- Paying attention to food intake, including portions and timing, can help maintain one's energy level.
- Short bursts of movement—throughout the day, every day—are key to sustaining energy.
- Taking breaks for alone time can help protect one's emotional health as well as recharge.
Holidays are an important time to think about how to protect your energy and sleep—especially this holiday season, when so many of us are eager to reunite with family and a little (or more than a little) out of practice at the challenge of balancing rest and activity, and maintaining healthful routines, during the holiday sprint.
This time of year presents a challenge for sticking to the balanced eating routines that support healthy sleep and optimize our energy and vitality. Holidays are no different than any other days of the year in this respect: Food is fuel, and what we eat determines how well we’re able to sustain energy throughout the day and has a significant influence over how well we sleep at night. And sleep has a big impact on how well our metabolism functions.
You can enjoy holiday meals without depleting your energy by putting the small plate to work for you. Skip the giant dinner plate and grab a smaller, salad-size plate from the buffet. You’ll naturally take smaller portions, which help you maintain moderation, even if your food choices are limited or different from what you’re eating regularly.
Take your time eating everything on your plate. Eating slowly gives your digestive system a break and gives your brain time to receive the message that you’re full. (Research shows that it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to produce proteins involved in neural communication signaling satiety.)
Eating slowly from a small plate encourages enjoyment of food—and encourages socializing while eating. You can always go back for more if you find you’re still hungry.
Understanding your chronotype equips you with the optimal times for when to eat throughout the day. Keep in mind these other eating-for-energy strategies that apply to every chronotype and body type:
We often misread thirst for hunger and end up consuming food when what we need is fluid. Pay particular attention to drinking plenty of water during the holiday season. Rather than having back-to-back cocktails at your holiday parties, switch to water after a glass of wine or that spiced rum concoction that your sister-in-law makes every year. You’ll thank yourself later when you drift off for a night of sound, restful sleep.
Fill up on fiber
Veggies, fiber-rich hard fruits like apples and pears, and nuts are always around at the holidays—but they often get passed over for the sweet and starchy fare. Focus your plate on fiber-filled foods that keep your insulin in check, your energy levels high, and set you up for a restful night of sleep. (A quick word about nuts: Opt for raw whenever you can, and limit consumption of roasted, salted, and sugar-coated versions.)
Protect your movement energy: Mini workouts for the win!
Short bursts of movement—throughout the day, every day—are key to sustaining energy, boosting strength, power, flexibility, and endurance. We’ve been conditioned to think that long, grueling workouts are the way to get in shape. Not so.
My co-author, Stacey, is a lifelong athlete who changed her body and elevated her fitness and strength to a new level after she adopted a routine of daily short workouts. Together, Stacey and I developed customized movement routines for every chronotype and body type combination. Whether you’re a Lion, Bear, Wolf, or Dolphin, with a slow, medium, or fast metabolism—we’ve got you covered.
Our movement plans are based on what we call the Daily 5×5: five-minute movement sessions, 5 times a day. They cover the whole body, and the timing and type of movement are aligned to each individual pairing of chronotype and body type.
Here’s the thing about the Daily 5×5, and short workouts in general: They’re not only optimal for every day. They’re also perfect for the holiday season when there’s so much extra … of everything happening. When you’re taking a few minutes to move at several points throughout the day, there’s zero pressure to carve out 30 or 60 minutes for a workout. At home or away from home, no matter how busy you are, all you need to do is snag five minutes at a time for some movement.
Let the Daily 5×5—and all the science that supports the benefits of frequent short workouts—inspire your holiday exercise routine. If you’re feeling crunched for workout time over the next several weeks, go ahead and break your exercise into a few short sessions, incorporating the walking, gentle stretching, yoga, cardio, and strength training you’re already doing.
Protect your emotional energy: Take some alone time
Holidays present some pretty complex emotional terrain for a lot of us. A return to the “normal” holiday routines is likely to include a return to the emotional and interpersonal stress we’ve experienced in the past. Pressure to feel happy and excited, the busyness of social commitments, travel, gift buying, and party planning and decorating, time spent with people who are toxic to our emotional health—it all creates stress that drains our energy and disrupts our nightly rest. The emotional drain of the holidays may be even more intense this year, after the intensity and upheaval of the past 20 months.
To protect your emotional energy and keep your battery charged so you can enjoy social and family time during the holidays, most of us need breaks for alone time. Lions, Wolves, and Dolphins all need this solo recharge time, especially when traveling to stay with others and/or hosting guests in our home. If you’re a Bear, you’re more likely than other chronotypes to be energized by long, interrupted stretches of socializing with others. (Bears—if you’re not energized by nonstop socializing, give yourself some regular solo time to balance things out.)
If you’re traveling and staying with family, try to take a few hours for yourself every day, or consider staying at a hotel or Airbnb to give yourself the space you need to enjoy family time with less stress. At home, whether you’re hosting guests or making the rounds to holiday gatherings, prioritize regular solo downtime.
Remember, too, that we can learn to do things differently than we have in the past. Heading back into the holidays, we have a fresh opportunity to approach this season with a new perspective. Set an Energy Agenda for yourself, to focus on spending time with people who fill you with energy, who make you laugh and feel joyful, people who inspire a sense of connection, who share of themselves and take an interest in you.
And when you’re with people who drain your energy, who don’t respect your boundaries, who don’t make you feel seen and understood? Minimize these your exposure to them as best you can. Practice empathy and compassion in your interactions and keep things as simple and short as possible.
Finally, be kind to yourself in all areas of your life this season. The strategies I’ve given you here are tools to help you navigate a notoriously busy time of year—not benchmarks for you to stress about living up to perfectly and without modification. Being gentle and flexible with yourself will go a long way toward helping you preserve your energy and take full enjoyment of your holidays.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM