Written by Katharine Meinert
Early mornings, later nights. The sweet scents of summer, the salty sea and a sizzling braai are at last in the air! As we hurtle towards the end of the year, time can really seem to speed up. Often we feel overwhelmed with the plethora of end-of-year hustle and bustle, celebrations and commitments – whether it’s with work, family or friends. When it comes to the holidays, you could encapsulate it as a feeling. For many, summer imbues light, creativity and love. But what if these feelings don’t resonate with you? What if the holidays create more stress, more angst, more ‘stuff’ that doesn’t serve you?
The ‘silly season’ is a time to celebrate and reconnect with our family, friends and community. For all walks of life, though, it often becomes a time of worry about keeping up with our personal health and wellness. There’s no doubt the non-stop hustle can take its toll physically, mentally and emotionally. Conversations about low mood swings are smothered as expectations of jolly and silly spirits are elevated.
The truth is that you can celebrate the holiday season and still focus on staying sane and well. We’re here to remind you that it’s okay to feel the feels, but also to re-instill the message that the foods you eat, how active you are, and how you manage your stress will ensure that your psychological path through the season is less rocky, more leisurely.
What you can control is fuelling your body with nutritious choices, setting realistic expectations for yourself, sweating a little each day, setting aside time to slow down, and wielding a positive attitude of self-compassion.
At its core, the festive break is a time to reflect, to revel, and inspire warmth, fun and belonging.
And when people come together to celebrate their love and appreciation for each other, you can bet that food will be the centerpiece of that festivity. In many families, the act of cooking and eating together is greatly powerful, and some of the fondest memories are made when gathered around the dinner table.
It’s easy to get out of our accustomed routine of work hard, play hard – shifting the balance, and even often going off balance completely. Taking care of yourself over the silly season is vitally important to manage both your mental and physical well-being. However, the odd indulgence every now and again is not a personal apocalypse, and won’t have any long-term effects. It’s when these over indulgences become regular occurrences that they can lead to long-term damage. So, we’re here to share our perspective on maintaining sanity, spirit and a sense of personal balance through the silly season.
Understanding the connection between how food affects your mood can be a starting point that allows you to navigate your food choices and mindsets; surviving and thriving during the holidays without parting ways with your new healthy habits.
An article from The New York Times featured how certain food can improve your mood. Recent studies suggest that the processed and refined foods we typically crave when stress, distractions and pressure strike – as soothing as they may seem – are the least likely to improve mental health and imbalances. Instead, whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, legumes and beans, fermented foods, as well as nuts and seeds may be a better bet to cut brain degeneration.
The findings arise from a surfacing realm of research known as nutritional psychiatry which looks at the interconnection between diet and mental wellness. The idea that eating certain foods could promote brain health, much the way it can promote heart health might seem like common sense. But historically, nutrition research has focused largely on how the foods we eat affect our physical health, rather than our mental health.
Brain function, mood and mental health seem to be intricately linked to what people eat through the gut-brain axis, which is modulated by the community of microorganisms that live in the gut. These microorganisms also produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which regulate our mood and emotions and thereby determining psychological outcomes.
Although prioritising your mental health and energy levels through healthy eating will significantly benefit your holiday experiences and relationships, it is also important to let go of great expectations and unrealistic standards, as well as follow the middle path of reason and response.
Here, we share with you our arsenal of holiday mood-boosting tools to help keep you sane for the silly season, to boost serotonin and dopamine naturally, as well as provide steps that you can put in place to slow things down a smidge is what we wish to ease you into the festive spirit:
1. Reflect on the meaning of the festive season.
This time of year is rife with the expectations we put upon ourselves (and others) to get it just ‘right’. Things have to look, taste, feel, and be a certain way. We can get into a mind space where things have to be ‘perfect’, which of course, is not possible. It’s how we deal with this realisation that can also determine our wellbeing. It can be a challenge to stop and smell the roses at any time of year, but it’s especially easy to get caught up in the commercial version of what the holiday season means today. While it’s nice to take the time to create a mindful, aesthetically and gastronomically pleasing experience, we can often get caught up in an unrealistic trap of perfection and frustration. Not only does this make the festive period feel less joyful, we also set ourselves up to experience a lot of disappointment. Taking the time to mindfully reflect on what matters – what really matters – helps us to keep it all in perspective.
2. Treat yourself!
You don’t need to say ‘yes’ to everything. Think about this: when you say ‘yes’ to something, what (or who) are you saying ‘no’ to? It’s usually you! Giving and giving to others without stopping is not altruistic. It is important to be mindful of when we might need refueling and to allow some time for that to happen. Self-care can mean many things, but it can be as simple as a night to yourself that may include a movie, some relaxing music and a good healthy meal. Our soul-soothing Spotify playlist could just do the trick!
3. Take time to enjoy all the flavours of the festive season, and follow the middle path.
We can easily allow our notions of wellness and health to fall by the wayside during this time of year. Sometimes over indulging means we are also setting ourselves up for feelings of guilt and self-deprecation. Common sense gets tossed out the window. As the Buddhists say: Follow the middle path. A thriving life depends on moderation, and this concept particularly applies when we are inundated with copious amounts of food and drinks. By eating mindfully, we can have a better chance of understanding what foods nourish our minds and what foods help us stay healthy while also encouraging a deeper appreciation of every meal, every mouthful, and every ingredient.
It takes the ‘toolkit of five’ to begin a mindful eating practice:
- Invite inquiry. Why am I eating now? What am I eating now? What does it smell like? What else am I doing right now that may be distracting?
- Embrace thankfulness. Simply appreciate and acknowledge the options you are choosing to enjoy.
- Slowly does it. It’s so habitual simply to devour mouthfuls, but paying attention whilst gathered around the family table; conscious of the motions of your jaw and sensations of the various tastes and textures will go a long way in stomach satisfaction.
- Dine and have a seat. See every meal as a dining delight in itself. Learn from your childhood days, when every meal was a fabulous tea party to relish sitting down at the table!
- Tame your inner critic. If you don’t have time or energy to approach every meal mindfully, that’s okay. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself – there’s always another meal to approach mindfully around the corner.
4. Welcome and wield ‘the pause’.
Like a hastily-wrapped present, this volatile year is near to the bittersweet end, bringing with it the bottled up feelings with it during the holiday break. Since the festive season presents further forms of busyness, take a moment every day to hit the pause button on your overwhelm and tap into ‘slow thinking time’. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? We challenge you to really set an intention to practice ‘the pause’. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds.
First, you need to become aware of the need to pause. This requires you to be present in a way that the silly season has a habit of moving us away from. A good way around this is to schedule a couple of pauses into your day, ahead of time. Put them in your diary and set an alarm to remind yourself. Take time to step back and count your blessings rather than your stresses, as gratitude for the simple pleasures and what really matters can easily subside as indulgence and the idea of ‘more’ and ‘merriment’ are front and centre.
Making conscious decisions, listening to your body, sticking to your regular routine or trying to give yourself familiar cues, letting in the legumes and fibre rich foods, will help prioritise your health whilst still being festive. Radiating kindness and sincere appreciation for others can help distract from the chaos.
Surviving the silly season feeling relaxed, healthy and food-baby free.
It’s beeeannnn a long year, let’s get silly and have some fun!
About the author:
Hello hello! It’s Kath Meinert here, current graphic design student at Red and Yellow Creative School of Business based in Cape Town, previous Advertising and Marketing postgraduate as well as UCT PGCE English Senior Phase postgraduate. I delight in injecting innovation and collaborating with compelling, authentic and creative people. I believe in a world where so many people are too afraid to stand up for what they believe, it is essential for one to remain true to oneself.
All my anxieties cease when I capture unfiltered moments, draw, hike, swim in the sea, sip coffee, and listen to beautiful voices. This blog post was written whilst completing an internship with Happy Earth People – an experience which brought me great pleasure to the wrap up of 2021!
You can follow my many adventures and escapades @kathcaptures on Instagram.
Or check out my design work on Behance.