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How To Stay Sane, Healthy, & Happy During The Holidays

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Lisa Fine, Photographed by Maria Del Rio

The holidays might be synonymous with warm, festive vibes. But the season is also synonymous with stress for so many people. How can you survive the barrage of party attending, party hosting, shopping, traveling, cooking, baking—not to mention your already existent work and family duties—now through the end of the year? Robin Berzin MD, the mama-of-one behind Parsley Health, has some advice. As the founder of the comprehensive medical practice (in NYC, L.A., and S.F.) that assists you in understanding your body and health before problems arise, she’s outlined 8 solid holiday stress tips that’ll help you keep the merry factor high.

1. Choose how to indulge. “My patients ask me, ‘If I’ve been focused on cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, or am in the middle of a booze-free month, and am finally seeing progress when it comes to my weight or my sleep or my energy, will it ruin everything if I throw it all out the window during the holiday season?’ The answer in short is no, it’s ok. It won’t ruin everything. First, pick a couple of days out of the month—for instance, the holiday office party or Christmas Day—that you allow yourself to indulge in whatever that thing is that you just can’t say no to, the pie or the wine or the stuffing. A big mistake I see is that people let holiday indulgences start on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and continue through New Years, leaving them feeling foggy, bloated, and irritable Monday morning. Try to detox or moderate the rest of the time.”

2. Commit to holiday detoxing. “It isn’t just about the new year, new you. Do a 7-day detox in between Thanksgiving and Christmas to reset your system and remind yourself to be mindful about your food intake. I recommend one week where you cut out alcohol, gluten, dairy, sugar, and processed foods, have a protein-rich Rebuild cinnamon smoothie for breakfast and dinner, and chase a clean lunch of greens, protein, and healthy fats with a digestive enzyme and probiotic that will help support healthy digestion. To live the 80/20 rule (eating healthy 80% of the time), you usually have to go to 100% for a little while to attain harmony of mind and body & to remind it how clean and fresh really feel. It’s developing muscle memory, a visceral sense of what balance really feels like. Don’t wait until you’re bloated and crabby and hungover to rebound. A one-week detox after Thanksgiving will leave you feeling clear, refreshed, and fit going into a three-week period of what is inevitably a cookie-and-booze-heavy month of December.”

3. Meditate, meditate, meditate. “We prescribe meditation to our patients year-round, but particularly around the holidays. Meditation has been scientifically documented to lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol, lower inflammation, and improve sleep. It reduces stress, which reduces cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol imbalances blood sugar and hormones and leads to weight gain. Meditation also stimulates the Vagus nerve, which modulates proper digestion from the stomach to the intestines.”

4. Get outdoors. “Bundle up and go for a walk in the woods, or even just around the block. It will change your mood and your perspective. Just 15 minutes of low intensity exercise can curb insulin spikes after a heavy meal.”

5. Commit to one indulgence at a time. “If the thing you miss the most is bread, eat that. Or sugar, go for that. Or wine—in moderation. But having all of them on the same day can test your limits. Remember all of these foods spike blood sugar which spikes insulin which causes weight gain and causes oxidative stress on the body. Oxidants are free radicals that make it harder for cells to make energy, leading to fatigue and DNA damage.”

6. Develop a gratitude practice. “Giving thanks isn’t just for Thanksgiving. Develop a gratitude practice that will take you through the holidays. It can be as simple as writing down one thing you’re grateful for every day or telling your spouse why you’re grateful for them once a day (even in a text message). I promise this will change your whole outlook and cut down on stress levels now through January.”

7. Take a natural approach to anxiety. “L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It acts on neurotransmitters in the brain to produce a calm alertness. Known to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve sleep, it’s easy to throw a few sachets in your travel bag. Note: Choose your tea carefully as many brands have natural flavors and are covered in pesticides. I like Harney & Sons.”

8. Get enough sleep. “The holiday season often includes travel and sleeping in less than ideal environments. Bringing small comforts of home with you can make a huge difference. Research says that after just three nights of sleeping 4-5 hours, our insulin sensitivity (the hormone that controls our blood sugar levels) is lowered, making us less responsive to big upswings in glucose when we eat carbs.”

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