Q: My to-do list is growing faster than my gift list, my body feels run-down and the holiday guests haven’t even arrived in yet. How can I avoid getting caught up in the vortex of shopping stress and party fatigue?
A: For starters, there’s nothing particularly green about awaking pre-dawn to snatch up $5 DVD players or $20 computers during post-Turkey Day sales. The key to reducing holiday stress is to maintain your path to green enlightenment. Here are a few tips to help ensure a stress-free holiday:
Keep it simple: I don’t mind wrapping gifts, but why spend time curling ribbons and bows when gift bags are convenient, festive and reusable? (Let’s admit, sometimes, the gift gets regifted right along with the bag.) Invest in some fancy note cards to accompany your gift bags and save the fancy wrapping paper for truly special gifts.
Eat, drink and be merry … in moderation: “Enjoy your food, enjoy the season, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a daily feast,” says Jessica Avasthi, a community health dietitian with Project Open Hand, an Atlanta nonprofit organization that provides nutrition education, food and support to the chronically ill. “Indulge a bit, and then get back to your normal eating habits.” Allow yourself to eat just a bit of the good stuff to avoid food guilt that comes from overeating, she advises.
Eat with purpose: Holiday buffets are designed for snacking, not stuffing, so don’t pull up a chair and start grazing on mini quiches and cocktail wieners. Before you load your plate at holiday parties, scan the buffet line and budget your calories wisely. Load up on at least two colorful fruits and vegetables — Jell-O fruit cups don’t count. Avasthi also suggests adding a piece of fruit or some berries to cereal in the morning and a side of salad with lunch to balance out the holiday goodies.
Focus on complex carbs: Serotonin is a chemical the brain produces that can affect your mood as well as several other key bodily functions. Avasthi says to keep serotonin levels in check during the holidays by adding complex carbohydrates such as oats, barley, whole-wheat pasta, beans and legumes to your diet. Complex carbs slowly release sugar throughout the day, preventing those energy peaks and valleys that come from consuming highly refined cakes, chips and doughnuts. Since tryptophan is required for the synthesis of serotonin, it also helps to add turkey, chicken, soybeans, tuna, salmon and milk to your diet during this time of the year.
Don’t tax your budget: Reducing your consumption helps the planet and your pocket. Now more than ever, it pays to put that theory to work. Leave all the stuff in the stores and focus on simpler gifts that people will actually use. Who’s going to turn down an assortment of artisan cheeses and crackers or a tin of homemade cookies? Each year, I love baking up a batch of Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies for my family. That recipe will get quite a workout this year. Also, rather than spoiling my new nephew with toys, I’ll focus on stocking his library with children’s books such as “Where the Wild Things Are” and Dr. Seuss classics. Teens will get my other favorite green go-to item: gift cards that come with the freedom to buy what they actually want, without generating unnecessary packaging and stressful guesswork.
Share the wealth: If you have never prepared a turkey, the holidays are no time to experiment. Ask for help when you need it, and turn the holidays into a family affair. Better yet, go to your favorite restaurant for the essentials. Check Local Harvest for a list of farmers markets, family farms and organic restaurants in your area. If you haven’t visited a farmers market, this is the time to buy produce such as sweet potatoes, collard greens and other whole foods. Locally produced items have more flavor than canned goods, so you won’t have to gin up the taste with extra sugar, butter and extra gravy.
Preempt aches and pains: Maintain your workout routine; exercise relieves stress and releases endorphins to keep you energized throughout the day. Avasthi’s husband, Dr. Ranjan Avasthi of the Morehouse School of Medicine, also advises stretching before and after exercising to reduce the risk of injury. “We don't do enough stretching,” he said. “We all want to get on that treadmill and work up a sweat, without realizing that physical activity and fitness have many components.” During this busy season, it pays to relieve tight muscles with a few minutes of light stretching at the office and before bed. A good warm bath with Epsom salts and hot compression help soothe sore joints at the end of the day. Dr. Avasthi also advises applying topical capsaicin creams to ease aches and pains.
Cut the caffeine and get some rest: It may be tempting to buzz through the day on a caffeinated high, but you’ll pay the price at night. The same goes for alcoholic beverages. Also, calories from cocktails add up quickly — a white Russian has about 360 calories and a cosmo weighs in with about 151 calories. Stick with one drink and then switch to sparkling water. Counteract the effects of caffeine or alcohol by staying well hydrated. Jessica Avasthi recommends drinking about 64 ounces of water during the day. It also pays to be greedy about your beauty sleep. Get six to eight hours of sleep so Santa has plenty of time to finish what’s left of your gift list.