Surviving the Holidays in Six {ish} Steps

The Holiday Season is upon us and for many, it’s a joyous time with family, friends, parties and celebration. For others, it can be overwhelming, stressful and can cause situational anxiety and depression. And more than likely, everyone is going to experience a little bit of it all.
Expectation, grandeur, having too much (sugar), having too little (money), saying “yes” to one too many things, family discord, planning, cleaning, cooking, wrapping… it ALL can get to be a little too much.
So, BEFORE the train gets TOO far out of the station, here are 6-ish tips to navigate your personal sanity for the next 60 days {and perhaps, beyond}.

1. Say No to Perfection
Let’s face it, Perfection is NOT attainable. It truly isn’t. And if you continue to strive for it, you are going to be VERY disappointed; not only in yourself but in others. And that is not a recipe for JOLLY.
When groups of people come together, they bring their own set of baggage; none of which you are capable of being in charge of. Family dynamics change, children grow, our parents get older, friends lose their partners and people lose their financial fortune. Things change. What happened last year, happened last year. Be flexible with family traditions; be open to new traditions and be ok with modifying the old ones. If you have newly walking Grandbabies… this may not be the year to decorate with Great Grandma’s glass ornaments.

2. Own your Budget
Yep. We are going to talk about money. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. Last year, you may have been rolling in it and this year, you were hit with college tuition. Whatever it may be, pay attention to where you are, financially, TODAY. Make a budget so that you are not using next year’s money to foot the bill for this year’s holiday. You cannot buy your happiness nor anyone else’s. Debt causes stress, divorce, depression, fear, anger and hopelessness. Take your power back by owning the budget.
Here are some cost saving alternatives:
a. Family or Friend Gift exchange.
b. Donate to a charity in the name of the WHOLE family.
c. Have a family Potluck where everyone participates.
d. Check your emotions at the door.
e. Plan ahead; watch for sales (Black Friday/Cyber Monday)

3. Eat, Drink and Be Merry {Not True.}
The Holidays are a time of OVER indulgence. And if you are in recovery, you have already had your lifetime allotment of over indulgence. You may not be boozing it anymore but that does not give you full reign at the dessert buffet. There will be physical and mental consequences to having TOO much.
Cakes, cookies, pie… OH MY! When you eat something loaded with sugar, your taste buds, your gut and your brain all take notice. This activation of your reward system is not unlike how bodies process addictive substances such as alcohol or nicotine — an overload of sugar spikes dopamine levels and leaves you craving more. {This is why ONE cookie turns in to 9}. Be mindful. Pay attention. Before you indulge, stop & pay attention to YOU. Ask yourself, is this *really* what you want and is the 6th cookie moving you toward how you really want to feel? Awareness is key.

4. Physical & Mental Awareness (Have a Plan)
Auto-pilot during the Holidays {or anytime, really} is not a good idea. Being aware how you are feeling emotionally, mentally and physically is important. Not only is the Holiday Season a time for good cheer but it is also the time of year we succumb to the flu and colds. Add to the mix, too little sleep and too much sugar and you are going to feel REAL bad. Take time for YOU in these 4 ways:
a. Yoga: kill two birds with one stone. Physical exercise with the mindfulness component. It’s a win win.
b. Don’t brush off emotions. If you are sad, that’s ok. It’s a common and NORMAL emotion. You are allowed to be sad.
{I have written you a permission slip, if you need it.}
c. Time Out: Just like your kids or grandkids need to step away, so do you. 5 minutes may be all that you need. Take it. Breathe, take a walk, listen to a favorite song or read a chapter in a book.
d. Take a Family Walk: Being cooped up in the house and watching the umpteenth football game and shoveling staggering amounts of chips into your mouth can cause stress and anxiety. Take a walk. Dopamine is your body’s natural way to relieve anxiety and stress. Take advantage of it.

5. Be of Service
Do something for someone else. It doesn’t have to be extravagant.
a. Smile at people as you enter the grocery store for the 8th time.
b. Send a thank you note to someone that rarely gets thanked.
c. Send an email to check in on someone that you haven’t talked to in a while.
d. Help someone put groceries in their car.
e. Offer to put your neighbor’s garbage cans away.
You are a smart cookie, you will think of something and get your kids/family in on it! Being of service and gratitude are scientifically proven ways to improve mood.
6. Remember Your Family’s “Why”.
Remember “WHY” your family gathers for the season. Plan a family gratitude or thankful project. Get a chalkboard, corkboard or even a box of sticky notes. Throughout your time together, jot down those things that you are most thankful for; it could be as simple as the cool weather or as big as Mom surviving cancer. Whatever it is, write it down. At the end of the season or the family gathering, take a picture of it. Get 5×7 prints made (Costco is cheap) and maybe head to Hobby Lobby for a frame (Watch for 50% off).

Enjoy the Season. Be open to new traditions. Be aware of how you feel. Acknowledge your emotions. Be kind. Moderation, moderation, moderation. Be of service. Take a break. Include physical exercise and pay attention to the present moment.  BREATHE.  Happy Holidays!

Dear Fitness Professional, STOP!

Dear Fitness Professional, STOP with the booze and exercise!

There is a movement, a trend, a normalization that I am seeing. I am seeing it in my social media feeds and within the fitness industry for which I participate and work in. It’s dangerous, irresponsible and just wrong.

Health and wellness is a billion dollar industry. People spend THOUSANDS of dollars a year attending classes and buying memberships to studios and gyms. Teachers and coaches spend equal amounts on certifications and workshops. The CDC has expressed how important food and movement are for overall good health and Wellness Advocates shout from their soapboxes how farm medicine is far better than pharmaceuticals.

And then… there is this trend. Somebody decided it would be a good idea to pair booze with fitness & wellness events; “Vino & Vinyasa”, “WineDown Yoga”, “Vinoyasa”, Pilates & Peartini’s, “Women, Wine & Wellness”, HIIT classes at the local brewery… I could go on and on.

As a consumer, I am actually insulted. As a fitness professional, I am disappointed and concerned.

Here are just a FEW reasons:

1. Whether you like it or not and whether you are qualified or not, your clients are looking to you (the fitness professional) for expert advice and guidance. You are in to turmeric? So are they. You are pushing heavy weight/low reps, so are they. You are serving booze after class? Well, if you are doing it (read: advocating it), they are in, too. They want to be part of the tribe, part of your circle, and cultivate friendships.

2. Booze and your clients. Whaaaaat? Do you hang out with your clients at the bar? Really? {can you say code of conduct and boundaries?}

3. You are excluding part of your clientele. Perhaps you haven’t thought that some of your clients don’t actually drink. Their not wanting to drink might be as innocuous as they are trying to lose that last 5 pounds for an upcoming wedding OR as devastating as their son was killed by a drunk driver. Either way, you are excluding them. Those clients have bought in to your brand. They want to be a part of something. They want connection.

4. Let me address the statement you were just shouting at the computer: No. Your non-drinking clients don’t want to come to the event that you are serving booze. Remember that connection thing? It doesn’t happen when people are boozing it.

5. The story that is continually perpetuated and needs to stop is “events are MORE FUN with booze.” Booze alters your brain chemistry. It’s toxic. No really, it is. You are putting something in to your body that makes you lose balance (see the irony?), slur your speech, increases your emotional response and impulsivity and decreases inhibition… AT. YOUR. FITNESS. EVENT.

6. Wellness and Booze… Do I REALLY need to say more? Ok. A few facts:

a. When you workout, you more than likely will need to replenish fluids. WITH WATER. Booze will dehydrate you. This is not a myth. It’s science.

b. People go to the gym or studio to be fit, strong and stable. Alcohol causes stretching and drooping of the heart muscle. (cardiomyopathy) It also causes poor reflexes and impaired motor function among other things.

c. People go to the gym to lose weight. Alcohol causes inflammation in the tissue and organs. Enough said.

d. You know those cues you give in class? The safety ones. You know, the one about “if you have high blood pressure, please keep your head in line or above your heart at all times”. Yeah, that one. Alcohol can cause high blood pressure. Are you warning your guests as you serve them at your pilates + organic pomegranate martini party?

e. You talk about supplements, essential oils and organic foods and then you are hosting an event, serving a substance than compromises the immune system up to 24 hours after consumption!

7. Liability. Have you even thought about this?

So, how about this? Invite a local farmer to bring their yummiest in- season fruit, support the local juice bar, have a nutritionist come to discuss the effects of sugar or how changing just one meal a day could assist your clients in reaching their goal OR just teach class and be present for your students. THIS is what you should be doing as wellness advocates and fitness professionals.

Stay in YOUR lane, Fitness Professional. The bars already have this one. You do fitness, they do booze.

This article was originally posted on and

Photographs From the Edge

I am not sure when the last time I opened those boxes was; over a decade, for sure. They have traveled from a broken marriage in Seattle to Portland for a job then to Palm Springs for another job and to Florida for another… they traveled through many more states and apartments, homes, rooms and finally to this garage… for the last 6 years.

There had to be some part of me that was afraid to open those boxes; especially the part of me that has been sober and living a VERY different life than the decades before; the life that was in between my carefree childhood and 7 years ago. The life that I can now look at with sober, seasoned, adult eyes… albeit teary ones.

In order to move on, you must understand why you felt what you did and why you no longer need to feel it. ~ Mitch Albom

I opened them. They were full of dust and dirt despite the duct tape and clicking lids. I opened the box with my childhood notebooks and citizenship award and even the speech I gave as the Mayor of Walnut Grove City, at 7… who knew?!?!. I opened the boxes the contained all the pictures of the soccer teams, the swim teams and the articles my parents collected over my golf career. All of these made me smile. I laughed out loud many times at pictures my longest friend took of me in a shower cap and full braces… and in my nightgown. I took pictures of the pictures and sent them to my friends so that we could all laugh together.

Then, I got to my high school report cards and pictures of my junior prom. I felt as if someone kicked me in the chest. This is when the unraveling started; the loathing, the shape shifting. It’s when I stopped asking for help and built barrier after barrier and façade after façade trying to convince you (and me) that all was ok and that I had it ALL figured out. Sadly, so far from the truth.

I found the acceptance letter to the UW, articles on my accepting a scholarship for athletics, notes from my Mom and Dad; ones that they had sent to me and notes that I had sent them. So incredibly sweet; all of the things they kept. I found notes warning me of academic probation; from the coach, from the sorority. I remember distinctly being so pissed… my bad grades were THEIR fault. I mean, REALLLLLLY! I remember going to the bar rather than the library. I remember being in a panic every quarter. I remember not going to class because I was doing so bad anyway. I remember denying that I needed help, denying that I was drowning and that I had NO idea what I was doing. I remember thinking that not only were my grades bad but my performance on the course was awful, as well. It was a sinking ship and I chose to drown rather than reach for a life raft.

I found pictures of sorority & fraternity events and having crystal clear memories of VERY BAD things happening. I sat and opened more and more folders of pictures of me drinking and acting out. I found pictures from a marriage destroyed and other relationships torched.

Then, the guilt and the shame set in. I haven’t felt that feeling in a very long time. Guilt and shame of time and opportunity wasted. Guilt and shame of relationships dismissed and bridges burned.

My poor husband walked in on me sobbing and there were truly no words, for either of us. He never knew that girl; no experience with the drama, the outbursts, the hangovers, the deception.

I am 7 years sober. After much time and reflection, I look at the period of my life between 17 and 38 as an experience not an identity (Thank you, Holly). This was not always the case, however. The first 6 years of my sobriety, I spent a lot of time in a 12- step program. I fully immersed myself in to recovery and identifying as an alcoholic. I found a design for living, myself and loving relationships. I found out how to communicate and ask for help. I found out how to forgive and to make an amends.

The last 18 months, however, I have found that my experience is not my identity. I view it like any other experience or event; my pregnancy, my experience as a marathoner or professional golfer. I was and I am no longer; I am not pregnant, I don’t run, I don’t play professionally and I don’t drink or use drugs.
As I finished going through the boxes and put what was left back in to the garage, I became less sad and more grateful. Grateful for my family; for ALL that they gave me and sacrificed and how much love I felt going through the boxes and the care that was taken to preserve those moments. I also was so taken aback by the flood of happy and hysterical moments of my youth. I had some really great times.

There is forgiveness and Grace. It, more often than not, does not happen on our time table. Time not only serves as a buffer to our past but also as a natural scab builder so that we can go back and look at things when it is not as raw, not as fresh and with eyes that are less wounded or filled with judgement.

It took me two weekends and about 7 hours to go through those boxes. I did a lot of starts and stops and reflecting. I recognized when I was overwhelmed or sad and took a step back. I shared with my son and husband all that has happened and most of what was recorded digitally or otherwise.

It is sometimes said that you “shouldn’t look back as you are not going that way”. For me, it was important to look back; to give that girl some Grace, to marvel at a life lived and accomplishments earned.

A college team mate and I were talking and I mentioned to her that some of the images made me sad and that I was sure that I owed her an apology. She assured me that an apology wasn’t necessary and additionally said something so lovely and wise:

Well Jen, life is definitely a learning curve and we all have to figure out our relationship with alcohol sooner or later.
My wish for you is that you figure out your relationship with drugs and/or alcohol. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you move through the process. Progress and presence over perfection.

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