The holidays are a time that can be incredibly fulfilling, joyful and celebratory.
However, the holidays can also be a time where stressors are heightened, and things can become overwhelming for a lot of different reasons. For those who struggle with anxiety, struggle to maintain balance, have a complicated relationship with food or are working to overcome outdated and negative thoughts around food, the holidays can be a challenging time. Sometimes, it’s not about the food and more about how others will perceive or comment on what you are (or aren’t consuming). Complex family dynamics can exacerbate the stress around holiday eating.
At BeFueled Sports Nutrition, a core tenet of our nutrition philosophy is focused on nourishing your body with foods you enjoy.
Around the holidays, so many extrinsic and intrinsic factors can play into what we do or don’t put on our plates. So, I wanted to take a moment and really walk through a few ways that you can support yourself if you are a person who finds the holiday “eating season” tricky. I hope some of the things in this blog post are useful to you as you begin to build a toolkit that will enable you to navigate the unique stressors around holidays without missing out on the fun and festivity of the season!
How to Practice Mindfulness & Other Healthy Habits During the Holidays
1. Begin with an unshakable foundation …
We have been loving Mel Robbins’ new book, ‘The High 5 Habit’. It contains this amazing tool that’ll help you immediately find your center before you head into any situation. This is a great habit to get into for the day to day of your life. But, it is also a heavy hitter for feeling comfortable with yourself no matter the situation (like those sticky holiday conversations around food that make you wanna run into the washroom and hide).
If you do find yourself in the washroom, go ahead and give yourself a high 5 in that mirror. And, remind yourself that you deserve that little positive boost and that it’s OK if others don’t understand or appreciate your stance on what is or isn’t going in your mouth. Your worth is not based on your weight/food preference/drink/insert-your-personal-holiday-hang-up-here.
If the mirror high five doesn’t quite boost you, and your alarm bells are going off more than jingle bells, place your hands over your heart (as Mel says, high five your heart!) take a deep breath and repeat the following mantra;
“I am ok. I am safe. I am loved.”
until you are feeling calm and comfortable. There’s science behind why this works! (Porges, et.al., 1994) By placing your hands over your heart and repeating this mantra, you are actually helping to improve your vagal tone. This is fancy speak for helping your 10th cranial nerve (the vagus nerve) switch you between your sympathetic (fight or flight, stress) response to a parasympathetic (rest and digest) response. The faster you can make this switch, the better you are at controlling your body’s anxiety response, and the more quickly you can calm back down and become present in the moment.
Mindfulness is a great way to avoid imposing food rules during the holidays. And, it can be a powerful tool, channeling your mind to help you manage any food related anxiety during the holidays (or really anytime). We often talk about meal prep and planning ahead as a form of self care. So, when you approach a holiday party, having a loose plan of what that balanced plate looks like for you with holiday foods, plus some favorites for good measure, can help you feel prepared to approach that banquet table with confidence.
Choosing foods that you really want to eat will make your holiday meal more satisfying.
The holiday season comes with certain foods that you may only have once or twice a year. If you are approaching your plate mindfully, with balance, and adding in those items that make holiday foods so special, then you will be in a really great place with maintaining that mindfulness around your meal.
Furthermore, paying attention to your body is a great way to be mindful around holiday tension and food. If you are able to pay attention to when you are full, hungry, or satisfied, you can position yourself to fuel so that your emotional state doesn’t compromise your nutritional plans or negatively impact your mental wellness. For example, if you find yourself eating when you are stressed out, bored or frustrated, or if you find yourself restricting yourself from food during the day because you are planning to attend an event later in the evening, a mindfulness reframe might be a tool that can help you refocus your mentality.
By choosing to plan for a healthful day with consistent meals and snacks, it helps you to set yourself up to approach any event with the same thoughtful and supportive tactics that take you through the other 10 months of the year.
YOU GOT THIS!
If you are looking for some 1-on-1 support with eating to support your overall wellness and activity for the holidays and beyond, perhaps establishing a relationship with a Registered Dietitian is the right connection for you. In that case, I’d love to help!
8 Mindfulness Tips for the Holidays and Beyond
In addition to these mindfulness techniques, we talked to you, our BFSN community. We asked, “What are your go-to ways to come back to your center when the holiday stressors start to impact your nutrition and mental wellness?” The following are some of our favorite community offered suggestions;
1. Do your favorite form of movement.
Running and walking are popular BFSN community options for decompressing. And, this flows nicely into another great suggestion, getting some time outside. If you are a cooler weather lover, taking your run outdoors is a great way to get some fresh air and sunshine, and take in the beauty of the late fall and winter season. However, if the cooler weather isn’t your favorite climate to move in, taking that run/walk indoors is a great choice to get the mental and physical benefits of activity without all the layers. Not a big runner or walker? Not a problem! Any movement that brings you joy is perfect! Indoor cycling, yoga, Pilates, strength workouts, even dancing it out are all great options here. The key is that you enjoy what you do!
2. Get outside.
This has some serious benefits, including the fresh air and vitamin D from sunshine! Even if you’re just taking your pup for a stroll, or taking a casual walk around the block with your family or friends, time outside doesn’t have to be dedicated to heavy exercise efforts to have a positive outcome for your mind and body! In fact, research has shown that you begin to reap the benefits of time outdoors at just 120 minutes per week! (Sheik, 2019)
3. Utilizecalming and meditation apps!
With offerings for improving health and wellness around sleep, breathing, meditation, and stress reduction, Calm is the #1 app for health and happiness. There is free and paid content for Calm, and you can gift Calm to yourself or a loved one! There’s even a free Gratitude Toolkit that is perfect to start your Thanksgiving and holidays with some practices in expressing gratefulness. This can create transformational positive shifts in your mindset (which is what we are all about!) Additionally, Insight Timer is amazing and is the #1 FREE app for anxiety, sleep and stress! Insight Timer’s offerings are incredibly vast and have lots of options for filtering. So, you can find exactly what you need to release, relax, and take time for yourself!
4. Practice breathing exercises.
Breathing exercises, such as 4-7-8 breathing, are another favorite for resetting. And, the benefits can be accessed anywhere, even in the midst of a holiday crowd. 4-7-8 breathing is a great method for using the breath to manage stress. And, just like the High 5 Habit, it is a way of stimulating vagal tone and promoting relaxation and that parasympathetic rest and digest response. 4-7-8 breathing involves drawing breath in through your nose for a count of four, holding the breath to the count of seven, and then slowly exhaling through the mouth for a count of 8. If you can find a comfortable spot to close your eyes while performing this, even better! You can repeat these breaths until you feel calmer.
5. Practice grounding exercises.
Using your 5 senses is a great method for quickly rebalancing your mind and emotions that you can do anywhere! A favorite sense grounding exercise is as follows: Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
6. Do a body scan.
This is another great way to bring some meditative awareness into any stressful moment. First, notice any place in your body that you might be holding tension and give yourself permission to relax. If you are able, find a comfortable position. Then, take a few deep breaths. Bring your awareness to your feet grounded into the floor. Then, scan your body and identify any tense areas and direct your breath to those areas. Continue with the breath and identify any tension for each area of your body. Here, we’ve linked a quick body scan meditation for you to get you started!
7. Use prayer, positive self talk and mantras.
These are great ways to de-stress and can be super personal to you and your particular struggle. A great way to build out a mantra is to start with an “I am” statement. Then, add on a power word that provides you with a boost, such as “I am capable” or “I am present and grateful”. Or, you can borrow from Mel Robbins above, and remind yourself “I am ok, I am safe, I am loved”. Mantras, positive self-talk and prayer also lend themselves nicely to any moment where you just need to reset quickly, such as in your car before entering a crowded space. And, they can be easily combined with breathing or grounding exercises to add to your practice.
8. Practice self care, such as eucalyptus baths or essential oils.
These can be great adjuncts to the mindfulness techniques above! Smell is a way to anchor yourself, and can be used to calm and refresh your mind in times of stress. Uplifting essential oils such as citruses, energizing oils such as mint, or relaxing ones such as lavender are favorites! In a pinch, even a strong mint or gum can refresh and brighten your mood if you are mindfully connecting with the fragrance!
Finally, if you find yourself struggling with stress, anxiety, or declining mental and emotional health during the holidays, and feel you need more than the above tips to help, seeking assistance from professional therapists or counselors is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
We hope these community suggestions can provide you with a toolbox from which to choose some methods that support you during the holidays and beyond!
Porges, S. W., Doussard-Roosevelt, J. A., & Maiti, A. K. (1994). Vagal tone and the physiological regulation of emotion. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2/3), 167. https://doi.org/10.2307/1166144
Sheikh, K. (2019, June 13). How much nature is enough? 120 minutes a week, doctors say. The New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/13/health/nature-outdoors-health.html.