It’s still October, yet the big box store where I shop for household essentials is already festooned in twinkling lights and tinsel. All before the Halloween candy has even been marked down to half price. This artificial extension of the holiday season, which seems to inch up a few days every year, used to bother me. But, now I use it as a signal to get my diabetes patients jumpstarted on their preparation for the most challenging season of the year. Because when it comes right down to it, advance planning, and organization are the best antidote to holiday stress and the high blood sugars that can accompany it.
Be a task master
A stress-free holiday all starts with a list. Spend an hour or so creating a master list of everything you hope to get done for the holidays. From holiday gifts to parties to family traditions you want to continue, this is the place to write them all down. And it’s also a great way to ease into the start of the season and get excited about what’s to come.
Once your list is finished, it’s time to go to the next level and create a detailed task list around each holiday “to do.” Don’t just write holiday events on your list. Include all tasks you need to complete leading up to each event. Be specific, and as thorough as possible. For example, if you are hosting a holiday party, your detailed task list may look something like this:
December 13th Holiday Party
Confirm guest list & make invitations with kids
Party store for paper goods and storage containers
Research low-carb, gluten-free recipe options
Create grocery list
Grocery store for supplies
Decorate for party
Pick up extra folding tables and chairs from mom and dad
Party from 1-4pm!
Return tables and chairs to mom and dad
Deliver trays of leftovers to neighbors
No detail is too small. The more you can map out on your list, the less room there is to stress out about last minute details and forgotten tasks. Even those holiday gatherings and events you aren’t hosting may have some additional errands associated with them, such as purchasing wine or food to bring, or buying a gift. If you know you have to do it, put it on the list.
Once the detailed task list is complete, it’s time to enter every item and associated deadline into your wall calendar, daily planner, or smart phone. This is where fall planning really pays off; the earlier you start your holiday scheduling, the more time you have to line up tasks so that you aren’t overscheduled on any single day. Anyone who has tried to jam all their holiday preparation into a week or two can attest to the importance of having some breathing room between your “to dos.”
Simplify gift giving
Of course, holiday shopping is on virtually everyone’s task list. If this is something that stresses you out, remember that the earlier you do it, the less hectic it will be (fewer crowds and a larger selection). One way to simplify the gift giving experience in a thoughtful way is to gift experiences and services your friends and family will love. Movie passes, restaurant gift cards, cooking classes, concert tickets, and museum memberships are just a few memorable ideas. And these types of gifts take up little space and are easy to wrap.
If you have younger kids to shop for and can’t escape toys and gadgets, try shopping online and having things shipped home to save time and trouble. Buying for kids out of state? Send toy or game store gift cards instead so they can choose the perfect thing.
Plan now, indulge a little later
Eating well during the holidays is a challenge for everyone. Making dietary decisions on the fly may work for you most of the time, but during the holidays when carb-rich food is everywhere, having an established weekly meal plan can help you stay on track.
Do your shopping and prep work for your meals before each week starts. Remember that your freezer can be your best friend during the holidays. If you know you are going to have a busy week or two, cook and freeze some go-to meals (and don’t forget to label them). The more effort you put into your meal planning, the less likely you are to stray from the routine.
By all means, indulge yourself with the occasional holiday treat. Food is an integral part of the season. Have small portions of your favorites when you are at a party or gathering. The same goes for alcohol; enjoy but in moderation. The key is stay on an even and healthy keel the rest of the time, and perhaps add a little extra post-party exercise to your routine to even out your blood sugar. And, of course, as with any time you’re eating things you’re not accustomed to, check blood sugar more frequently.
Undeck your halls
Before you haul out the holiday decorations, take some time now to clear out any excess clutter. A clean and peaceful space can do wonders for your frame of mind and provide some calm amidst the upcoming holiday chaos. And when you do go to decorate for the holidays, do it with an eye towards simplicity. Perhaps you don’t need to display every single ornament, snow globe, and dreidel your college-age children have given you since preschool. Take the opportunity to scale down. Donate things that just don’t get used. Pack and store keepsakes that you don’t display but can’t part with.
If you are a regular Clark Griswold with your outdoor holiday decorations, think about scaling back to simplify. That may mean twenty strings of lights instead of the usual 250. Remember that the less you put up, the less there is to take down later, and time and money saved is often worth it.
Enlist some elves
Remember that you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) try to do it all. If you are hosting Thanksgiving, ask visiting family members to contribute a dish. If your holiday party guests offer to bring something, take them up on it. Let others in your household help out with items on your task list.
Above all, keep time in your schedule to keep caring for yourself as holiday activities ramp up. Don’t let things like regular exercise and self-care fall by the wayside. Some of my patients make a point of signing up for weekly exercise classes or other physical activities during the holidays. That financial and personal commitment to working out is enough to keep them on track.
So spend a few hours this weekend making a list and checking it twice. With a little preparation, you can enjoy every moment of the holiday season once it arrives.