Mind and Body

5 tips to have a healthier, happier holiday

As the year comes to an end, we may feel pulled to decide to start over next year. 

Instead of gathering debt, weight and negative feelings, celebrate the joy of the season and end this year with a sense of true fulfillment. To fully enjoy the holidays, we have to stay true to what we care about in the face of intense temptations.

Here are some tips to enhance your joy:

1. Accept!
Temptation and difficult feelings can creep up anytime. Sales and sweets understandably lure you. Neither fantasizing nor cringing when you face peppermint mochas, fruitcake, and gingerbread cookies will make them disappear.  If you feel sad or anxious, fighting the feelings will only make you feel more, not less.

We only have so much willpower and can only fight for so long before we give in to our urges. Here’s the great news, we don’t have to fight and exhaust our willpower. We can practice acceptance.  

Cravings exist, they rise and fall, and difficulty sitting with craving is one reason people tend to lose weight and gain it right back. Learning to accept and notice thoughts about needing to indulge rather than indulging frees you up from fighting and emptying your willpower supply. Just think, if you were to wash your dishes with a relaxed face and present focus, it may not be all that bad though when we grimace and scowl and ruminate on the process, it’s misery making.

2. Be kind to yourself.
Self-compassion provides more sustainable soothing than comfort food, which isn’t all that comforting. When we face pain or a diet slip up, we may beat ourselves up and indulge more.  A study found when college women were instructed to eat a donut and then eat candy, the group of women who were compassionately told, “Everyone eats unhealthily sometimes, and everyone in this study eats this stuff, so I don’t think there’s any reason to feel really bad about it,” actually ate less than those who were not provided this explanation. 

Compassion is quite different from self-indulgence. Notice if you’re beating yourself up in general or in the context of slipping up on a weight goal.

3. Give tough people a chance.
Over the holidays, we may face difficult people as we travel and spend time with friends and family members. Anger may lead to overeating, and beyond that, who wants to feel angry? Spending a moment giving a challenging person the benefit of the doubt or searching to find one of his virtues may free you from the inner turmoil anger engenders.  I’ve noticed if you search to find the saint in someone, he begins to act saintly.

4. Get into the holiday spirit.
There is so much to savor this holiday season including decorations, friends’ laughter and spiritual growth. There is a lot to take in beyond the nourishment on the table. We may feel deprived when we focus narrowly on what we believe we can’t have, why not take in the full experience to relish more? Food is fleeting, connecting is completing.

5. Stay sober.
Alcohol intensifies emotions and impairs judgment. So many of my patients notice they thoughtfulness disappears and impulsivity rules when drinking. Rather than risk your reputation at the office or find yourself in a state where you can’t really pay attention to what you care about, actively cope ahead and deciding to consume less alcohol to reduce shame and remember the fun.  If you feel anxious in social situations, you may find yourself relying on drinking. Practicing acceptance of your anxiety and self-compassion will help you learn to actually cope.

Jennifer Taitz  is a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York City. She is the author of End Emotional Eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Cope with Difficult Emotions and Develop Healthy Relationship to Food. Visit her website drjennytaitz.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter to learn more.