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6 Ways to Avoid Christmas Coma

6 Ways to Avoid Christmas Coma

The Christmas food is all gone and you sit on the couch, stomach protesting, no energy, panic rising. What was supposed to be a great holiday, a really nice time spent with your family, now feels like your own personal hell. Even though you really haven’t moved much the whole day, you feel like you could sleep for days.

What went wrong? Does it have to be like this? Christmas itself can put a lot of pressure on people, and ending up in Christmas coma definitely doesn’t help. The good news is that there are simple ways of avoiding this situation and they are easier than you might expect.

The reason you end up in Christmas coma is basically a combination of not enough movement, and too much food. D’ohh, I guess you knew that already, but simply knowing this is not enough—you still end up bloated and apathetic. The attraction of all the food and the temptation of the couch after dinner is just too powerful unless you take action to combat it.

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What you want to do is find ways to slow down your food intake, use opportunities for movement, and choose food and beverages wisely. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? You don’t have to make a lot of sacrifices, and a little bit of care will go a long way.

1. Start the day with activity

If you know you’re going to be spending a lot of the day sitting, take the chance to get some light to moderate exercise in early. If your area regularly gets snow for Christmas, shoveling it is a good exercise option: you could volunteer to help some of the neighbors shovel theirs—a guaranteed way to  increase your popularity. Another good option is to go for a walk after breakfast. Choose the activity that works best for you and fits into your schedule.

Starting the day with a little exercise wakes you up and prepares your body for the day. By getting the blood pumping a bit, your body is more prone to taking care of the food you eat later.

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2. Go for protein

Focusing on eating high-protein foods will make you feel satisfied earlier. All in all, you’ll eat fewer calories and won’t feel so bloated.

3. Drink water

Drinking water keeps you properly hydrated, whereas drinking alcohol, coffee or tea will make you lose more fluids than you take in. It’s also very easy to consume way too many calories drinking, wine, beer or soft drinks. Firstly, start the day with a large glass of water. During the day, if you don’t want to switch to water only, have a sip of water in between sips of your other drink.

4. Talk during lunch and dinner

Since we want to seize the opportunity to get closer to our family and friends, don’t pass up the opportunity to talk to them during lunch and dinner. Not only will you bond more, you will also slow down your eating, which is a good way of avoiding the post-meal drowsiness. If you slow down your food intake, your body will have time to signal to your brain when you’ve had enough before it’s too late.

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5. Don’t forget the veggies

This one is a given, and the reasons are basically the same as why you should go for protein—they will satisfy your appetite earlier. Reach for as many green and leafy options as you find on the Christmas table to give you good carbohydrates, and avoid the starchy stuff like potatoes, corn, parsnips, and pumpkin.

6. Go for a walk

A great way to interact with people more is to ask them to go for a walk with you before you park yourself on the couch. Not only will you get some exercise and fresh air while your food is digesting, you can also continue the conversation you started earlier during lunch or dinner. Who knows—maybe you solve a big global problem. You can also use  your walk as an opportunity to take some great pictures.

What’s your strategy for avoiding Christmas Coma?

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Featured photo credit:  Black and white image of pretty woman sleeping peacefully via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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