arrive at December 25 intact, not exhausted, and not cursing the month of December. Because I value both my own physical and mental health. Because I can’t celebrate a holiday the means the world to me if I’m totally depleted.
So socially, let’s ditch the guilt, the FOMO, the pressure. Let’s be grateful that we have people who love us, want to spend time with us, and host us for various fun and occasions. Let’s not freak out if we can’t make them all. But let’s be present and in the moment at the get togethers we do choose to attend.
The Obligation Station
Social guilt isn’t the only kind of sinking feeling we experience this time of year. There’s also the family pressures, and, oh yeah; that minor detail of PRESENTS!!!!!! to think about. It seems you can’t turn around this time of year without seeing something you HAVE to buy for someone, remembering that gift exchange you still need to shop for, or various family members telling you (either verbally or subtly implying) that you need to make an appearance or be part of something or the other.
Big tip here? Lower your own expectations, and hope that others will follow (I am totally preaching to the choir here, and I know that this is easier said than done). I am presented with this lesson time and time again each Christmas (and really throughout the year). I have this idea of what Christmas “should” look like, then I am disappointed when the story doesn’t go according to plan.
But if I let those expectations go in the first place, I don’t have to be let down if Christmas doesn’t look like I thought it would (I know – easier said than done). I often find that I am telling myself that I “have” to do (or make or buy) something because other people are expecting it. But you know what? If I am honest with myself, I am the one putting all these expectations on myself.
It is OK if I don’t handmake Christmas cards. Or bake all the cookies all the time for all the people. Or show up at a certain holiday get together just because I always have. I don’t mean that you should be disrespectful, or to stop doing something if you truly love it. I just mean that we should calm down, take a step back, and truly ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. If guilt is your primary motivator ask yourself what are you so guilty about? What would it feel like if you spent less on this person’s gift, didn’t go to this particular party? Then make your decision from there.
I could go on and on (and sort of feel like I already have with a somewhat lengthy post). But at the end of the day (or month of December in this case): Enjoy yourself. Be present in the moment. Be kind to yourself. Enjoy the company of those you love. Be conscious of those around you who may be struggling. And remember what Christmas is really about. Now go forth and thrive this holiday season!