For many, many years, while I was dealing with Lyme disease, mold exposure, autoimmune disease, depression and the rest of my diagnosis, the holiday season was the most stressful time of the year. I desperately yearned to enjoy the endless celebrating from October till the end of the year, but I was just too tired. But that didn’t stop me from going through the motions. I always decorated; I always made sweet treats for friends and neighbors. I always attended all the parties. I did #allthethings. I was participating out of a sense of obligation and #fomo.
Does this describe you? I’m not going to lie, every October I begin my inner dialogue about what I am celebrating during the holidays. I always have to remind myself about how I will choose to celebrate Halloween to New Year’s and everything in between.
Here’s the way I do holidays as of late:
I don’t attend all the parties because most of them are too late at night and have way too much tempting and terrible food.
I sometimes travel on Thanksgiving or Christmas day because there is no traffic. Otherwise, I stay home and relax.
If I hand out anything at Halloween it is usually toys, stickers, or glow in the dark bracelets. I like to dress up, but I always dress in honor of Dia De Las Muertos.
I don’t cook big extravagant meals that take days to prepare and weeks to clean up after.
Sometimes, my minimalist Christmas tree is so minimal that it doesn’t even exist. Many years we are traveling; sometimes our house doesn’t have the perfect spot, and sometimes I don’t want to drag out all the decor because it won’t bring me true joy--thank you, Marie Kondo, for teaching me this principle.
I definitely don’t ring in the New Year at 12am with champagne and fireworks.
Is there anything inherently wrong in the activities that I avoid? Not necessarily; but for me, I get more joy from keeping it simple.
Here are my top tips for cutting back and getting more out of your holiday season:
Don’t wear the busy-ness badge.
It isn’t a badge of honor and it doesn’t look good on anyone. Dark circles under your eyes are NOBODY’s best accessory. Even if you have boundless energy and time, there is no reason to do all the things at the price of your mindfulness and true peace and joy. And for those of you who are still walking the fatiguing path of multiple diagnoses and symptoms, practice simplicity so that you don’t exacerbate your disease. Whether you are sprinting or crawling your way through this holiday season, stress will affect anyone’s immune system. So don’t fill your schedule so full that you are adding additional stress in the name of celebration.
Moderate or sustain? Either way, go in with a plan.
Decide now if you are a moderator or abstainer. What? By this I mean: will you eat treats moderately or will you abstain altogether? This is an easy concept when you think of it in terms of illicit drugs. Do you snort opiates moderately or do you completely abstain? I completely abstain, and I’m hoping you do too :). But it gets dicey when we talk about sugar and alcohol...especially during the holiday season. It seems that we don’t know how to celebrate without sugar or alcohol or a combo of both. So what is your rule for this holiday? Are you going to commit to a strict Whole30 program of no sweeteners whatsoever? Are you going to stick to a “dessert only” rule where you need to eat a healthy meal first and then indulge in alcohol or sweets? Maybe you will do a “Paleo only” treat rule where you only eat treats sweetened with coconut sugar, honey, or dates. Or will you completely abstain? I’ve done each of these paths and I can’t say one is easier than the other. I’ve also done the “eat, drink and be merry” version sans rules and reason, and that, without a doubt, creates mood problems for me. Blood sugar levels that are swinging wildly like a cruise ship chandelier will create the same swings for your mood. Indulging in alcohol or sugary treats on a whim will cause mood swings and anxiety. No matter which path you decide is best for you, it is certain that going in with a plan is a priority.
If you aren’t going to pump yourself full of mood-altering substances (sugar and alcohol) it will be easier to remember the reason for the season. And I’m not just talking about Christmas. When the weather turns chilly and the sun starts setting a lot earlier, we call this fall. In times past it was called harvest. This is the time of the year for gathering in, both physically and emotionally. It is the time to slow down and prepare for the harshness of winter. The holidays, Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos, are about honoring our dead, not about beer crawls and candy. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for all blessings, not so much about eating until you are sick and puffy. And Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa is about honoring your God and religion and not about the decorating, devouring, and dinner. New Year’s Eve is about new beginnings, not drinking and driving. If you are engaged and distracted by all the things, you will miss the meaning of these holidays. Ask yourself: “is this activity bringing me closer to or further from joy?”
Drink water, not holiday punch. Whether your holiday punch has alcohol or not, it will dehydrate your body. Both sugar and alcohol are dehydrating substances. If you are going to consume them, then you need to make it up with extra water intake. This idea is challenging, especially during the winter months when you don’t get as thirsty. But guess what, you may be less thirsty in the winter, but your body still needs the same water intake. Staying well-hydrated is also a cheap and reliable way to keep your immune system alert to cold and flu germs.
Sleep is a priority, no matter the time of year.
Go to bed early because the sun says so! Have you ever noticed that you get really tired when we switch to daylight savings time? If so, you can be assured that your body rhythms are pretty in sync with the earth’s natural rhythms. Your body, specifically your pineal gland is taking its cues from the sun. When the sun starts setting earlier you will become tired earlier. When we switch to daylight saving time and we lose an hour your pineal gland will be confused by this silly human concept and that results in your feeling very tired for several nights. It takes me about 2 weeks to adapt to the shift in time. Honor your body as it adapts to the shifting time and sunlight hours. Go to bed earlier than usual if you feel like you can’t keep your eyes open. Leave the party or don’t go to the party at all if it's after sunset. If a party or other activity truly supports your best experience of the season, then don’t forget to wear your blue-blockers so you can actually go to sleep when you get home.
My parents and extended family taught me about service. We always performed acts of service for others during the holiday season. One year we secretly delivered nightly goodies to a man who had just lost his wife. He died within a week of ringing in the New Year and you have to know we felt rewarded knowing that we brought some cheer to his last weeks. Another year, we secretly delivered small tokens of love to a man who was stricken with cancer and was at risk for losing his job. My hubs and I have carried on this tradition during our marriage. One year we delivered a decorated tree to a man that was recently divorced. When he invited us in, we were shocked to see his house was completely empty save a kitchen table, chairs, and the Christmas tree. Another year we gathered socks, gloves, and hats, to deliver to homeless individuals living on the streets during the freezing months of winter. Last year we collected books for under-served schools in our area. If you want to feel more instead of do more during the holidays, I can guarantee you serving others will give you more satisfaction than any ugly sweater contest (although those are pretty fun too). Acts of service are the gift that gives back and that warm feeling keeps giving all year long.
How are you going to get the most out of your 2019 holiday season?