School concerts. Christmas shopping. Lunches with friends you love but haven’t managed to see since June. Clearing out of guest rooms. Decorations up. Time spent with tricky family members. End of year exams. Get everyone to agree on Christmas holidays (yep, still not booked). Long summer nights when it’s 8pm and dinner is still nowhere near the table. Christmas shopping. Booking dog kennels. Blogs to write! All achieved under the haze of additional cocktail parties, large dinners and excessive lunches.
In short, ’tis the season for over-scheduling, over-committing and overwhelm.
Although chronic stress is incredibly common throughout the entire year, many clients recognise a spike around the festive season. This often makes its presence felt through raised blood pressure, disrupted sleep, darkened moods and/or suffering fatigued. All in all, leaving us feeling far from festive.
When stressors persist, it can lead to chronic illness
When we perceive a stress, a cascade of mental and physical responses are triggered, including the release of of our stress hormone, known as cortisol. Cortisol is amazing at energising us to tackle an emergency. But too much too often is bad for our bodies and mind.
Amongst other things, excess cortisol plays havoc with hormone levels, can knock your sleep cycle sideways, disturbs energy production and can even make you dumber - chronically elevated cortisol levels kill brain cells and shrink the brain's hippocampus region, with resulting losses to learning and memory capacity.
Cortisol also impairs the way in which we digest and use carbohydrate and fats which promotes excess pounds, especially around the belly. Over time, this puts us at risk for insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain and diabetes. Coupled with an abundance of ‘festive foods’ that are laden with sugar, flour and crappy fats, this can be a diabolical, and not so merry, combination.
Ho Ho Ho!
Wait! Don’t cancel Christmas!
Stress is an inevitable part of life. Especially modern living. And there are several simple things you could and possibly should be doing to help lay down good foundations for health and healing.
* Nourish Yourself
Stress and stress adaptation is an expensive process in that it requires large amounts of energy and nutrients. So the first step in treating chronic stress is supporting mental and physical health through a balanced diet rich in plenty of fresh plant-based produce, organic protein sources and healthy fats.
*Practice mindful, not mindless eating
With extra gatherings with friends, family and colleagues, it’s so easy to over-indulge during the holidays. In fact, it’s socially acceptable! Or maybe when overwhelmed, you forget to eat and resort to using sugary, fatty snack foods to get through the day. Over eating and under eating have equally detrimental effects on your entire system. Be particularly mindful and eat proper portions regularly - by that I mean three meals a day and only snack if hungry between. This not only helps balance mood and energy levels throughout the day, it reduces cravings.
*Sleep it Off
After diet and alcohol, lack of sleep is probably the next major disruption that both causes and results from stress. We’ve probably all experienced how sleep deprivation can trigger low mood and energy which leaves us seeking stimulating foods like sugar and coffee. Along with stress, stimulants are expensive to metabolise in terms of essential minerals and vitamins, many of which are required for good sleep. Can you see the downward spiral? My advise is say yes to getting at least 8 hours sleep per night and if you can’t, schedule some tactical naps to get you through the season.
*Top It Up
It would be wonderful if we could get all that we need through our food but alas, the reality is that modern life calls for some extra help. Here are my top tips:
Magnesium: The Mental Mineral
Magnesium is essential for a healthy stress system. It not only calms the stress response, it increases resilience. It’s also proven to be neuro-protective. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is very common in the developed world, and stress increases magnesium loss. Take a high quality practitioner brand morning and night to help relieve symptoms such as anxiety, low mood and poor sleep.
B Vitamins: Providing Energy
Much like magnesium, we require B vitamins to deal with stress, and yet, stress depletes our B vitamins. The making of neurotransmitters involved in healthy mood, motivation and a sense of wellbeing also require B vitamins. A high strength B vitamin supplement can be magic for those needing nutritional support for a more energy and a healthy mood.
Adaptogens are unique class of herbal ingredients used to improve the health of your adrenal system - the glands which manage the body’s hormonal response to stress. Adaptogens work much like a thermostat: in that they sense imbalances and naturally correct them. They have a unique ability to “adapt” their function according to your body’s specific needs by calming you down and boost your energy at the same time. Helping you thrive rather than just muddle through.
Ashwagandha roots and leaves of this traditional Ayurvedic herb have been used for thousands of years to ease a variety of symptoms, from hormone imbalance to improving energy and easing stress. For example, if you’re both frazzled and fried, ashwagandha might hep both energise and relax you.
Eleuthero, also known as Siberian Ginseng, this root has long been used to relieve stress, improve focus and stave off mental fatigue, boost energy, and increase immunity by help support and balance the production of adrenal hormones, and prevent their depletion due to stress.
American Ginseng is best known for its immune-boosting and stress-relieving benefits. It is also used to improve digestion and fight inflammation, boost memory, promote calm and support immune function.
Grown at high altitudes in the arctic areas of Asia and Eastern Europe, Rhodiola is a favourite for neutralising stress and boosting mood, burn belly fat, enhance energy production and improve brain function.
Your adrenal glands are at the heart of any stress response. It is from these small yet punching glands that cortisol is made and released, and licorice root can give your adrenal glands some relief by helping promote a healthy level of cortisol in the body.
Please, always seek professional advise before taking any herbs.
Our hormones work much like an orchestra. When one is high or low, the whole group begins to play out of tune. With consistently high cortisol levels, it’s important to also consider supporting healthy oestrogen levels. Vegetables are your ultimate super foods, however these two additions are always on the top of the list for oestrogen balance.
Flaxseed is rich in Omega-3 fatty acid and fibre. These tiny seeds can help modulate oestrogen production, help eliminate excess oestrogen all while boosting progesterone production. Being fibre-rich, flaxseed offer the added bonus of encouraging healthy bowel movements. Aim for 2-4 tablespoons of flaxseed per day but be sure to either soak in filtered water or freshly grind before using.
Maca is a root vegetable from the Andes mountain and long been used by the natives as a staple food to maintain the fertility of livestock at high altitudes. Maca acts somewhat like an adaptogenic herb, in that it balances several key hormones including oestrogen as well as thyroid hormones. Available either in supplemental form, or add powdered maca root to water or smoothies. Please check with your practitioner first if you have any hormone-related conditions.
All in all, I hope this helps make your festive season, truly festive, and I look forward to seeing you in the new year.
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