5 (chemical-free) ways to stay Zen this holiday


This post is part of a series sponsored by The Century Council as part of their #TalkEarly program, encouraging parents to discuss underage drinking with their kids.

Have you ever thought about how much of the holiday season is fueled by chemicals?

Stressed? Eat a sugary cookie, you’ll feel better. Exhausted? Keep yourself going with a cinnamon-flavored caffeinated drink. If it’s after 5 PM, why not reach for a glass of egg nog to relax?

The ubiquitous chemical “fix” has become a holiday joke, but we all know that there’s a sliver – or, okay, maybe a full-on tree’s worth – of truth there. We’ve so bought into the idea that the December is, and should be, a month-long string of obligations, events, and activities that it almost seems normal to nibble and sip our way through the white-knuckled White Christmas. 

There is definitely a time and place for festive drinks and peppermint bark. But through my work with The Century Council’s #TalkEarly program I’ve been becoming much more aware of the kind of example I set by the way I talk about and model stress relief. The way I deal is teaching my kids about the “normal” way to approach high-pressure situations. 

If I say, in front of my kids, that I “need” a coffee to get through a shopping trip, or “need” a cookie or a cocktail at the end of an activity-packed day, they may just take me literally. What will that teach them about how adults interact with sugar, caffeine and alcohol – or about how they should soothe themselves in times of stress?

I’m working to be more intentional about the way I interact with the feel-good beverages and food in my life so that they are’t the first thing I reach for when I need a boost. And this holiday I’m making a point of modeling healthy ways to deal with what life throws at us, in the hopes that my kids will have a fuller toolbox to work with when they face adult pressures of their own.

Here are some of the chemical-free ways I’ll be staying energized and Zen this holiday season:

  • Take a bath. Here’s what I love about a bath: depending on how you set it up, it can be either energizing or relaxing. If I want to chill out, I dim the lights and add a few drops of lavender essential oils. If I want to ramp up, I use a citrus-scented scrub and keep the lights on. Whether I’m tired, stressed, or losing focus, there is almost nothing that can’t be cured with a hot bath.
  • Go for a walk. This is another great strategy for either ramping up or slowing down, depending on the time of day and how quickly I walk. Even on a cold day, if I’m starting to climb the walls a quick, brisk walk brings me back to center. 
  • Take a time-out. The holidays are supposed to be about enjoying our families, not proving our worth to anyone else. Whenever I’m feeling like my to-do list is inspired by too much “should,” I know things have gotten out of whack. But saying “forget it!” for a night or two and just staying home, listening to music and looking at twinkle lights seems to hit my holiday reset button. 
  • Laugh together. Sometimes my kids get on my nerves. Big-time. And I find myself getting grumpy with them more during busy times of year. I find that one of the best ways to go from snarling Mom to snuggling Mom is to check myself out of housework and deadlines and watch a funny movie with them. I don’t have to do anything but cuddle on the sofa and laugh with them, and it always puts me in a better mood – no wine needed. 
  • Keep the ritual. To me the best part of that adult beverage is always the self-care routine involved. The act of getting the glass and preparing the drink seems to trigger relaxation before you even raise it to your lips. I’ve found, then, that it doesn’t always matter what’s in the glass. Lately I’ve been pouring hot water over a cinnamon stick and letting it “steep” a while, then adding a squeeze of lemon at the end. I still get to go through all the ritual of preparing and sipping a soothing drink, but I’m not taking in the extra caffeine, calories or alcohol. 

Don’t get me wrong: I still love to pour myself a relaxing glass of wine a few times a week. But I’m definitely working to be more mindful about the way I approach alcohol and other “chemical” stress relievers, especially in front of my kids. (You know, like maybe I won’t make as many jokes about gnawing off the top with my teeth if I can’t find a corkscrew RIGHT NOW.)

I just want them to grow up knowing there are a lot of ways to cope with what life throws at you. And I’d always rather reach for that cookie or tea or wine glass because I want it, not because I “need” it.

What’s in your Holiday Zen toolbox? 

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  1. Christian Toto