The holiday season is in full swing, and with it, opportunities for excess and overindulgence. I used to use the holidays as an excuse for partying hard. After a year of intense work, I deserved it, didn’t I? Besides, I could always get back on track in January.
In addition to using alcohol to get out of my head, I used it as a coping mechanism for pent-up stress, familial expectations, and unresolved “issues” that always seem to heighten during the holiday season.
But I often ended up feeling worse for wear. Hungover, bloated, broken out, and anxious from lack of sleep — that's not what I'd been looking forward to, but that's what I always ended up with. Worse, I got sick often and ended up spending the few days I had at home with my family, self-medicating with DayQuil and sneaking Kahlua into my coffee. How else was I supposed to fake that holiday cheer?
Over the years, I’ve refined my approach a bit.
These seven strategies show that the path of moderation actually brings the most benefits. The ability to indulge a bit while staying healthy and having a better handle on stress is the happy medium I needed.
1. Set your intentions ahead of time.
Too often, we accept the holidays as an inevitable “all-or-nothing” affair, either going cold turkey OR giving up with a vow to get back on track in January.
What if you were to navigate the holidays in a way that didn’t leave you feeling like a detox or a sober month was the only penance that could make your choices acceptable?
Take some time (the sooner the better) to set your intentions for the holidays. How do you want to feel during the holidays? Now get more specific and think about that potentially triggering family gathering or work party: How do you want to feeling during and after that event?
Get crystal clear on this image of yourself, and then work backward. In order to feel and embody those qualities, how much should you be drinking or eating? What kinds of drinks, foods, or substances should you avoid altogether? How many drinks (if any) will allow you to follow through on your intentions?
Create a plan and write it down. (I mean it. Write it down now! You are far more likely to follow through on your intentions if you take the time to get clear and externalize them by writing them down. Bonus points if you share your intentions with someone else who can support you to stay on track.)
2. Plan your alternatives.
It’s one thing to say “I don’t want to drink as much this year” or “I’m not going to eat the whole pie, or my weight in candied yams [my personal fave]” but without alternatives in place, these intentions can fall short.
What tasty non-alcoholic drink can you bring to the event? Now’s the time to search recipes and stock up on ingredients. A simple Google search of “healthy non-alcoholic holiday cocktails” will bring up myriad options with seasonal ingredients such as ginger, pumpkin, apple, cranberry, peppermint, in a variety of hot and cold options.
Pouring it into a fancy cup and adding a garnish will make it feel like more of a treat and less of a sad alternative. You’re also less likely to draw attention to yourself than if you just drink water.
Same goes for healthy treats. Bringing healthier alternatives with you to a party or event can ensure that you will have options on hand.
3. Start your day the healthy way.
Try to stick to your morning routine as much as possible. For me, when things get busy and the season of temptation is in full force, I know that realistically I’m not going to be eating 100 percent healthy all the time. And that’s okay.
I’ve noticed that I’m a lot less likely to go overboard on booze and unhealthy treats when I start my day healthfully and with intention. For me that means sticking to my morning ritual of water and lemon juice, green tea and then green juice or a green smoothie.
Even as things get busy and I’m traveling, I try to start my day with a few minutes of meditation or journaling, and this can be a welcome break to get centered during family gatherings as well.
During the holiday season I make an extra effort to stick to my morning routine. It eases my mind to know that I’ve started my day giving my body a boost of vitamins, minerals, and alkalizing foods.
Taking a few moments to myself each day to ground and center myself also helps prepare me for any potential stressors that may come flying at me — and will help me remember my alternatives to drowning my stress in alcohol.
4. Arrive and assess.
When you first arrive at a dinner party or holiday event, do a quick survey. What are the healthy alternatives? What beverages are on hand that are not alcoholic? Go ahead and pour yourself one of those first (or the one you brought). Wait at least 30 to 45 minutes before pouring yourself an alcoholic drink.
This simple shift can help establish a new pattern and take you out of the unconscious routine. The idea is to bring mindfulness to your actions instead of staying on autopilot, which often leads to drinking way more than you originally wanted to.
During the “arrive and assess” time period, you may want to make yourself a plate of the yummiest options at the buffet. Now’s the time to do it rather than waiting until you are ravenous or two drinks into your evening.
Remember, eating will also help you stick to your intentions around your alcohol consumption. It helps by giving you something to do in what might feel like an awkward first few moments sans alcohol.
5. Allow yourself to indulge.
Have you ever found yourself tipsy at the dessert table, stuffing yourself full of everything you won’t allow yourself to eat when you are sober? I’ve certainly had this experience and I know I’m not alone.
While sticking to your intentions is important, so is giving yourself permission to indulge. You deserve it! Allowing yourself to enjoy the holiday treats that you love (in moderation and while sober) will help reduce your stress response and actually reduce cravings.
Deprivation is no fun and is likely to cause bingeing behaviors or result in guilt later on. 'Tis the season, so make sure you enjoy it, mindfully.
6. Make stress reduction a priority.
Yeah, the holidays can be stressful, no doubt about it. Family or work obligations; expectations from our significant others; temptations left, right, and center — the list goes on.
Take stock of your stress management techniques and start practicing self-care now. Book a massage, have relaxing baths, listen to a guided meditation to unwind or prepare for an event. In a word: chill. You deserve it and it’s an essential component of your strategy to thrive during the holidays.
In the same vein, consider doing something totally revolutionary and politely declining any invitation that doesn’t make you feel more than awesome. Is it really worth it to attend every single event, especially if it’s likely to derail your wellness plan or your mental health?
We all know that any situation can become even more irritating or taxing if we are sleep-deprived. Holidays aren't an excuse for not sleeping. Getting enough sleep will make managing everyone's expectations a little easier.
Try to avoid caffeine in the afternoons and evenings. If you are drinking alcohol, remember that drinking more than the recommended amount as well as drinking right before bed can actually disrupt your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
(If you are curious about the recommended amount for the evening, “low-risk guidelines” suggest no more than two standard drinks for women or three standard drinks for men.
If possible, have your last drink at least an hour before bed and try a cup of calming chamomile tea instead. Of course, powering down electronics and treating yourself to a relaxing bedtime routine will also help you unwind.
What is your favorite strategy for reducing stress during the holidays? What tips for moderating alcohol work well for you? Let us know in the comments!
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