Give the Gift

Written by Dr. Madalyn Otto

Do you find your stress ramping up this time of year? Suddenly you’re running around like the proverbial headless chicken; you’ve got holiday gifts to buy, family engagements, travel plans, family tensions building, financial stresses increasing. It’s getting darker and colder which makes going outside quite a bit less appealing. On top of that, “COVID-adaptations” have added length to our to-do lists when it comes to preparing for travel, social gatherings and gift-purchasing. Like myself, I expect that most people find that the concessions they tend to make first to help with time-budgeting are related to their essential self-care habits like exercise, stress management techniques, enough sleep, and proper nutrition. Sigh. But does it have to be this way? 


I struggle with this too. Getting 10,000 steps in per day requires more tenacity in the cold, dark weather. Procuring the time for daily meditation seems to require a greater time-sacrifice elsewhere. And traditional (unhealthy) comfort foods around the holidays are more alluring. But consider that safeguarding healthy habits year-round, and especially during times of increased stress (like the holiday season) is the the gift that keeps on giving! I am my very best self when I get a good night sleep, practice yoga before work, eat nutrient-dense foods, walk four times per day and meditate before bed. When I skip some of these things, my body and mind notice. When I skip most of these, my body, my mind, my husband and my coworkers notice. Aren’t those relationships with yourself and with others worth safeguarding your healthy habits? I can choose to prioritize the activities that allow me to be calm, compassionate, flexible and adaptable. Or, I can excise those practices so that I can binge TV at night, obsess for hours over gift-shopping, and burn-out from overwork, therefore choosing to be high-strung, impatient, inflexible and unhappy instead. I can choose to make time for meal-planning and prepping so that my body feels good and uplifted, or I can choose to let planning fall by the wayside, eating convenience foods and feel “icky” in my body instead. 


It has taken me years to cultivate the psychology that allows me to prioritize my health most if not all of the time. It has been far from an overnight process, and that’s been the case even though my life and work literally revolve around the topic of health. So hear me when I say I understand that the challenges are real, and that everyone’s circumstances are different and require different support. The point is that it is your psychology that makes or breaks the safeguarding of the healthy habits you’re working on. At the end of the day, you need to have concrete, deeply personal reasons for why you are eating healthy foods instead of processed foods, sacrificing TV for better sleep, “saying no” to other sin order to preserve time with your family, and exercising instead of giving in to the urge to stay seated on the couch. For me, that deeply important reason to maintain these habits is to be my best self for myself and for the people I care about. 


What helps you to be your very best self? Is it similar to my list? Is it different? How is it different? Maybe it’s seeing your therapist every week. Maybe it’s avoiding gluten and dairy. Maybe it’s a gym session after work each day. Maybe it’s taking your supplements consistently. Maybe it’s meeting with friends a few times per week. Maybe it’s playing with your kids. Maybe it’s hiking in the mountains with your dog. Maybe it’s playing music. Maybe it’s breaking the Dunkin’ Donuts cycle and eating a wholesome breakfast at home instead. Maybe it’s skipping breakfast altogether and intermittent fasting instead. Maybe it’s practicing a relaxation exercise before bed. Maybe it’s all of these things. Once you know what is on your list of ways to be your best self, identify why you want to achieve it. When you are your best self, what benefits do you personally experience? What benefits do you bring to others? 


This holiday season, give the gift that keeps on giving. Give others your best self. 
Happy holidays! 🙂Dr. Otto

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