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Simple Hacks For An Optimized Holiday Season
The Silly Season is almost upon us! There’s a very good chance that you just read that sentence and suddenly your heart starts pounding, your mind is racing, and you’ve got an ill feeling in your stomach because your to-do list feels insurmountable. You’re not alone. This time of year is typically coupled with rampant anxiety; either from work pressures before you go on a break, watching money just evaporate at the sight of the wish list to Santa or the thought of spending time with unruly relatives.
How to Holiday Like A Boss!
But fear not! Here is a list of key strategies to not only SURVIVE the festive season, but THRIVE! Because let’s face it. It’s been a tough year. Sticking to the below as far as possible sets you up for a happy and healthy end to 2021 and a happy start to 2022!
Whether it’s meeting a deadline or attending a year-end party, we always seem to sacrifice sleep first. This is your worst possible strategy! If you know you’ll be jolling up a storm or having a few late nights in your future, try to find time for day-time naps or bank some sleep leading up to the event.
If you’re traveling to a fabulous holiday destination, take a sleep mask and ear plugs with you to combat unexpected AirBnB 5am sunshine or rowdy roosters on the farm next door. You want to make sure that you take sleep hygiene seriously during December, so a dark room and avoiding large meals too close to bedtime are as important now (to the extent possible) as they are during the rest of the year.
Pro-tip: day drinking. I’m just teasing and this is no endorsement to consume (excessive) alcohol, but if you consider how much your resting heart rate (RHR) and heart rate variability (HRV, a measure of your ability to handle stress) is negatively impacted by alcohol, you’d be well served to aim your drinks for earlier in the day than waiting for your alcohol to take you to bed and destroying your sleep!
If you’re in the fortunate position of being able to take some leave, make an effort to allocate some of your extra free time to dedicated exercise. If you’re working or otherwise engaged, it’s still important to make the time for exercise. It doesn’t (shouldn’t) need to be long runs or killer gym sessions necessarily, but a 20min HIIT session, brisk walks or micro-workouts scattered through the day are wonderful tools to manage stress and fruit cake guilt, boost your mood and mitigate the alcohol- and sleep deprivation-induced damage often associated with this season.
Optimized Sunshine & Sunscreen
A massive yes on the sunshine and a warning signal on the sunscreen. More than ever, we live in a society petrified of sun exposure, at a time when the protective benefits of Vitamin D have never been more important.
While lobster-coloured sunburn is dangerous, it’s important to remember that low Vitamin D levels are linked to almost every disease, including cancer (ironic isn’t it), diabetes, obesity, heart attack, depression, autoimmune diseases etc. And it isn’t as simple as just supplementing with Vitamin D (although this is a good strategy). For every one person who dies of skin cancer, more than 100 die of cardiovascular disease related to low vitamin D levels. Melanoma, the dangerous skin cancer, accounts for 1-3% of all new skin cancers, yet outdoor workers have half the melanoma rates of indoor workers.
Don’t get me wrong, too much sun exposure is dangerous. But avoidance of all sun exposure has been shown to be riskier to our health. On top of that, sunscreen blocks the body’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D, so lathering up and being in the sun helps sweet blow all.
Chemical sunblocks contain a number of harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals (notably oxybenzone which should be avoided at all cost). They also cause tragic harm to the coral reefs (5,000 MT of sunscreen washes off of swimmers annually).
The solution? Look for a mineral sunscreen (zinc oxide is a popular ingredient in these) which creates a physical barrier on your skin to prevent sunburn and is safer for you than a chemical option and easy to find these days. Plus they work really well. Once you’ve gotten some glorious sun exposure for around 10-20 minutes, slather on the mineral stuff – it does still prevent wrinkles! A big hat and protective clothing also go a long way!
Your "padkos" & snack game (for this whole festive season) makes a big difference to how you’re going to feel come January!
My personal favourites:
- Boiled eggs, or a fancier version is making an omelette with all your favourite toppings ahead and cutting it up into rolls for easy snack sizes
- Homemade meatballs from grass-fed beef
- Biltong and droewors (venison or grass-fed beef)
- Hummus and veggies (look for a hummus that doesn’t contain vegetable oils like sunflower or canola)
- Dark chocolate (85% and up)
Read More: The "diet" vs "fuelling" mindset
Optimized Diet & Intermittent Fasting
Not words you really want to hear when a mimosa is a legitimate breakfast food, but skipping breakfast is a good strategy to mitigate later indulgences. A 12-16 hour window of not eating or drinking (other than water or black tea/coffee) is a good way to allow your body some much-needed time to repair and recover from normal daily life, never mind some extra damage control.
For your other meals: if you’re following a particular diet, planning is your friend. If you know that food that is not part of your plan will be served somewhere, offer to bring something along so that you’ll be covered. At a restaurant, plan ahead what you want to eat which makes it easier to avoid other options. Choose healthy alternatives where possible (for example, a veg or meat stick versus a bread stick or unsweetened yoghurt with fruit rather than a sweetened yoghurt). Small switches make a big difference and a burger without a bun is still a win on every day of the week!
Pro-tip: investigate Glucose Disposal Agents (GDA) like Ceylon cinnamon and apple cider vinegar. These can be taken before a carb-heavy meal and massively improve your blood glucose response to an indulgent meal. Similarly, a 10-minute walk after a meal also regulates your blood glucose response and is a real needle-mover for maintaining your weight during this time.
However, this is also a time to be with family and friends and to celebrate and be merry! You don’t need to be that person who eats at home and refuses to touch anything at the party. Knowing that you will “cheat” at an event shouldn’t bring on massive guilts: accept that it is part of life and enjoy it rather than beating yourself up for it. Your body responds to eating under stress very differently compared to when you are eating with love for yourself. Caveat: an occasional blow out on the food and booze is OK, but don’t use it as an excuse to continue down that rabbit hole! Pick yourself up and stick to the plan again!
Optimized Stress Management
If you can control your stress response, you can get through face any challenges that life throws at you with resilience and style. Top strategies for controlling stress include:
- Mindful meditation: this is not as woowoo or unachievable as it may sound; it merely involves focusing your mind on the present, without judging yourself and aiming to not be distracted by our bad day or how stressful tomorrow will be. Sit on a pillow, focus on your breathing and when your thoughts wander, acknowledge that and come back to focusing on your breathing. This sounds too good to be true, but following this simple process has been proven to improve mood, decrease stress and can even boost your immunity. 5-10 minutes is all it takes.
If meditation is not your vibe, sit in a quiet place and think happy thoughts! A kiss, a birth, a celebration, a close moment with friends or family or crossing a finish line or difficult task completed well. You can literally feel your body respond: shoulders relax, you breathe differently and tension eases. Give it a go (and be mindful that negative thoughts have the opposite effect)!
Breathing: it’s no secret anymore that breathing (free, easy, no excuses!) is a game changer for managing stress. It turns out that deep breathing not only relaxes us, but is clinically proven to positively affect your heart, brain, digestion and even the way in which your genes express themselves. Box-breathing (4 counts inhale, 4 counts hold, 4 counts exhale, 4 counts hold) and 4-7-8 breathing (4 counts inhale, 7 counts hold, 8 counts exhale) can be done scattered throughout your day and are massively beneficial for your stress response.
Nootropics and Adaptogens: these days, doctors so easily prescribe anti-depressants and other pharmaceuticals to combat anxiety. However, many people have realised that weaning yourself off of these, especially if you took them for a short-term stressor like a loony in-law, is more trouble that it’s worth. Look no further than a number of highly-effective, proven, natural products to add some zen to your hosting game and sparkle to your work pressures.
My person favourites are:
Optimized Community : Laughter and a Christmas Movie
I love a good ‘ol soppy Netflix Christmas special with some mates and a glass of vino. I equally love sitting around a big table with the traditional turkey, gammon and some more vino. I see this as a time to catch up on reading, being with friends, putting on a pair on glittery reindeer antlers and singing Jingle Bells at the top of my lungs.
One of the most effective biohacks is actually just to be with friends and family and spending time with your community. Laughter is actual medicine and the oxytocin that is released from a hug with a chommie or a child has the ability to heal us. So instead of foregoing all merriment, allow yourself some space and mindfulness and silliness during this season. We’ve certainly all had enough to stress over this year so mindfully take time to take a time-out!
By the way – this could also include a technology shut-down or establishing a new family Christmas tradition. Maybe you want to start a new hobby. Personally, I’m going to focus on cold-plunging in the Cape Town waters (both sea and wine farm related) and walking everywhere barefoot (earthing!), but to each his own. Do what makes you happy.
Optimized Consumption - Alcohol
No question about it, alcohol is not good for you in big quantities (in small quantities, there’s a solid argument to be made that it makes us more resilient, but it’s certainly smaller than most of us envision over December).
So, make an effort to drink “responsibly”:
- Vodka/gin/tequila with sparkling water and bitters or lime juice are epic options
- Have a glass of water with sea salt between drinks, just do it!
- Activated charcoal is a useful toxin-absorbing tool
- Sugary shots are not your friend
Read More: Biohack the festive season
TO WRAP IT UP
It might sound boring, but planning ahead is a great tool to relieve stress and anxiety over the festive season. If your Christmas shopping isn’t done yet, don’t panic. Breathe, then plan & execute.
A wonderful piece of advice that I read the other day simply states that every yes you give is a no to something else. If you feel over-extended, take a step back and decide what is really important to you. Does an activity excite you or stress you out more, and what can you do about it? Does the gift-giving give you the warm fuzzies or make you stress more about money? By being mindful of these stressors, we can take a step back and re-evaluate what is important to us.
Plan your dietary and alcoholic strategies, but if they go awry and the pizza on a deck with an Aperol Spritz had your name on it (speaking from experience), have a giggle about it and stick to the original plan the next day and don’t let it become a daily occurrence. Be honest about what you want and need and what makes you happy. Structure around this.
Focus on THRIVING this festive season, merely than just SURVIVING! And if you do nothing else, focus on being present in the happy moments, it really does impact your biology and your health and we could all do with a little extra MERRY!
- Social Anxiety giving you a hard time?
- Kicking stress to the curb
- 5 Biohacks to Reduce Stress
- Your Health Starts In The Gut
- Strengthen Your Immune System, The OPTMZ Way!
- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.