Mental Health

Start your holidays off with the gift of self-compassion

Written by Patsy Davis

The holiday season is upon us. Regardless of the planning and our joyous anticipation of time spent with family, we are entering the most stress-filled time of the year. Paired with the stress is the abundance of sugary and heavy foods, which deplete our energy and increase our waist size.

It is crucial to understand the effect of stress on the body, especially in terms of how our food is digested. When we understand the delicate relationship between stress and digestion, we can head into the holidays with no fear of sluggish and exhausted-filled days and what we may see as unavoidable weight gain.

Stress is associated with increased cortisol production. Cortisol is a hormone that hampers weight loss. When cortisol levels are low, it is easier to lose excess weight and keep the weight off. This sounds simple enough, but how can we possibly reduce stress during the holidays? Our mindset and our choice of foods go hand in hand, and the combination of the two can either hinder our quest for health or see us through to success.

Stress is associated with poor digestion. Our bodies do not know the difference between the stress we feel over preparing a holiday meal and the stress we feel when being chased by a bear. Regardless of the stressor, our digestion slows to a crawl so all our resources will be available in our arms and legs to prepare the big dinner or run for our lives! It is most important to be relaxed and calm before sitting down to a meal.

A great way to start your day on a low stress note is to do a five-minute mantra-breathing exercise. You can do this in the shower, in the car, or even before you get out of bed. As you breathe in- say aloud, “I AM.” As you breathe out, say aloud, “SATISFIED.”

By repeating these words for several minutes, you speak to your mind and to your body. This provides a sense of complacency and pleasure that sets the tone for a low-key, pleasurable day. By keeping this attitude, food choices will automatically be better ones and digestion and proper processing of the food consumed is improved.

What if you end up eating too much? This is something we often overlook. It is just as important not to stress if you do over indulge and consume way too much food. Guilt over your food choices simply perpetuates the negative ramifications. Remember guilt leads to a poor self-image, and a poor self-image only leads to more poor food choices. If you over-indulge this holiday season, simply notice it. Ask yourself, “Isn’t it interesting I chose to eat to the point of being uncomfortable?” Then let it go. Your next meal is an opportunity to nourish your body with energy-supplying foods which will give you a boost and foster the healthy lifestyle you are choosing to live. There is no need for regret. It does nothing but hinder your progress.

Also, find other ways to nourish yourself during the hectic days ahead. A trip to a spa for a massage, a pedicure or a lunch-time walk in the park can do wonders when self-love is what you are craving.

Start this holiday season off right with a promise to care for yourself. Your health will thank you for it.

About the author

Patsy Davis

Patsy Davis is the associate director of campus recreation at Augusta University and a certified health coach. She serves as the principal point of contact for coordination of wellness activities for students and also as a key leader and advocate for comprehensive attention to student wellness. Patsy proudly promotes student development and learning though supervising a student staff that provides operational and administrative support for the Augusta University Jaguar Wellness Center.

Patsy strongly believes in serving as an advocate for healthy choices. Her emphasis on mindfulness-based stress reduction is a cornerstone of her programming and the basis for her supervision style. Her professional experience as a certified health coach provides opportunities to positively influence the overall wellness of students, faculty and staff.

Patsy has been employed by the university since 2008. She received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the College of Charleston. She enjoys practicing yoga and playing tennis. She lives in Aiken, South Carolina with her husband, Mike and their two dogs, Pearl and Hazel.