During the holidays, we all assume there will be a lapse in our self-care routine. More calories in, fewer out; but we often lose sight of the collateral damage to spending days on end traveling and functioning in someone else’s habitat. The R&R that’s required to recover during this end-of-the-year purgatory time is more than just snapping back to your old routine.
The pressure of the New Year means we’re all chasing new resolutions, or at the very least trying to remember what it was like for our pants to fit properly (speaking from experience!). But let’s talk about some pleasures you should never feel guilty about when it comes to recovering from the holiday whirlwind.
- Forget exercise. How’s your sleep? If there’s anything I can’t get enough of once I’m back in my own bed with my own pets and my own thermostat, it’s sleep. Even on a normal basis, we tend to neglect it. According to the CDC, at least a third of adults in the US get fewer than the recommended 7 hours on a normal basis, and the holidays only exacerbate that.
For me the week of Christmas meant sleeping on my boyfriend’s childhood full-size bed (we have a king at home), with artificial heat blasting all night (the Northeast is basically an ice box right now), with a belly half-full of eggnog (cue fitful rest at best). Follow that with a 6 am flight, and I feel like I’ve been shaken in a snow globe.
Even the most relaxed family holiday get-togethers take you out of your normal sleep pattern, so it’s important to make time for sleep once you’re back home. For us that meant passing out at 7 pm the night of our flight back, and not rising again for a good thirteen hours. Our normal sleep schedule resumed after that, but my skin, my bowel movements, my whole rhythm thanked me as a result.
And if you’re one of those folks who takes pride in surviving on little to no sleep, I can’t aim to change you. But for people like me, functioning on minimal sleep means nausea, headaches, and generally losing my will to survive. So don’t make excuses – make time to recover. Your body will thank you.
- Chill on the indulgences. During any normal month of the year, I’ll enjoy some chocolate after dinner, or a nightcap before bed. But the holidays tend to force us into overload on these “treats.” Our bodies need a break after all that nibbling, not just for our waistlines, but for our mental health!
Just like with kids, when we turn a treat into an anytime snack, our brains get calibrated to expect it. Sugar is highly addictive, and generally inflammatory to our bodies, so it’s important to put it back on its pedestal of “treat-status” once the holidays are over.
Once you stop for a minute on the booze and the sugar (which sometimes come in the same glass!), your body will probably slap you with a headache for all your indulgence; but after that, your brain and gut will begin to thank you for allowing the muck to clear out. Soon the idea of eating a piece of pie, a few cookies, having some holiday peppermint bark, and having a few glasses of wine and maybe a nip of eggnog…will make you sick just thinking about it. And it should.
- Check in with your Self. One of the primary tenets of mindfulness is taking the time to be aware; aware of your body, your mind, how you’re feeling, how you’re thinking. Now is the time to get back in touch with that routine, and to begin healing again. Healing from what, you ask?
Yes, the holidays are joyful. But they’re also anxious. They involve tons of people who don’t typically spend every waking moment together, smashed into an immersive situation for a sometimes uncomfortable amount of time. They involve trying to cram as much “together” into the time they have as they possibly can. The holidays require endurance, and often they test our limits.
So I ask myself, “are you still feeling any anxiety even though you’ve left the overstimulated environment?” If so, I know I need quiet. “Are you anxious that you overindulged?” If so, the above suggestions come to mind.
Often it’s times like these, where we’re so immersed in the action that we hardly have time to come up for air, that we unwittingly begin to create new, unhealthy mental schemas. Essentially, we go into survival mode, and we build neural pathways motivated by fear and convenience because we can’t take the time to process things in a healthy way.
It’s important not to shame yourself for these defense mechanisms. It’s an exceptional set of circumstances, and fortunately, it only comes once or twice a year. Instead, focus your energy on those parts of you that need healing, that felt bald and vulnerable in the face of so many stimuli. Now is the time to ensure that these neural pathways find a healthy exit, so make sure you’re devoting as much time to self-care as you need right now.
The best thing about taking this time to get re-centered before the new year starts is that you’ll get ahead of your obligations and be able to approach ambitions with a clear head and a surplus of energy. No one wants to enter the new year exhausted and withered from holiday stress, essentially feeling one step behind before the year even starts.
So break-from to break-with these damaging habits to start off the year with a fresh outlook, and by all means, cherish the time you get to spend with your loved ones. Taking the time to heal after the holidays means what’s left are the beautiful memories with family and friends, without the holiday hangover. Isn’t that what the holiday spirit is all about?