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Your guide to moderation & staying healthy over the holidays

Julia Park
Festive spread with candles

For many of us, the holidays are a time when we can finally relax after a long year, reconnect with loved ones, and celebrate life, ourselves, and each other. No matter what kind of year you’ve had, you deserve to take this time to treat yourself and indulge in what makes you and your loved ones feel good. 

As you’re enjoying yourself though, it may be wise to keep an eye out for another common tradition of the holidays: overindulgence that leads to a brutal holiday hangover.

While the post-holiday hangover looks different for everyone, its biggest impact is usually on our health. For example, holiday celebrations can often lead to: 

  • Feeling groggy, bloated, and generally not like your best self.
  • Sleep schedules getting thrown for a loop, leading to tired eyes, easy irritation, and poor mental performance.
  • Decreased energy and focus from overconsumption of delicious foods that, while they nourish our souls, do little in the way of nutritional value…
  • Literal hangovers from delicious eggnogs, heart-warming ciders, and celebratory fun.
  • Non-stop family time and socializing that leaves minimal downtime for self-care and restorative relaxation.

Suddenly feeling anxious? Don’t worry – we’ve got five helpful and mindful tips to get you through the holidays all while having fun and staying healthy! We also have tips on how to focus on self-care, including using Muse, the brain-sensing headband that will take care of managing your stress, with its 92% accuracy in detecting stress levels. Let’s start!

Tip #1: Focus on moderation

Moderation is defined as the avoidance of extremes and can be very helpful when it comes to balancing holiday fun with maintaining your health over the holidays. You don’t have to avoid all your favorite holiday traditions and those delicious holiday foods you look forward to year-round. It’s 100% possible to indulge in your favorite holiday traditions while still making healthy choices. So don’t worry about skipping holiday parties or missing out on time with friends and family – you deserve to enjoy this time of year! 

Tip #2: Stay hydrated and limit alcohol

Most of us know the age-old rule, drink eight eight-ounce cups of water a day. But if we’re being really honest with ourselves, how often are we hitting that target? 

A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Quench, a leading provider of water filtration systems, found that 77% of adults did NOT drink enough water throughout the day. The biggest reason–not feeling thirsty. 

The truth is, your level of thirst isn’t the most accurate measure of how hydrated you are. In fact, we only start feeling thirsty after we’ve entered the beginning stages of dehydration! 

A common contributor to dehydration during the holiday season is alcohol consumption. To ensure a healthy balance, it’s best to practice mindful drinking and moderation if you’re planning on a night of celebration. Alcohol slows down brain activity making you slow down and less sharp, so remember to stay adequately hydrated to balance cognitive function and boost energy levels. 

For insights and tips on practicing mindful drinking and moderation, check out the Untangle episode on this topic with Sunnyside founder Ian Andersen:

Why does drinking enough water matter?

Drinking water isn’t just about quenching thirst. Water is essential for almost every process in the human body–it facilitates life! For instance, did you know that the adult human body is made up of roughly 60% water? Water impacts a number of vital processes, including:

  • Mental performance. The National Council of Aging reports that 2% dehydration can impact mood, concentration, memory, and reaction time! Drinking more water may help balance emotions, improve cognition, and potentially reduce anxiety symptoms.
  • Kidney functioning. Our kidneys remove waste from the body. Since water helps dissolve nutrients and minerals, staying hydrated is key to helping our kidneys stay in good health. Dehydration can increase the risk of kidney stones and other damage.
  • Weight management. Water can help promote a sense of fullness and boost metabolism. Research suggests that increasing water intake may help people consume fewer calories and lead to shifts in body weight and composition
  • Heart health and blood pressure. Poor hydration can lead to our blood becoming more concentrated and viscous, raising blood pressure as the heart works harder to pump blood through the body.
  • Oxygen transport. Our blood is made up of about 90% water and is critical to delivering nutrients like oxygen throughout the body. Dehydration leads to imbalances of vital minerals and electrolytes like sodium and potassium, that make it difficult to deliver life-facilitating oxygen
  • Lubricates joints. Our joints are largely made up of and cushioned by water. Dehydration can reduce a joint’s shock absorption ability, leading to increased joint pain. Water also helps cushion other sensitive areas like the spinal cord and brain.
  • Digestion. Water helps our stomachs digest food by breaking down soluble fiber. Without enough water, you may experience heartburn, gas, bloating, and irregular bowel movements.
  • Energy. Because dehydration can make our hearts and lungs work harder (thanks to more concentrated blood and decreased circulation), poor water intake also impacts our energy levels.
  • Temperature regulation. Research suggests that when we’re dehydrated, our bodies may retain more heat, making it more difficult to regulate temperature if we’re in hot environments. Drinking enough water is key to sweating, our body’s mechanism of cooling us down when it gets too toasty.

Woman napping with dog

Tip #3: Get your rest

Sleep is another big area you’ll want to prioritize to preserve your health this holiday season. While the holidays should be a time of fun and relaxation, not getting enough sleep can make it difficult to enjoy the season’s tidings (and for good reason too).

Sleep is the body’s way of recharging after a long day. Adults need roughly 7-9 hours of sleep each night, although the exact amount varies from person to person. However, it’s not just the amount of sleep but the quality of your sleep that matters. Deep sleep is widely recognized as the central restorative stage of sleep stages, and has been associated with:

  • Short and long-term memory
  • Restoring energy
  • Promoting tissue repair
  • Bolstering the immune system
  • Boosting blood flow to muscles
  • Regenerating cells 

If all the holiday fun is preventing you from getting a good night’s rest, try sneaking in a power nap between 20-30 minutes. Although naps won’t guide you to deep sleep, a quick nap can provide short-term benefits for cognitive functioning, such as making you feel alert and more energized.

Guidelines for catching high quality sleep this holiday season

There’s a lot of reasons you may find it hard to sleep over the holidays. One of the best things you can do if you’re struggling with insomnia or poor sleep is to improve your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene basically refers to cultivating the conditions to facilitate sleep. 

  • Sound-proof and light-proof your room
  • Stop using screens at least 30 minutes before heading to sleep
  • Have an early dinner
  • Try to avoid drinking too many liquids right before bed
  • Aim to exercise for about 20-30 minutes every day to promote sleepiness
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and limit caffeine after lunch
  • Wake up and head to sleep at the same time each day

Another way to get a handle on sleep: meditation. Research has found that meditation combined with other healthy lifestyle factors can contribute to healthy shifts in the pons region of the brain. Weakness in the pons region has been associated with a lack of deep restorative sleep. On the flip side, strengthening the pons region (like meditation) may help stimulate melatonin, a hormone that helps induce sleep.

Still struggling to get a good night’s sleep?

Explore Muse’s Digital Sleeping Pills (DSP) with the Muse S sleep-wearable headband, an EEG-powered alternative to traditional sleep medications that learns about your sleep patterns and uses gentle ambient sound to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Tip #4: Mindful eating

Another way you can make it easier to maintain a level of health that makes you feel good as you celebrate is mindful eating. Mindful eating is closely related to mindfulness, a practice of intentional focus that grounds one’s emotions, thoughts, and physical experience in the present moment. Mindful eating follows the same principles, encouraging greater awareness and appreciation as we eat to facilitate more intentional, enjoyable, and beneficial relationships with food and our eating behaviors. Research from numerous studies has found mindful eating practices can help in slowing down how quickly we eat, allowing for greater recognition of fullness and control over eating, which can aid in weight loss and management.

Guidelines for practicing mindful eating

We all eat mindlessly from time to time, but there’s a difference between a bit of snacking and a pattern of excessive mindless eating, which can contribute to sneaky bouts of binge eating and weight gain. If you’d like to try mindful eating, here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Spend time identifying when and how often you eat mindlessly. This can help you become more aware and embrace mindful eating practices in these moments.

  2. Before you eat, consider the story of your food. Where did it come from? How was it prepared? Who prepared it? How many people did it take for this food to reach your plate? Taking time to honor the food can deepen and bring greater meaning to the eating experience.

  3. Explore the food with all your senses. What does the food look like? What texture does it have? How does it smell? Once you take a bite, ask yourself – what does it feel like on your tongue? What does it taste like? Do the flavors change the longer you explore that first bite? How does the food feel in your body as you eat it?

  4. Eat slowly and in small bites. Not only does this practice give your body more time to digest so it can let you know when you’re full and avoid overeating, but it also helps you slow down so you can enjoy the full experience of your food.

  5. Try not to skip meals! While it can be difficult to create a consistent eating schedule, going too long without eating can heighten hunger and make it difficult to eat mindfully. Instead, focus on eating meals around a similar time each day.

Hanging out with friends at party

Tip #5: Take time for self-care

Last but certainly not least: self-care. A lot of us get caught up in all the responsibilities that accompany the holidays, from decorating to cooking to non-stop socializing to keeping the peace between tense relatives. It’s important to remember to take time just for yourself over the holidays, in whatever way brings you joy and helps you find peace.

Here are four ways you can prioritize self-care this holiday season:

  1. Learn to say no and set healthy boundaries. This holiday isn’t just about your family and friends – it’s about you too. Don’t overload yourself by trying to cultivate the “perfect” holiday. It’s okay to say no and take time for yourself.

  2. Embrace healthy movement. Whether it’s going for a walk or reinventing your workout routine, it’s good to keep your body active in whatever way feels fun and exciting for you. 

  3. Clear your mind and take time to relax. A great way to do this is through meditating with Muse. Backed by compelling evidence, 78% of users reported being more calm and relaxed after using Muse and our meditation sessions. 

  4. Have your type of fun! Dance, sing, play board games with friends, and reminisce about your favorite memories with family. 

This holiday, we hope you take the time to create a personalized experience that brings you mindful celebrations. Prioritize activities that truly make you happy while also taking time to relax and enjoy the moment!

Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season. - Muse 💙

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