Here on “Wellness Wednesdays,” we talk about the things we can do for our bodies to maintain (or achieve) optimum health. Most of the time, we talk about nutrition, diet, and lifestyle issues. But wellness is a diamond with many facets.
I talk to people almost every day who naturally associate the winter holidays with cold and flu season. They talk about stocking up on Vitamin C and zinc for their plane rides to Aunt Sue’s house in Michigan. Chalk some of that up to heavy marketing of flu shots and cold meds, but some of it is based on people’s experiences. They get sick around the holidays, so they expect to get sick around the holidays.
Throughout November, we talked about the mental and emotional side of holiday wellness. In these final days leading up to Christmas, I want to take a minute to consider how our holiday celebrations play a part in wellness when done right.
Now, I recognize that I have some readers who don’t celebrate Christmas, and I totally respect that. You don’t have to believe my faith to learn from my blog, but if you will keep an open mind for the next few minutes, I promise there will be some takeaways that you can apply to your life. After all, New Year’s Day is just a week later, and I imagine you will want to celebrate that, too.
What does Christmas have to do with Wellness?
When you think about Christmas, you might be tempted to think about the excesses of Christmas – too much food, too many sweets, too much alcohol, too much hustle and stress, too much activity. The holiday season has become a trap in some ways, but there are several things that are foundational to the Christmas season that can promote wellness. With each of these, please understand the caveat that a good thing taken to an extreme can be bad for you.
As I teach the 9 facets of the Blue Zones project, three of them have to do with our relationships:
- Right Tribe, which deals with proactively surrounding yourself with like-minded people, who help shape who you are
- Community, which addresses our need for a connection to a faith-based group
- Loved Ones First, where family is a top priority in life
If there’s one thing that characterizes the holiday season for most people, it’s the emphasis on social gatherings: parties at the office, parties at school, parties with social clubs, services at church, and family get-togethers. Some people like to sing Christmas carols in the streets together. Others plan elaborate dinners. Christmas is a time when people celebrate together. The barriers of the day come down, people shake off the normal burdens and responsibilities, and enjoy each others’ company.
More workplace research is pointing to the value of hosting these kinds of gatherings throughout the year to build a team spirit and boost morale. Simon Sinek’s great book, “Leaders Eat Last,” includes a fascinating discussion of how the positive neurotransmitters in our brains (oxytocin, dopamine, etc.) can be stimulated and leveraged to build a cohesive team atmosphere. The team that parties together works well together.
It’s also worth mentioning that the absence of social gatherings at Christmas is one of the biggest contributing factors to the high suicide rate during the holidays. I think we subconsciously know that we are supposed to be celebrating with loved ones, and when we aren’t – there is an emptiness that is difficult to fill. It’s like Charlie Brown lamented, “I know no one likes me; why do we need a holiday season to emphasize it?” The holidays were meant to be enjoyed in community. We were designed to be social, and to the extent that we are isolated, we are not truly one hundred percent well.
Our Christmas traditions are some of the strongest bonds we have across generations. I have friends whose family Christmas traditions go all the way back to countries that don’t even exist anymore and languages that almost no one speaks. Traditions help us define who we are and what matters to us. They give us a sense of place in the universe; that we are not alone. We belong to a group and we have a purpose in the vastness of the cosmos, and our traditions are proof and validation.
In a crazy world, where our future is uncertain, we take comfort in the familiar. Why do you think most radio stations play Christmas music from the 1940s and 1950s? Because that’s when Baby Boomers were children, and the media love to cater to what makes them comfortable. Nostalgia is comfortable, and it’s OK. Our traditions give us an anchor to hold us when the storms of life make us question everything.
There was a time in our economy when businesses shut down and employers gave everyone some extra time off around the holidays. It was the end of the year, the new year was still days away, it was a time to celebrate. This isn’t a new concept. The ancient Egyptians, when they figured out that the solar year was 365 days and that didn’t fit into their neat 360-day calculations, decided to make those extra five days a feast time without work. The ancient Hebrews had seven major holidays a year that each lasted at least a week! They understood the value of time off.
We’ve lost that. Some folks are lucky if they get all of Christmas Day off (NOTE: I want to personally tip my hat all the hospital workers, restaurant and hotel workers, police officers, fire-fighters, soldiers, broadcasters, and countless others who have to work holidays because of the 24-hour nature of their jobs). But not all jobs really require hitting the ground at full speed on December 26. So, if you’re one that feels like you need to make everyone come back to work on the 26th, you need to ask yourself why. Give yourself (and your people) a chance to celebrate, to rest. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the lights, savor the smells, let the music of the holiday minister to you.
Another one of the Blue Zones Power 9 is “Know Your Purpose.” Christmas, in its strategic position at the end of the year, can be a powerful time of reflection, of looking back, looking forward, and looking inside. Evaluating what went well, celebrating the successes, learning from failure, and resolving to enter the new year with a positive outlook.
Unless, of course, that thought terrifies you and you stay busy so you don’t have to deal with any of that. If that’s the case, you’re going to want to deal with that. That’s a “Think Right Thursday” just waiting to happen.
A Little Wine
One of the five core behaviors of the Blue Zones is having a glass of wine around 5:00. Wine has a number of immune, neurological, and digestive benefits, and is a popular part of Christmas celebrations in many cultures. Not everyone is comfortable with drinking alcohol in any form, so I won’t say much more about it. But if conscience allows, raise a celebratory glass this holiday season and know that you are doing your body some good, as long as you don’t overdo it.
There are cascades of scientifically-proven wellness benefits to just a little bit of daily movement. You can flood your body with those wellness-enhancing benefits by visiting my Move Right Monday series on YouTube and practicing a couple of these simple moves every day. They are designed to be done at your desk at work, not to make sweat like a weightlifter, and to promote stability, mobility, and motor control throughout your core. You can be toning and stabilizing your body in just a few minutes a day. For best results, I encourage you to set a timer and do one of these exercises for three to five minutes five to eight times a day. You will be amazed at how you feel as your immune system kicks into high gear. Yes, exercise is tied to your immune system.
Enjoy Holiday Meals
As I have shared before, you might expect me to wag a scolding finger at how much you eat over the holidays.
I am not an ogre or a Grinch. I’m not going to look over your shoulder while you’re filling your plate. Eating is a part of the holiday celebration. That’s not going to change. Every culture that celebrates Christmas gives a prominent place to special meals. You have favorites that have been part of your life since you were little. It’s fine. Enjoy it. It’s probably not a bad idea to have extra fruit and vegetables in between Christmas parties, and take steps to limit your sugar intake. Take a good probiotic to keep your digestion and immune system strong (sugar is a major weapon against your immune system).
Another one of the Power 9 is the “80% Rule.” Remember that your stomach is the size of your fist, not the size of your plate. When you start to feel like you’re approaching 80% full, stop eating. There will always be seconds.
Use your head in between meals, but don’t suffer from guilt during a good holiday meal. Looking forward to the special meals of Christmas is just as helpful for your mental well-being leading up to the holidays as any other kind of preparation.
The anticipation of good things is part of wellness. Hope is so important that Jesus came to give us hope. Some cultures celebrate Advent, which is a season of preparation leading up to Christmas. Looking forward to life is a form of wellness. Obviously, the absence of hope is amazingly unhealthy in the same way that hope promotes good health.
This really is the most wonderful time of the year…or it can be. If you can keep from getting caught up in the rat race of the holidays and let the intimacy of good memories wash over you, the positive neurotransmitters can do as much good for your health as a salad.
What About You?
What are you most looking forward to this week? Is it a special memory? A favorite movie? A tradition? A favorite food? A visit from a certain friend or family member? A favorite song? Join us on Facebook and share that one thing that you are most looking forward to this Christmas in the comments. And after the celebration has died down and the leftovers are in the fridge, let’s get back together and compare notes on how our Christmases went. Sound like a deal?
Plus, I’m already looking forward to January and the rest of the New Year. I have some exciting things planned, starting with a visit from Francie Bussing on January 11. It’s our first Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner of the year, and she’ll be talking about plant-based radiance. If you want to experience vibrant health every day, this is a dinner you don’t want to miss.
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be…healthy! And peaceful, joyful, and surrounded by friends and family, and….
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas