Michael Mantell by Michael Mantell

Thanksgiving mealIt didn’t take Edward Pola and George Wyle to write “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” back in 1963 to remind us that the holiday season can be a terrific time to enhance our lives, our wellbeing and our health.

There’ll be parties for hosting,
Marshmallows for toasting,
And caroling out in the snow.
It’s the most wonderful time.
It’s the hap-happiest season.

For about 20 percent of Americans, however, the holiday season is more challenging than wonderful. When the days grow shorter, many people slow down, are more fatigued, have a tougher time falling asleep and waking, report more concentration challenges, have intense carb cravings with related weight gain, complain of a decrease in sexual interest and feel increasingly saddened. While not quite meeting the diagnostic criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (which affects about 5 percent of the population), these symptoms, which commonly occur between October/November and March/April, call into question how the season can be considered so wonderful and happy.
There’s less light during this “wonderful time” and that may cause serotonin levels to tumble, which can lead to increases in food cravings. On top of that, vitamin D and melatonin levels often drop, which, combined with increased stress and increased cortisol levels, makes weight loss a real challenge, especially with decreased activity. 

So just how can you shift your thinking and embrace this “hap-happiest season,” ensuring that you continue to lead an active, healthy lifestyle? It all begins and ends with your thoughts, especially those thoughts that invite the unwanted guests “stress” and “tension.”

Here’s what to do:

1. Catch yourself when you start thinking inaccurately about the time of year. Are you filling your head with what you can’t do because of the weather? Nonsense. What does weather MAKE you feel? Physically, of course, cold, warm, etc. But emotionally, it all hangs on your thoughts. Your thoughts about the season determine what you feel and how you act. It all depends on your thinking; thus, “the link is what you think.”

Of course there’s plenty you can do to keep up your activity and exercise during the colder days ahead instead of erroneously believing that you can’t. In fact, all that indoor air can become a bit unhealthy so look at (i.e., change your thoughts about) the outdoors as a chance to release those depression-fighting hormones by going for a run through fall’s colorful leaves or getting your cardio and strength workout in with wise, safe and fun snow shoveling. You can also start taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away from your office, joining a new class at your local gym, ftry inding a local heated pool, and using those holiday TV commercials as signals to do some jumping jacks, planks, squats and running in place.

2. Be sure your thinking is realistic about the way you expect people to treat you and what the holidays “should” be—no, not perfect faultless or ideal. Those demands and expectations will only set you up for heartache. People won’t treat you the way YOU want them to. They will treat you the way THEY want to treat you. Perfection? There is no such thing, so stop making yourself unhappy thinking THEY are having a perfect holiday and you SHOULD BE too. They aren’t, though they may be thinking YOU are.

3. Plan ahead to go into every day knowing your eating menu. What do you plan to eat at the office luncheon? What about the office dinner party? Plan in advance by checking the menu and sticking with it. Need help? Call in a lifeline, a friend who is supportive. Cravings will come and go, but when equipped with your eating plan in advance, it’s a lot easier to deal with those cravings and stick to your plan. Avoid this common thought: “If I make a mistake, I’ve blown it for the day so I might as well keep eating whatever I want and get back on track tomorrow.” Don’t let one misstep lead to another. If you do, then you aren’t challenging your thoughts. THINK—is it True, Helpful to think that thought, Inspirational to your healthy living commitment, Necessary to think that way, and Kind to yourself? Have a bunch of “no’s”? Time to change that thought. 

4. Before the holidays begin, start pumping up your willpower by seeing the holidays as a time to celebrate your health and wellbeing. That changes the big picture of what the holidays are all about, doesn’t it? Keep reminding yourself of your larger goal, a celebration of your health, when you accept a dinner date, a party invitation or an office lunch. While “they” are kicking back sugary sodas and candy corn, mindlessly munching Halloween candies, taking thirds on desserts they erroneously believe they “must” enjoy, skipping workouts, ignoring limits on alcohol, falling for the fat-free myth or skipping breakfasts, you are quietly celebrating the most important value you’ve embraced—your health. That is what makes it truly the “hap-happiest time of the year.”

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