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Maintaining Serenity Over the Holidays

stay calmAs usual, the topics that come up around this time of year are filled with as much agony as excitement. Following are some tips and strategies surrounding food, travel, personal relationships, and sleep that my clients and I have come up with over the years to ease the holiday woes.

Food

Many of us find ourselves confronted with mouth-watering meals that we wouldn’t be tempted by during other times of the year. In my family, dishes like homemade stuffing, ham, turkey, macaroni and cheese, buttery garlic mashed potatoes, and gravy created from the drippings, are only a few of the basic staples of the main meal. Crowded next to these great dishes are the unforgettable assortment of pies, cakes, and cookies designed to push our already full bellies over the top into a state of being that we playfully describe as a “food coma.” Just in case we find ourselves hungry between meals, we can always count on our friends and relatives who couldn’t join us on that day to send their holiday cheer in small (and not so small) boxes filled with homemade candy, sweet and spicy nuts, and festive-shaped cookies.

Over the years I have collected techniques and strategies from my clients. The common theme is to come to each situation with a plan.

Often during our holiday meals our brains forget what a normal-sized plate of food looks like. It is easy to forget how much we normally would eat when confronted with lots of delectable possibilities. By the time samples of all the twenty or so food choices are piled on our plate we have created a small mountain. What to do? One way to not gorge ourselves is to look at the holiday meal as a multi-day event. Often large meals produce leftovers. If this is the case, make a conscious choice to try some of the food items now and some of them later. At the same time, give some thought to which of the food choices you truly want. Maybe there are items that you wouldn’t care for or normally eat in everyday life. By remembering our preferred eating habits we can trim down the number of alluring choices.

If food is going to be offered all day, approach the options the same way you would if you were in the grocery store when many samples were available. Have a small bite by scooping half of a forkful and truly savor the taste. Then, when the next dish is completed and the chef needs a taste tester, use the same technique and not over do it. By coming in with a plan, you can avoid consuming an entire day’s worth of food within the first fifteen minutes of a holiday meal.

Travel to See family

I like to think of traveling over the holidays as three separate components. Getting there, being there, and returning home. Traveling to our destination by airplane, train, bus or car has the potential to be frustrating due to cancellations, traffic, security, and weather conditions, to name just a few problems. During this time of year, it is easy to find departure tips designed to cut back on some of our unwanted frustrations. Giving yourself extra time when catching a flight, packing light, and arranging travel during off-peak hours are all ways to avoid potential travel chaos.

Once we have arrived at our destination, what can we do to make sure we have the positive experience we are hoping for? These days it is normal to have family and friends gather for the holidays from the four ends of the earth. Being around relatives that we see only once a year and don’t know very well could present as a challenge. I always find it important to remember what my goals are when spending time with these familiar strangers. For many of us, family gatherings hold the important role of providing time to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company. As your conversations move from benign family and work topics to deeper personal philosophy, remember that you don’t need to agree on everything. Having the intention of respecting the opinions of others can take the edge off of many situations. Another strategy is to be thoughtful when entering into sensitive conversations that may lead to misunderstandings. If you need to talk about a delicate subject, a one on one conversation can cut down on the number of possible misinterpretations.

When planning the return portion of your trip, give yourself a day to acclimate to being home again before going back to work. Allowing time to unpack, unwind and settle back in to your normal routine can make your re-entry much smoother.

Sleep

When we are traveling, our normal sleep patterns often take a beating. Late night flights, long road trips, and unfamiliar environments often result in sleep that is not restful. After a few days, many people find themselves in a state of sleep deprivation. A common misunderstanding is that you have to be awake for days before falling into the category of sleep deprivation, but that is not the case. Sleep deprivation can cause emotional disturbances that lead to aggressive behavior, apathy, and dramatic swings between euphoria and depression. One can also experience pain in joints, hallucinations, visions, as well as lose the ability to think straight and act quickly. Those who have been sleep deprived for long periods of time, usually find it hard to finish a sentence or find an appropriate word to describe something. Short term memory also tends to fail.

Medical professionals who study sleep say that modern people typically do not get enough sleep; on the average, an adult requires eight to nine hours of a good night’s sleep. Many, however, get to sleep seven hours or less. Each women needs to learn how may hours she needs to completely rehabilitate her powers. Listen to your body and sleep when you are tired!

Here are a few things to think about when traveling:

 If you are like me, the alignment of my neck and head plays a big role in the quality of sleep I get each night. Bringing along your own pillows can make all the difference.
 Other familiar items such as our favorite sleepwear and fragrances found in the soaps and creams you regularly use before bed can also help.
 Some people find it hard to settle down and feel sleepy when staying in a new environment. Strategies like getting physical exercise during the day, drinking herbal sleepy time teas at night, and not going to sleep on a full stomach can be useful in promoting a sense of sleepiness at night.
 Sticking as close as possible to your regular sleeping pattern and habits is always important. I have even gone as far as using ear plugs when I thought that certain party animals might be active past my bedtime.

Speaking of animals, did you know that we all require different amounts of sleep? For example, ungulate animals (animals with hooves) require only three hours of sleep a night. Elephants and cows sleep for four hours. Dogs, pigs and guinea pigs, similar to humans, require eight to nine hours of sleep. Hedgehogs and beavers sleep longer: ten to eleven hours.

As a practitioner whose focus is on women’s wellness, I have witnessed first hand how the holidays can be especially stressful on my clients. As the primary care givers in our families, we can easily focus on everyone else and forget about our own enjoyment and down time. I have learned that there are two key thought patterns to creating balance between taking care of ourselves and taking care of others:

1. Know that you not only deserve but need as much rest and relaxation as the other people in your circle.
2. Plan out loud with your circle of friends and family how you are going to take time for yourself. By clearing out all the mental clutter that can hold you back and bringing forward any unspoken expectations that others may have of you, a clear path toward a fulfilling holiday experience can be forged.

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