Oh my. The holidays. The responsibilities. The drama. The pressure. It can make a sane person crazy and a sober person relapse.

There are so many things out there on social media about self-care, but as a Family Practice Nurse Practitioner with an additional specialty in Addiction medicine, I feel compelled to add my own thoughts. Also because I am getting old, and I don’t (usually) ask my patients to do things I am unwilling to do myself.

Don’t compromise your hard-earned health habits now.

This may not be the best time of year to ambitiously start a new exercise routine, but be aware how easy it is to allow the chatter in your head to lead you down the path of believing you must attend or respond to every invitation or message you receive, with the result of ditching your exercise regimen.

Instead of Ditching It, Modify It

If carving out two hours for the gym feels like too much, create an effective, efficient, modified regimen for the holidays.

Walk. Incorporate walking into your daily regimen. No equipment, no need to shower or change when you’re done.

I live close enough that I am walking to and from work on days that I can. On other mornings, I get up early and go before work. When I lived farther from my place of employment, I would often park walking distance away. Sometimes I listen to inspiring or informative podcasts and sometimes a riveting novel. On some walks, I simply amuse myself with the thoughts—or visitors, as Hafez would say--in my head on any given day. (Read his poem The Guest House.)

Walking can’t be overrated. The beauty of the world in the early mornings as the sky does its daily magic act while the birds provide the acoustic accompaniment is an extravagant gift to us humans. What a way to start a day.

Walk (or at least Hold) the Plank

Another incredibly efficient and effective exercise is holding a plank pose. Plank not only strengthens core muscles, which protects your spine, but it also builds and stretches other muscles simultaneously.

If you aren’t familiar with plank pose and its many variations, here is a link to a great article.

Rest and Digest

I always encourage patients to eat as mindfully and intentionally as possible. When a person is under stress and the sympathetic nervous system is wound up, digestion is compromised. Fight, Flight and Freeze reign under stressful conditions (can you say Holidays?) Rest and Digest rules when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated.

I am finding it difficult myself these days to take much of a lunch break. It’s a trade-off; the work is there, and I can do it during lunch, or stay late in the office to finish it. (Like it’s ever done). But I encourage you to step away for a few quiet moments. I know several people who go to the quiet of their car during lunch or make time to simply walk around the block.

Eat Fast Food, But the Good Kind

We often have meals provided by pharmaceutical reps. Many of them are conscientious about bringing healthy-ish foods, but usually, the selections are calorie-rich, loaded with highly processed carbs, the worst kinds of fats, and tortured, overcooked vegetables, or the palest of green iceberg lettuce salads. (I shamelessly go for the few token black olives scattered on the surface of these insipid offerings).

While I always express my thanks for bringing their food and their expertise to our office, I also never have the expectation that anyone else will prioritize my own healthy eating. That is my job.

Be Prepared

I keep a box of frozen Morning Star Chipotle Black Bean Burgers in the freezer of our office kitchen and a jar of good salsa in the fridge. Two minutes in a microwave provides me with a delicious 190 calorie (plus whatever the salsa is), 17 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber meal, that is satisfying and filling enough to last me the rest of the day.

I also keep a jar of nuts on hand for ‘emergency’ protein fixes. I switch around from tamari almonds to salt and pepper pistachios to organic assorted nuts to Thai flavored cashews. I am old and experienced enough to know that if I succumb to a sweet or starchy snack, my energy will drop to the floor. I try to make sure my evening meal is full of vegetables (if I don’t just collapse with a bowl of Orville Redenbacher popped-in-avocado-oil popcorn.)

A Little Prep Goes a Long Way

Ever since my yoga instructor and Ayurvedic guru shared her bread recipe with me, I have made it almost weekly and passed the recipe on to dozens of friends and patients who now report to me they poop better than they ever have in their whole lives. One slice of this bread is my daily, quick, healthy and filling breakfast.

As a Certified Health Coach from the acclaimed Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I continue to teach and incorporate practices to keep my beloved microbiome as happy as possible. The microbiome lives in our gut and is the factory for our vitamins, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. Essentially, the more diverse the microbiome, the better our physical, mental, and immune health will be.

Our microbiome loves soluble fiber. Psyllium husk powder is a key ingredient in the bread recipe. Being a soluble fiber, psyllium is able to pass through the digestive system without being completely broken down or absorbed. Instead, it absorbs water and becomes a viscous compound that benefits constipation, diarrhea, blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight loss.

Here is a link to the Life Changing Loaf of Bread recipe that is causing so much happiness and good pooping experiences./

Finally, consider making a big pot of something delicious and healthy on the weekend so you won’t be tempted to sabotage your hard-won conscientious eating habits when your to-do list compresses your time and amps your anxiety.

One of my standards is Jane Brody’s Vegetable Chili. This is such an old, used, family favorite; my cookbook is actually split in two at this recipe.

Breathe and Be Grateful

We’re on this human ride for a brief blink of the eye. Be aware of all that is good. Find ways to express gratitude whether it’s a spontaneous letter of thanks, a hug, or a bouquet. Be sneaky with little surprises. Be anonymous.

From our office to you, may you and your family be safe and feel peace this holiday season!

Joan R. Shepherd, FNP


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