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Managing holiday expectations. Do you have a plan?

A strategy for self-care and stress reduction around the holidays

pic-holiday-self-careI read no less than eight articles this morning in my news feed with advice about how to handle the upcoming holidays.

The titles ranged from: “5 Reasons to Eat Whatever You Want on Thanksgiving,” to “How to Plan a Weight Neutral Thanksgiving,” to “Six Holiday Foods with Health Benefits,” to “Smart Snacking Over the Holidays,” to a host of articles with various coping strategies for stress reduction.

I get overwhelmed just sorting through the advice — much of it contradictory. Needless to say, I was hesitant to share my own holiday coping strategy for fear of adding to the clutter. But when I mentioned it to a friend, she urged me to do so. I’ve been quite transparent over the years about the difficulty of maintaining a significant weight loss, and the holidays packed with emotion and stress present a particular set of extra challenges — at least for me. I’ve found that spending just a little proactive time thinking about where you are, what the holiday schedule and expectations look like for you, and then planning self care and coping strategies in advance is a helpful approach. Each of us is different, and often from year to year the challenges are different.

Have you thought about creating your own holiday action plan? Here’s what works for me.

LoriSchaefer-After2First off, it’s no secret that I am a holiday kinda gal. I love people. I love giving. I love to celebrate — just about everything! I love to eat. I love to drink. And I love tradition. Oh, and I really love white twinkle lights, a house full of holiday candles, spreading joy and gratitude…

ITE_Survival_quote_instagramBut, like many of you, I’ve inevitably lived much of my adult life having expectations around the holidays that are blown out of the water and all too often end in stress, overindulgence and disappointment.

In reality, more often than naught the holidays have included a stressful sprint to the finish line to get everything done, meet social obligations and the expectations of others. They have also focused on food and drink in abundance (overindulgence). And, let’s face it, that idyllic vision of time with family and friends rarely lives up to the hype and expectation.

Create a Holiday Action Plan – Set Yourself Up for Success

So, several years ago, I decided to be proactive and create my own Holiday Action Plan. I embarked on the holiday season with a proactive and intentional strategy for practicing self-care and managing expectations, with the goal of maintaining my healthy self and enjoying the season — with its mixed bag. With a few years of planning under my belt, it is getting easier and more fun. And I’ve had some successes.

Having a proactive Holiday Action Plan means I get to decide what’s most important to me and create a plan based on my needs. How does that work? Well, I decide on my healthy eating strategy (or not). I think about and plan for how I’ll handle the pressure and/or temptation to overindulge (and avoid emotional eating). How I’ll prioritize and manage both my expectations and the stress of getting it all done? How I’ll set boundaries? And what holiday traditions are most important to me. Finally, I make sure I have time to practice self-care each day — even if it looks different or is scaled back during the holidays.

Creating your own Holiday Action Plan doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. I simply take time out before the holidays to ask and answer these questions?

  1. What’s most important to me about the holidays this year? Or, what do I need to feel fulfilled, happy and healthy?
  2. What challenges am I likely to face this year? How will I manage those?
  3. What is one really fun thing that I want to be sure to do? A new tradition or experience? (Sometimes it’s more than one.)
  4. How will I nourish my mind, body and spirit during times when overindulgence will be the norm and many things are out of my control?
  5. How will I manage my stress?
  6. What’s my exit strategy or back up plan when things don’t go according to plan?

That’s it. Answering those questions creates the Holiday Action Plan. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. I’ve done it in as little as 10 minutes. Other years I’ve spent much more time deciding what will work best for me and proactively putting strategies in place.

Here’s my 2016 example.

First off, the lay of the land is very different for me this year. And not necessarily in an easy or good way. I know that things will be A LOT tougher in terms of family time. We’ve had an extra tough year. I have a sister who had a massive stroke and who will spend Thanksgiving in the nursing home (a very unpleasant place to be in your 50’s over a holiday), a nephew who needs quality time from his Aunt because his Mom is away/sick, and lots of emotions and expectations from many people around these difficult circumstances. Then, there is the election and its results that cause additional worry, stress and the opportunity for emotional ups and downs and people disagreements/disappointment.

Wait — there’s more! I’m also single again this year — not something I relish during the holidays when all my friends in their 40’s and 50’s are partnered up. Finally, while I’m feeling great — totally healthy and in my equation — and managing my healthy lifestyle quite well, I know that I’m at high risk of emotional upsets over the holidays and the temptation to overindulge will be great. I am clear that I feel good and want to stay on track with my healthy living. That means staying the course on healthy eating and exercise. It means NOT overindulging and NOT allowing in sugar to set off a sugar binge. It’s a slippery slope I don’t need. So no dessert or dessert cheats for this girl. Perhaps easier said than done.

Additionally, I know that having some FUN and taking a real break from work is extremely important to me this year. I have to build in “fun” time with close friends — whether it’s a trip or a party, that is a top priority. I will need to balance the obligations of family time with my self-care and fun time. And, I want to start one new holiday tradition with my nieces and nephews.

Now, I won’t share my play-by-play plan here as that would be TMI — too much information. But, below are some tips that I intend to implement this holiday season to manage expectations and stress. To me, the key is to spend 10 to 15 min thinking about and creating a strategy/plan. Then, just relax, live it and do the best you can. Self-care, self-kindness and self-acceptance are key. Oh yeah, and patience! 😉

Lori’s 8 Tips for Self Care & Stress Reduction During the Holidays:

  1. KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES: Decide in advance what’s most important to YOU this holiday — and make sure you do that!
  2. GIVE TO YOURSELF, THEN OTHERS! PRACTICE DAILY SELF-CARE: Create a baseline for daily self-care and do it! Do at least ONE thing EVERY day just for you. For example, wake up every day and take a walk. Or, take a walk and list 5 things your most grateful for. Make sure you get your workout in. Get up 20 min early to write in your journal or just sit quietly with your cup of coffee. Do whatever works for YOU!
  3. DETERMINE YOUR HOLIDAY EATING PLAN/APPROACH: Set yourself up for success by first deciding: Will you stay on your diet or nutrition plan or give yourself permission to go off for one meal or one day? Develop a specific plan to set yourself up for success. Resist the urge to skip meals! And please, don’t overindulge and then skip meals to make up for it — your metabolism will not support you. This will not work! Trust me on this. Ask for support from friends and family. Bring your own healthier dish to the party or event. Taste one bite of each dish and push it away. Eat the healthier items first and then go for 1-2 bites of the not-so-healthy options. Whatever your approach — plan it, know it and be mindful as you go.  And, when and if you screw up — do NOT use it as evidence you are a failure or throw in the towel. Forgive yourself and “Restart.” It’s okay! Your human and you can get right back on track.
  4. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SAY NO. SET BOUNDARIES: This is critical to prevent ourselves from getting over-extending or putting ourselves in situations where we are sure to fail. It’s easier and better to set limits and create an exit strategy in advance than to deal with the upset and fall out, or give at the expense of ourselves. (Trust me on this one. Lots of practice.)
  5. CREATE A TRADITION OR SPECIAL RITUAL: One that honors your self-awareness and keeps you in the present moment. This is especially important if you feel like many of the other family or holiday traditions are out of your control. Or, if you’ve lost loved ones and feel alone. Do one thing just for you that fills you up and celebrates the spirit of the holiday season in a way that is meaningful to you.
  6. DON’T ISOLATE. MAKE CONNECTIONS! If you are feeling particularly alone or disconnected due to loss or otherwise, trust me — resist the urge to isolate and hide. I did this for so many years at the expense of self-care and feeding my soul. Please, take a risk and tell someone close to you. Invite yourself over. Isolation is the worst at the holidays.
  7. GET SOME EXERCISE. It’s good for the soul — mind, body and spirit. You will not regret this. It will make everything better.
  8. LAUGH. BREATHE. LISTEN TO CALMING MUSIC. When the going gets tough, retreat back to self care.

I am no expert but I’ve had a lot of practice at living both ways — isolated, disappointed, sad and out of my equation and in the later years from a place of self-love and self-care where I proactively create the holiday I need. I am not 100% (because I’m not perfect) but it does make a big difference.

I wish each of you a very happy and healthy holiday season, starting with gratitude filled Thanksgiving. Post here, message me or join my Self Care at the Holidays workshop if you’d like additional support. Check it out here.



Check out these blogs on self-care and stress reduction during the holidays:



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