The Holiday Season Survival Guide

That time of year is upon us. For some its been in full swing for a month already – I’m sort of putting off thinking about it until the very last moment.

Many of us have now either finished work, school, college etc or are about too (please spare a thought for those that are continuing to provide much needed service over the following days).

Whilst all the cards that flood through letterboxes and memes that clog up our social media streams are talking about the season of goodwill and of being nice to each other its also a time of excess (eating, drinking, spending etc), boredom, stress, guilt and often a negative experience for many. Hopefully some of the ideas below will help you to get through with the maximum of enjoyment and the minimum amount of damage to repair.

Firstly a though to the last minute purchases of gifts. Tradition has it that picking up something from a late night garage on Christmas Eve is the remit of the late working and stressed out members of the household and I’m sure many of us have been caught in that trap (despite all the evidence I don’t think they’re really all that pleased with a bottle of deicer and a scraper mitt no matter how well wrapped it is).

Nowadays with the speed and efficiency of online shopping I think that one is easy to avoid but what about the prevalence of buying a last minute gift card (or even worse, an online version of the gift card). Nothing says ‘I’ve got no interest in thinking of a proper gift for you’ than a store gift card. Its like giving money but with the restriction of having to shop for something at a store you’d never go in by choice.

Anyway, last minute gifts. As I’m in the health and fitness industry there’s a really common gift bought that really isn’t such a great idea. Its something like gym membership, a block of personal trainer sessions, membership to some weight management clubs etc. Unless you really, really know that the recipient definitely wants such a thing (as in they’ve said so very clearly and without any form of prompting) then steer clear of these things. You’ll likely see a whole bunch of special deals from trainers and box gyms selling these things and from their perspective it might make a lot of sense to get people in through the door but I see it as both damaging for the self esteem of the receiver and just makes for an uphill struggle for the trainer.

I don’t sell this sort of thing (never will do) and would be asking the purchaser questions over whether they’ve thought it through properly if a sale went through at this time of year. As a coach I follow a principal which really works wonders for clients which some of my certifications have dubbed ‘Ready, Willing and Able’. Is the client Ready to do what we’re looking to help them with? Are they Willing to do it? Are they Able to do it? If a client isn’t scoring high in all three of those for a particular task/habit/goal then perhaps we’re looking at the wrong one. A client who’s been given a set of training sessions is more likely low on the Willing and probably not too high on the Ready (unless its ‘Ready to spit in the giver’s cranberry sauce’).

So if you want to give a gift that will help someone you love to feel better, maybe improve their health, fitness, diet etc how about looking at something that’ll help them relax, maybe try something new that they’ve had an interest in, an event entry to something they’d likely have bought for themselves anyway. An entry to a half marathon in a nice location for someone who’s already a runner perhaps, a navigation course for an enthusiastic trail runner or hill walker, a course in home bacon curing or vegetable gardening for a food lover to help them make their own instead of relying on processed options from the supermarkets. I’ve never tried a spa day but I’m sure that would go down a treat or perhaps a weekend away somewhere nice. These are things that show you’ve thought about it and have aligned with their own interests and not just a veiled suggestion that they need to lose weight or get fit. Those are things they must decide for themselves at which time you can be supportive of them. By all means buy the memberships or coaching packages for yourself if that’s an interest for you.

Next on the list is Christmas Day itself (or whichever holiday you happen to be celebrating and whenever you happen to be doing so). Stress is a major player on this day. Most of us in nations that celebrate Christmas have been inundated since All Hallows Eve with glittery, tinselly, sugary, chocolatey ads trying to part us with any money we’ve got left after the summer holidays (and the summer holiday ads will be hard at it again on Boxing Day I’m sure). We’ve probably felt obliged to buy gifts for more people than we would normally choose to (Martin Lewis has a great piece on this show about it).

We’ve likely had more alcohol in the last couple of weeks than the rest of the year beforehand. Smokers are likely to have ‘nipped out for some fresh air’ more frequently than normal. The tradition of Christmas Dinner absolutely has to be totally perfect which means everything is ready at the same time, in much larger volumes as there’s likely a lot more mouths to feed and to a higher standard than we’d probably work to for a normal Sunday Roast. We’re flying around remembering the crackers, the placemats, making sure the house is spotless, the kids are arguing over who has what or crying because they didn’t get the very thing they really wanted (my youngest was actually in tears when he opened all his gifts one Christmas morning and there was nothing Paw Patrol branded in there. It was only saved when his Aunt arrived with a small plastic model from the range). One year when I was maybe about 12 my Nan stormed off home half an hour before dinner – I think it was because she wasn’t the centre of attention (all the years before that she’d been the host).

So how do we fix it? To start with, lets get all the social media and mobile phones turned off. Its a time to engage with family and having your nose pointed towards a small screen isn’t the way to do that. By all means phone family that aren’t with you for the day. Skype to those in far places. But the rest of the time set your phone on Airplane Mode and put it away somewhere. You don’t need it no matter how lost you might feel without it. Perhaps if you set some specific times when your social media fix can be taken but keep those times short. Its unlikely that anyone will get upset by you not responding immediately (especially if you post out that this is your intention in advance).

How about giving the person who’s ultimately in charge of the dinner a hand. They may well want to remain in total charge but they could take a head chef type role and you could do a lot of good by peeling spuds, shelling sprouts, making the stuffing or courgette bake etc the day before and bringing it to reheat etc. Pigs in blankets are also time consuming but not technically challenging. Many of these things can be done as a small team (get the kids involved and make a game of it). All the others things that were common behaviour when I was younger such as getting the table set up in the right place, sourcing enough chairs from all over the house, laying the placemats and cutlery, putting a little table decoration out, crackers by the plates. I’m sure you have traditional tasks that can be shared out. Maybe as a result there’ll be time for some activity that involved everyone rather than a few rushing around and others getting bored.

Perhaps if you don’t stuff yourselves silly (remember you actually need leftovers for some of the following traditional meals) then you’ll be in a for state to get out for a bit of a walk in the afternoon. It doesn’t matter too much what the weather is like if you’ve got your decent coat and hat on. And there’s tons of clear evidence that getting out into fresh air and into green spaces is a major stress reliever. Those that got wooly hats and new gloves for gifts will have a chance to prove they’re up to the task.

Quickly coming back to the ‘stuff yourselves silly’ point. There’s no reason that you have to do this but at the same time, if this is a one off occasion, then there’s no need to feel guilty about doing so. Eating slowly and savouring the meal is just as good as stuffing loads back and reaching for seconds (or thirds). If you do eat more that’s fine. If you’re trying to reduce body fat then the occasional day of excess isn’t going to have any long term impact – its what you do most of the time that counts.

If you are chilling out then you could actually try reading one of the books that you got (you know, those wads of paper with words on them, typically held together down one side). I’m sure there are things the kids now have that would remain interesting to them for a bit longer if the adults got involved too. Perhaps some models they need some help building (remember they’re the builders and adults are assistants). Some of the games might actually be more fun than they look. How about talking to people? They may well have done something they’re proud of since you last saw them or (maybe) they want to hear about how many races you did this year and your fuelling strategies (but don’t assume this one).

The rest of the time is there for whatever you want to do but just sitting in front of Netflix possibly isn’t the thing you’ll find most fulfilling. If you generally fill your weeks with work related things then you may well find yourself at a loose end. So the following list are some things I’ve found over the past couple of years to watch, read or listen to which you might interesting, useful, or other edifying. Remember though that I’m a health and science geek so feel free to swap in things you might find more up your street.

If you’re into how to optimise your mind and body there are some interesting things from Jamie Wheal and Steve Kotler. The books Stealing Fire and The Rise Of Superman are really interesting reads (I listened to them on Audible) which talk about a load of ways that we can give our thoughts a turbo boost and some of the science behind that. We’ve probably all got instances of how Flow States have been at play in things we’ve done before and these take it a leap or two further. This video is really interesting as well (you might see where I got the phone off idea from too as I watched the video this morning).

If you want to give your working life a boost then check out Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Work Week which has a laid of really applicable ways to make yourself far more efficient and get more out of your life.

For generally healthy ways to go about training for endurance events (and life) then I’d thoroughly recommend any of Phil Maffetone’s books as well as Mark Sissons’ and Brad Kearns Primal Endurance. These all take the approach of training in a sustainable way and building up the base blocks of endurance and a diet which is low carb and/or paleo in nature.

For podcasts there’s quite a choice but my most common picks are Endurance Planet and The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast. For straight up sense as well as some clear advice on many things health related Endurance Planet is a great listen and the coaching and training advice is spot on (largely influenced by Maffetone etc). Ben Greenfield is someone who I use to trigger avenues of research I may not have otherwise thought about. He’s not only into the training and physical development side but also does a lot of digging around in biohacking which takes him to the fringe of science.

I mentioned Audible above – if you simply want to get some easy listening entertainment they have loads of free shows for subscribers which are awesome. I’ve just finished listening to the complete Sherlock Holmes collection read by Stephen Fry and he has a load of short shows for free on there (just listening to his Victorian Secrets series which is eye opening).

So whatever you do and however you do it I hope you survive the season as unscathed as possible and in a place to make the next year your best ever.

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