Holidays are a special time of year, where many of us travel home and gather with family members or old familiar friends. It’s also a time of year where bad habits surface and healthy habits tend to disappear especially when it comes to the consumption of food, alcohol, cigarettes as well as spending too much money on gifts.
There are many reasons why this may occur:
• Regression- People have a strong tendency to revert back to former patterns of behavior when they return to places from their past. This is reinforced by the people around them who revert back to old expectations of behavior based on a former “identity”. For example, if you were a “drinker” in college you may find yourself drinking with old college friends just out of habit or failure to forge healthier common ground.
AsktheCBT Tip: Be mindful of yourself and how you want to behave before the holidays occur. Set a reminder for yourself to focus on it just before you get together with people.
AsktheCBT Tip: Make a specific commitment. Don’t just say I don’t want to get drunk. Set a limit to the number of cocktails or the amount you will spend.
AsktheCBT Tip: Practice ways to say “No thank you”. This way when your Uncle Al invites you to sneak out after dinner for your ritualistic post meal cigarette you can be prepared with “Thanks but I quit a week ago and I want to enter the New Year feeling good rather than making promises”
• “Holiday Head”: The Cognitive Influence – Where you justify every indulgent behavior with some notion of “it’s a special occasion so its okay to over indulge.”
Here’s some news: Money is money and food is food whether you spend or eat it on a holiday or not, if you cannot afford it or your waist line is already being pushed to the limit then don’t justify it. Remember that the food and items will most likely be there tomorrow.
• Stress- Not only does stress cause a physiological response in the body that shuts down our ability to digest food properly but it also shuts down our bodies’ ability to detect when it’s truly hungry.
On top of that, studies show that overweight or obese people have a tendency to be more sensitive to certain external cues (e.g. taste, smell, social situations) than to internal cues (stomach motility) so in stressful situations heavier people are likely to over eat.
AsktheCBT Tip: Breathe deeply. You can manage your hormone levels by engaging in properly paced diaphragmatic breathing (see my article on breathing your way to happiness for instruction). This will shut down your fight or flight response and work to restore your bodies’ equilibrium before you reach for another serving of potatoes.
• Failure to exercise: Due to “holiday head” (rationalizing that the holidays are a
time to relax and kick back) or because of less free time around the holidays people tend to forgo their exercise routine.
This is actually the worse time of year to indulge in a sedentary lifestyle- As our body becomes sedentary our nervous systems begin to mellow out, becoming “Flat”- similar to the make up of a depressed person. Studies show that when people are depressed they seek ways to self medicate with alcohol, cigarettes, food and spending.
AsktheCBT Tip: Head it off at the pass! Don’t skimp on the exercise. If your gym is closed or operating on a limited schedule this is the time to take a walk outside or break out that DVD. The point is do something to get your body going for at least 20 minutes so you allow your body to secrete endorphins to liven your mood!
AsktheCBT Tip: If you exercise briefly before and after the meal you are more likely to maintain a healthy view throughout the dinner and will avoid the desire to snack before dinner starts.
Zipping it up: Don’t fail to enlist the support of others when trying to change behaviors. People who fail to ask for help from friends and family members because they are embarrassed, think they should be able to manage these things on their own or don’t want to be held accountable by others, reduce their chances of being successful. Why? Because as I already mentioned, people will expect you to behave the same unless you give them a reason to expect something different.