A lot of people find the holiday season stressful. There’s so much going on. For some it’s stressful because they don’t have a lot going on, and it seems that everyone around them does. One way or another, it’s not easy to be unaffected by the festive season – whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah or any other holiday.

Whatever your situation – if you’re reading this, you’re probably concerned about how you will manage yourself around food. Festival periods always involve food – usually a lot of it, and often foods that are specific to that festival, and which aren’t readily available all the time. Then there are the body image worries to compound the anxiety around food.

If any of this resonates with you, then stay tuned. This is the first in a series of 5 blogs, focused on how to enjoy the holidays without all the food and body stress. I’ll be talking about:

  • Setting the scene and self-care
  • Preparing yourself
  • Dropping the rules
  • The Big Day of Eating!
  • The days after

Setting the scene

Did you know that the brain can’t tell the difference between a real and a perceived event? The same areas of the brain light up in fMRI scans. This is why visualisation is so helpful. When you visualise, it’s the same thing to the brain as being there. Visualising helps you practice. The more you can visualise how you want to engage with something, the more natural it will feel in real life, and the more likely you’ll do it. When you visualise, you’re stepping into the version of yourself who can and does behave and feel the way you are in the visualisation.

To prepare yourself for the holiday period, I’ve created a visualisation for you.  How would you like to show up for yourself over the next few weeks? Can you set aside 20-30 mins to explore this for yourself, and set the scene?

If so, get your journal or paper and a pen, turn off all your notifications and tabs, put your phone on silent, so you can focus on this. Can you give yourself that?

Once you have completed the exercise, you have set the scene for the  next few weeks  –  you have set your intentions and how you want to look back on this holiday period. You’re giving your brain direction about what you’re creating for yourself.

Now there are some steps to take to support you. And the first of these is…. drum-roll…

Self-care

What usually happens in the build up to the holidays, is that it’s soooooo busy! There are gifts to buy, stockings to fill, carol services, nativity plays and end-of-year performances to attend. Office parties. Friends’ having drinks parties with mince pies & mulled wine. Menus to prepare. Decorations to make, buy, assemble and display. Perhaps there will be visits to or from friends or family you may not have seen in a while, or that you typically have a stressful time around…

It’s a lot.

And it can be exhausting.

Which is a Big Trigger for overeating or binge eating.

So here’s a tip.

Start TODAY to build in extra self care. Your self-care account will be nice and full when you need it most. It is busy. There are demands on your time and energy. Even if you thoroughly enjoy every minute of it!

What can you do to front-load your self-care, now? Here are some thoughts, but do tell me yours, and more importantly, what you will actually do!

  • Eat regularly, according to your hunger as much as possible (don’t let yourself get too hungry);
  • Rest when you notice you’re tired, or go to bed early;
  • Be mindful of your to-do list: how can you simplify; what can you let go of?
  • Be choosy – go to the events you really want to go to. Let go of the ones that don’t light your fire.
  • If you don’t already have a meditation practice, perhaps now is the time to start. Start with a few minutes and build from there. There are so many apps to choose from and there’s a lot on the internet as well. Meditation is one of the most self-caring things you can ‘do’, in my opinion.
  • Give yourself time out every day, to do anything you find restorative – whether it’s exercise,  reading a book, sitting with your feet up and a cup of tea, having a soak in the bath, etc. Brainstorm a list of things you can do just for this purpose, and then pick one a day. It doesn’t have to be masses of time – 15 minutes to half an hour a day…
  • When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, write down your thoughts and challenge them: mind-management is a very important self care tool! You’ll probably find you have a lot of ‘have-to’s’ and ‘shoulds’. Remind yourself that there is nothing you have to do. And nothing you should do either. These ideas drain our energy and add stress.

It’s important to do this proactively. Don’t wait until you’re on the floor with exhaustion and the only way through it is by overeating to shore up your energy. Do it now, as part of your day.

Support

It’s one thing to say you’ll put self-care strategies in place, and it’s another to actually do them. I’m sure you’ve had experience with this. Many many times I have had good intentions, which have fallen flat, because I didn’t have adequate support in place.

Who in your life can support you with your radical, daily front-loading of self-care?

It doesn’t need to be heavy-duty support – simply someone to whom you can say, every day, ‘I added credit to my self-care account today.’

If you can’t think of anyone, what other creative solutions can you come up with?

One more thing – reward

Rewards are SO important! What they do is to help you reinforce your self-care neural pathways. Neural pathways are reinforced by strong emotion (positive or negative). So put this information to good use and celebrate every time you add credit to your self-care account. You don’t have to buy yourself stuff, and you don’t have to give yourself food treats – you can do something as simple as giving yourself a high five, shouting out ‘Yahoo! I took good care of myself today’, doing a little dance, actually patting yourself on the back… go over the top! You can’t overdo this!

What’s important is the feeling. Go for the celebration, the self-acknowledgement, the self-love.

It matters.

So do you.

The next blog in this series is all about preparing yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually (if that means something to you). Look out for it.

Need help making peace with food?