Speaking of Stress ~A Holiday Story~

As the holidays approach each year, I find myself watching friends and family post their pics of big meals, decorations, and crafts, as well as several posts about being stressed. It seems we all love to go BIG on the holidays, but it’s also an incredibly stressful time for most. Hosting family, baking cookies, shopping, and social events fill our schedule quickly, but the aftermath of all that activity and fun is often exhaustion. I’m no stranger to going BIG on holidays-I’ve had up to 7 decorated trees in my house, huge, haunted yards, and dinners with more guests than house space. Pandemic gave me a chance to scale back in a huge way, to avoid the expectation of bigger and more, and take a step back into simply enjoying the holidays with less stress for a bit. Stress, is without a doubt, the biggest issue I hear about during the holidays. Whether it be schedules, finances, food, or simply finding time to rest and enjoy, it all comes down to being stressed.

In 2008 I was a single, homeschooling, working mom to four kids. Stress was simply a way of waking, living, and existing for me as I navigated through each day of lessons, projects, work, chores, and child raising. Being a somewhat “over the top” kind of gal, I refused to allow my rather new single mom status hold me back, and I plowed right into my holiday plans full force. Homemade chicken potpie, guests for dinner, decorated gingerbread house, china and crystal on the table, a freshly cut tree, presents wrapped perfectly, and not a dent in my other life responsibilities. That was the plan…I never considered the amount of stress I was placing upon myself.

As Christmas grew closer, my carefully written out schedule was working out well. We wrapped up our fall homeschool classes, got our decorating done, and brought home a fresh cut tree. The kids were getting excited, and I was completely on my “type A” schedule, just marching forward into a perfectly done holiday…or so I thought.

At 7pm on Christmas Eve, I bought pizza for the kids, and settled them with a holiday movie while I began to make my famous chicken pot pie-our holiday dinner. The tree was lit, beautifully decorated, and the outside lights were glistening. Everything was perfect. I began mixing my pot pie sauce (condensed milk based, which means it burns quickly) and chopping my veggies while listen to Christmas music play from the living room. 2 of my children (I never say WHO, because no one admits to this!) were rough housing. As I opened my mouth to tell them to knock it off, the smaller child catapulted from the back of the older child-right into the Christmas tree! The tree swayed, and I ran from the kitchen attempting to grab it-but it crashed to the ground. The kids stood in horror. I was stunned. Then I smelled the burning milk…. 

I ran back to the kitchen to pull my pot from the stove as my youngest stood in tears above the fallen Christmas tree. My favorite pot was filled with stinky burnt creamed mixture. The smoke alarms were blaring.  I opened the windows to get the smoke out and returned to the living room to upright the tree. At this point, all four kids were upset and yelling. I had no idea what to do next….Being a single mom on a very tight budget, I had no extra ingredients to start over, and there was not much else in the house to serve to guests the next day. I packed up the kids and headed towards the only store open at 7:45 on Christmas Eve-a Walgreens-to see what I could piece together to save my dinner. I was happy to see cans of condensed milk and cream of chicken soup on the shelves, and I grabbed them thinking I could now pull this off! I ran to the restaurant I worked in and asked for a few chicken breasts and potatoes to complete my re-do recipe. Feeling quite accomplished, I returned home, had a glass of wine, and started all over again-in a new pot-the other pot was destroyed. It was after 9pm, and I still had presents to wrap and kids to put to bed, but my potpie was ready to be crusted and baked. I gave the filling a taste…..WOW….Did you know that condensed milk also comes in a sweetened version for desserts????

My chicken pot pie tasted like custard! I tried to add pepper and seasonings to mask the sweetness. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t absolutely disgusting. But there it was, my entire Christmas dinner, smelling like vanilla pudding with chicken and peas in it. I had another glass of wine. Let’s be honest-I had a bottle of wine! I looked at my tree with the ornaments now hung in a crazy fashion, the lights drooping to the ground on one side. I looked at my disaster of a kitchen with my favorite expensive pot sitting burnt in the trashcan. I thought about the pile of gifts hidden in my bedroom closet that remained unwrapped. I took another taste of my Christmas dinner and tried to convince myself that no one would notice the insane sweetness. I had more wine.

Looking back now, I absolutely can find the comedy in the situation-which is well documented in hysterical Facebook posts and comments. At the time, however, it was nothing but defeat and stress, and way too much wine. I never took a real moment to take a breath and realize that in all reality, none of the things I was trying to accomplish held any importance. I never stopped to think that simply asking and accepting help would have made a difference. I never took a moment to realize that while “my” version of a great Christmas involved pulling out all the stops, no one else expected to be wowed. Had I known THEN what I know NOW, things would have been very different. I would have realized my limits as a single mom of four on a major holiday. I would have taken more than a few moments to practice some mindfulness and rethink my plan with a much simpler meal. I would have realized that I took on too much, and simply taken the kids to visit family for Christmas dinner. I would not have let such a stressful situation happen-and if it HAD happened, I would have dealt with it much better: deep breaths, mindful thinking, asking for help, and not ending up with a rather bad hangover from the wine.

THIS is the point of my story dear readers! The grandiose ideas that some of us may envision as we approach the holiday season are often the reason for exhaustion, burnout, and even ending up feeling our worst. Saying “yes” to every event, volunteering too much, entertaining too much, expecting too much from ourselves are all just ways to end up not being able to enjoy the real reasons for the holidays we love. We tend to get focused on the decorating, the baking, the wrapping-and we lose sight of the JOY that the season simply presents when we are with family and friends. It’s never the dinner that is remembered, or the way the decorations were so perfectly placed, but the laughter, the conversations, and the relationships that we cherish.

As we head into these 2 months of nonstop holiday whirlwind, be sure to remain mindful of your time and energy. Practice a little (or a LOT!) of self-care and self-love. Give yourself a break, save yourself a little sanity, and present yourself to your loved ones the way they most love to see you-relaxed, well, and happy.

Just to wrap this little story up….

In the end, one of my dinner guests offered to bring a small turkey breast that “cooks in 45 minutes” …”It says so right on the label!”.

She showed up from out of state at noon on Christmas Day, and it in fact, needed to thaw for 45 minutes and cook for 3 ½ hours.

We ended up ordering Chinese Food for Christmas dinner and my kids thought it was the greatest thing EVER because that’s what they ate in The Christmas Story movie:)! THAT is the ending memory-JOY!

Learn ALL the tips and tricks to help make your holiday season more enjoyable and focused on WELLNESS with my beautiful 22 page Guide to Holiday Survival! It’s FREE and ready to download HERE!

If you’re ready to take your health and wellness goals to the next level, treat yourself to some wellness coaching! I’m here when you need me for tips, plans, and motivation to reach all your wellness goals this holiday season! Email me and let’s chat! Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram for great tips and inspiration!

Traveling with Health and Wellness in Mind

Trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle when traveling can present many challenges. Hours spent sitting in the car, or on a plane, crazy schedules, staying in hotels, and finding lots of local treats when arriving at your destination can wreak havoc on every aspect of your wellness plan. It doesn’t have to be difficult though! Some careful planning and scheduling can remove most of these issues rather easily, and make your travels healthy, and even more enjoyable. 

In the spring of 2018, to celebrate the homeschool graduation of my youngest child, and a huge farewell to 22 years of the home education of four children, I planned what I called “The Ultimate Fieldtrip”. This trip involved a road trip through 9 southern states, with stays in 9 cities, over a period of 16 days, with my youngest son. My other young adult children each picked a city and were flown in to join us to add to the fun. It was long, it was exhausting, but it was AMAZING.

At the time, I was battling serious food intolerances that I later discovered were due to an unhealthy gut (you can read about that total health journey here). Most foods that I ingested led to fatigue, serious hives, rashes, and joint pain, so planning out my food for this massive trip was crucial. I was also accustomed to getting 12-15 thousand steps a day, and doing strength training and Pilates as well. My son, an athlete, was not used to sitting or missing workouts either, so the idea of sitting in the car for up to 10 hours at certain points of our trip was daunting. This led to an incredible amount of research, planning, and time scheduling in order to make this trip fun and healthy for everyone involved.

The most important part of staying focused on a healthy lifestyle and balanced wellness plan when traveling is PLANNING. I spent a little over 2 months planning for this awesome adventure, researching hotels, restaurants, activities, and even rest stops, in order to pull off a trip that was not only fun and active, but healthy and restful as well. So, I’d like to share some great tips for traveling while keeping your health and wellness goals in check, along with a few fun anecdotes from our fabulous field trip. 

Check Your Accommodations

Our travels had us staying in many hotels, so we decided to stick with one chain, become members on the app, and gather “points” for free nights as we went. The chain we chose offered a gym at every location. I thought we would get great use of this accommodation, but in the end, I think we only used one gym. Perfect weather welcomed us through the first 7stays, and all our activity was outdoors until that point. When we arrived in Nashville on day 13, the rain finally caught up to us, and I took advantage of the gym and treadmill to hit my steps, while my son used some free weights just to get some movement in after 5-hour drive from Memphis, (listening to Elvis the entire way.) Although most of our activity was easily done outdoors during our trip, it was nice to know that we had a plan B for getting our movement in.

Most hotels, and even motels, now offer some sort of gym area to their guests, even if it’s just a treadmill or two, and some free weights. One of our hotels offered an entrance to an outdoor fitness trail that was really nice. If your hotel does not offer a fitness area, check with their front desk about possible local gyms that offer nonmembers a travel pass. Or consider keeping a set of light weights or a yoga mat in your car for quick and easy workouts in your room. Yoga is a great way to stretch, release, and relax while traveling.

I hit my steps every single day of our trip, and even hit triple several times just from all the local walking and sightseeing we did. Because our weather was so fantastic (the deep south in March-a wonderful time of year!) we chose to walk everywhere and averaged easily 9-10 miles a day.

Plan Ahead for Restaurants

Planning for meals was an absolute necessity for me. As I stated, I was experiencing serious reactions to food intolerances at this point of my life, and my reactions left me feeling horrible. I needed to do everything I could to avoid having a reaction that might leave me with brain fog, joint pain, hives, or exhaustion in order to make this trip a success. I use an app called Roadtrippers and added my researched restaurant choices into my notes. I spent hours looking at popular restaurants in each city we planned to travel, and making notes about what would be safe, and well as healthy and tasty, for me to order. Having a game plan with several choices made deciding our meals so much easier. Even after I found the cure and solution to my food intolerances, I still travel with my researched restaurants in a notepad, and healthy meals picked out in advance. It takes so much stress out of our travels and ensures that we eat balanced and delicious meals no matter where we travel. If you’d like more great tips on dining out, check this article out!

Stick to Regular Meal Schedule

I have found that many people go completely off schedule when they vacation or travel, and they end up paying for it either ON their trip, or soon after.

It’s important to stay as close to your regular schedule as possible when traveling. Try to keep your mealtimes as normal as possible to avoid becoming famished, or, on the opposite end, indulging too much. Sticking with small balanced meals throughout the day will keep your energy up, and your hunger down.  If you are unable to stick to a normal schedule of meals, be sure to keep healthy snacks on hand for a quick nutrient boost and to keep your stomach feeling comfortable.

Our snack stash travelled in a mesh grocery store box from hotel to hotel and kept us feeling great on the super long stretches of driving between cities. We kept protein bars, fresh fruit, nuts, and nut butter and crackers stocked, and always had a cooler full of ice and waters ready in our back seat.

Stick to Regular Sleep Schedules

It’s also important to try to stick with your regular sleep schedule when traveling as well. Try to go to bed at your regular bedtime, and wake as you normally do to stay on a healthy schedule and avoid feeling tired, or even exhausted. This will help keep your energy level up and keep the rest of your schedule in check.

This was one of the hardest things for us to do on our travels. We found ourselves driving late into the night on several occasions and sleeping in to make up for it too often. After celebrating my birthday in New Orleans and staying up WAY too late several nights in a row, I was absolutely exhausted on our ride into Texas, and ended up sleeping for half a day in Austin. It’s important to have all the fun and enjoy all that your trip has to offer but try to be mindful of not overdoing it and finding yourself too tired to enjoy parts of your travels.

Look for Parks and Recreational Activities

It’s always great to take a break from traditional sightseeing or visitor areas and visit a park or recreation area. Seeing alligators in their natural habitat while outside of Mobile and wandering the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico after a long morning drive was a wonderful break from driving, hotels, and being in crowds of tourists. Check the areas around the towns on your itinerary to see what might be available for a change of pace, or even a new adventure. Hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and zip lining are offered across the US, and can add both exercise and fun to your trip.

Crazy enough, our trip, which started out as a journey to meet friends we had known online forever, turned into a quest to see as many stadiums as possible. Each city we visited dropped an extra 15000 steps a day on my Fitbit just because we ventured out to find the local NFL and college stadiums. (My son’s IG was full of “peeks” into stadiums from under fences and up on walls!) 

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated on long trips is so important for overall health. Dehydration can lead to headaches, fatigue, constipation, dizziness, and more. Travel brings about a bit of a challenge when it comes to staying hydrated-especially if you are traveling long distances in a vehicle. While my cooler of iced waters easily kept me well hydrated, the constant bathroom breaks became a bit crazy. Early on in our trip, my son looked at me and asked if I was “OK”, after I told him we needed to stop AGAIN.

I soon realized that I was actually drinking way more than I needed to, considering we were sitting in the car for entire stretches of the day, so I cut back a bit. We did, however, decide that our best plan of action on those “long haul” driving days was to plan stops every 2 or so hours based on the availability. (If you’ve ever driven a stretch like Atlanta to Mobile, or across the entire state of Arkansas, you might understand how hard regular stops can be!) This gave us a chance to jog out some steps, do some stretching, drop some Instagram, and use the facilities.

It’s not hard to get the recommended amount of water in while traveling if you just plan it out. A glass of water upon rising, a glass with each meal, a glass about an hour before bed, and 2 glasses during the day-perhaps before and after a brisk walk or some other planned exercise will do it.  

Stock the Hotel with Healthy Snacks or Meals and Use a Cooler in the Car

Whether your trip is long and involved, or short and sweet, it never hurts to keep your hotel room and car stocked with some healthy choices for meals and snacks. For the first part of our trip, I actually had homecooked meals prepped and ready in a cooler in the car. Small containers of steamed veggies, baked chicken, and homemade soup found their way to the first 3-4 hotels that we stayed in and made easy and healthy snacks and meals when heated up in our room microwave. These small, prepped meals along with fresh fruit, instant oatmeal packets, and bags of sliced veggies, made eating healthy super easy on the road. Other ideas for healthy travel snacks are individually wrapped cheeses, small packs of nuts, grapes, berries, yogurts, rice cakes, crackers, pretzels, kale chips, dried fruit, jerky, and trail mix.

Taking healthy foods along for the ride not only keeps you from fast food temptation but can save you a lot of money otherwise spent on less healthy choices from hotel pantries, vending machines, and convenience stores.

While traveling, be sure to check out local markets or bodegas for local foods and treats to restock your stash and give you a chance to try local favorites.

Evaluate and Plan for Indulging in Alcohol

For many, traveling and vacationing often includes indulging in fun spirits; local brews, regional wines, and frozen specialties can be fun and tasty, but, if overdone, can result in a whole set of negative issues-including not feeling well. I learned this twice on my excursion; once in New Orleans, and again during 3 days of rain in Nashville when a friendly bartender introduced me to a super yummy lemonade flavored vodka that did not taste like alcohol. (UGH! Hard lesson!)

If you plan to indulge, be sure to plan accordingly. Make sure you eat before drinking and match each drink with a glass of water. Too much alcohol will leave you feeling drained and tired, and unable to enjoy all the activities and fun you plan. And of course, never drink and drive. 

Focus on the 80/20 Rule, Try Local Treats in Moderation

Traveling gives us the wonderful opportunity for trying different foods and treats from all over. Because “everything in moderation” is a key belief to this wellness coach, I encourage you to try as many new things as possible, while not over-indulging. Try following the 80/20 plan for a maximum taste experience while still sticking to a healthy plan of eating. To do this, plan to eat 80 percent healthy, and 20 percent “local yum”.

For me, traveling the south, this was a whole lot about BBQ! Every section of the south has a completely different version of BBQ, and it was my quest to try them all and find the best. BBQ is usually served with all kinds of decadent sides and sauces that can increase your intake of calories, fat and sugar quickly, so I had to be mindful. I soon realized that the key was to order healthy sides with my meal, and then just grab “tastes” of my son’s sides. A small bite of cornbread, a forkful of baked beans from his tray, and then focus on my cucumber salads and coleslaw to top off my many, many styles of BBQ. I also took half of my BBQ to go when able, and my son later ate it as a snack.

We tried the local favorites in each city and town, but usually, it was me simply having a “taste”, which worked out really well. I managed to stick to my healthy eating, while indulging in small, incredible, local favorites.

Focus on Mental Health

Traveling can be exhausting. Long drives, different hotel beds, waiting for flights, dealing with weather, crowds, traffic, and time zones can all be a bit daunting. Sticking to a wellness plan is very do-able and can leave you feeling healthy and even rested and recharged at the end of your trip. When planning for your travels, be sure to focus on your mental health. Getting quality nutrition, regular exercise, and sleep are key, but be sure to put some thought into your mental well-being as well. Find time for rest and relaxation, perhaps a little pampering, and check in with your stress and energy levels each day. If you find yourself getting a bit out of balance, consider a little meditation to calm your nerves and clear your mind.

I hope that the coming months give you an opportunity to do a little traveling and exploring, all while keeping your wellness goals in check. If you’d like to discuss your health and wellness goals and find a plan of action that works with your life, drop me an Email-I’d LOVE to chat with you!