Survive and Thrive Through the Holidays with Willpower

For many, the holiday season can be incredibly stressful. This stress causes the neurotransmitters in the brain go into overdrive from the ever present stimulus of food, shopping, and parties. But, you can survive and thrive through the holidays with willpower.

Inside the central nervous system, dopamine functions primarily as a local chemical messaging system. Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter, a chemical released by neurons to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain has several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Many foods high in sugar increase dopamine neuro-activity, giving us the feeling that consuming high-sugar foods is a reward (since it triggers that dopamine activity). Too much dopamine active in your system can make you agitated and feel overwhelmed, making the holidays season more stressful.

During the holidays, we overindulge in sweets, causing that reward pathway to become active. However, these foods can cause havoc on the liver, pancreas, and digestive system. But since the brain associates sweets with rewards, many people have a difficult time stopping their new sweets habits after the holiday season has passed. The good news is that there are ways to rewire the brain to survive and thrive through the holidays with willpower.

1. Move.

If you find yourself asking for seconds, when really you are full, then leave the table. Go for a short walk or engage in conversation with someone. Change your focus away from the food, and move on to another activity. This will help rewire and direct the brain into not wanting more food.

2. Take time for yourself.

Go for a walk, move, breath, meditate, or try yoga or Pilates. Do activity that calms the parasympathetic nervous system, not stimulates it into overdrive. Sure, the holidays are very busy and you may not have “enough time,” but always take at least 15 minutes to yourself everyday.

3. Don’t sweat it.

Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself lacking willpower. The pleasure reward hormone is more predominant when there are so many temptations. If you falter, it’s ok. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep looking forward. One lapse does not mean you will continue to do worse.

Want more information? Please check out Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D book The Willpower Instinct