A Five Element Holiday Survival Guide

Gary Piscopo, ND, LAc

Faced with the sensory and gustatory onslaught that is the holiday season, the idea of hibernating in a cave begins to have an alluring appeal. Fortunately, a few simple guidelines will not only make the holidays more bearable, they will also give you the tools to create the best kind of holiday experience – the kind that will be memorable long after the presents are opened.

The foundation for a healthy and memorable holiday begins with a simple choice: Yes… or No? Given that your decisions are a critical factor in shaping all of your experiences, let’s borrow an image from Chinese medicine to help with making good decisions over the holidays. The Five Element theory was one way the Chinese culture encoded medical information, using the elements Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. We can use these elements to create a useful experience-management tool I call the Decisional Zones. Each element represents a different aspect of your life that may need to be taken into account when you are faced with a choice. Asking yourself which Decisional Zone element you are in will not only help prevent impulsive decisions, but will also help you make consistently good choices for yourself. Here is a brief summary of each of the zones:

Fire: this element is related to the Xin or Heart. Because of this, the Heart decisional zone often requires the ability to connect with your intuition and your feelings when faced with a choice. Concerning the holidays, this zone asks you to consider what and who is truly essential to having a joyful holiday season.

Earth: the Earth element is related to Pi or Gastrointestinal system. There are many areas of the holiday season that call forth the Earth element. Here are a few:

  • Most Americans can gain seven to 10 pounds over the holidays. The key to successful weight management over the holidays is maintaining a regular pattern of eating and exercising. For example, eat breakfast. If you starve yourself all day waiting for the “big feast”, you are likely to overeat.
  • The traditional turkey is a great low-fat choice, especially the white meat. Avoid eating the skin because it contains fat. When preparing holiday vegetables, try using herbs, spices, onions, garlic and low-sodium broth as alternatives to butter and margarine.

Metal: this element is related to the Fei or Lungs. The Metal Decisional zone is concerned with structure, protection, and the ability to discern. It is also related to the immune system. Some guidelines from the Metal element include:

  • Having a cold or the flu during the holiday season is a double disappointment. Take steps to keep your immune system strong during this time i.e. decrease the amount of sugar intake, be consistent with taking your multiple vitamins, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables, etc.
  • Bear in mind that not all toys are appropriate for all children. Pay close attention to labels and consumer guide lines.
  • Be conscientious about child proofing your home. For example, be sure your Christmas tree is secure and that small, delicate ornaments are out of the reach of little ones.

Wood: this dynamic element is related to the Gan or Liver. In Chinese medicine, the Liver is in charge of the emotions and the regulating the free flow of Qi or life energy. Because of this, the Liver is know as the “General” whose plans for the rest of the organs. Some guidelines from the General include:

  • Plan what you are going to eat and drink ahead of time. Be aware that alcoholic drinks add empty calories, so set your drinking limit before going to social functions.
  • While the expectation is that the holidays are a happy time, this is not the case for all people. Many people experience difficult changes in mood, depression, and anger during the holidays. Recognize that to some extent this is normal. However, if it becomes overwhelming, please realize that resources are available and seek help.

Water: this final element is related to the Shen or Kidneys. This is the area concerned with spirituality, will power, and the vitality of one’s life force. The Water decisional zone requires us to assess a situation deeply and with honesty. For the holiday season, some suggestions here would include:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. The holidays are exciting (and stressful) times for everyone, so resting becomes even more important.
  • Stay well hydrated. Everything in your body works better when you are drinking enough (i.e. 4 to 6 eight ounce glasses daily )water.
  • Holiday traditions are important to family’s well being. However, if you find that some aspect no longer works for you, consider creating a new one.