This season, give yourself the gifts of less stress and better health
Life was easier when we were kids. The holidays were a lot of fun and not a lot of work. But that doesn’t mean we can’t recapture those old feelings and still keep our health strong and resilient. While it may not be possible to change our busy schedules, there’s a lot we can do to control the associated holiday madness.
Once we take steps to address the “trigger zones,” it becomes much easier to simply relax and enjoy ourselves. We also get a head start on beating colds and flus and avoiding excess winter weight gain from the excess of sugar and stress.
Build A Foundation
As wonderful as they can be, the winter holidays can also be like a minefield that blasts a year’s worth of health-promoting efforts into oblivion. We eat too many sugary, processed foods; drink too much alcohol (and not enough water); binge on caffeine; avoid exercise; travel long distances; shop late; deal with challenging family dynamics; and miss out on sleep. Taken together, this is the worst type of holiday cocktail.
Sleep is one of the most important ways to keep stress to a minimum this time of year. Experts recommend seven to nine hours per night for most people; but in the winter, we may need a little more sleep to rest and recharge. Don’t feel guilty about it.
Regular exercise is also a critical factor. In addition to mitigating the caloric smorgasbord that confronts us this time of year, exercise also greatly reduces stress and offers a plethora of anti-aging benefits. If the cold weather is keeping you from your regular routine, try a modified winter practice with indoor exercises such as yoga and Tai chi. These activities help lower stress and raise immunity, and they offer numerous important benefits.
Plan ahead for nutrient-dense meals to keep your blood sugar stable and reduce the jitters. If you’re hungry, you’ll be more vulnerable to the temptation of unhealthy snacks that pop up everywhere this time of year. Blood sugar swings can also cause anxiety and stress to skyrocket.
Emphasize brightly colored fruits and vegetables that have high concentrations of important micronutrients and antioxidants. A plate of steamed kale and quinoa may not be as festive as pie and cookies, but your immunity, energy and mood will thank you in more ways than one.
In fact, a number of whole foods can help ease stress, anxiety and depression by fueling the body with critical nutrients to nourish and calm the nervous system, promote better immune function and support numerous other areas of health in the process. Stress and anxiety can deplete us of essential nutrients as well, furthering this vicious cycle.
The Real Comfort Foods
While we don’t usually think of broccoli as a comfort food, it’s full of critical nutrients such as B vitamins and folic acid to help calm frazzled nerves and support healthy brain chemistry. It also contains nutrients that help modulate hormones, fight inflammation and support immunity and overall health. That’s pretty comforting, wouldn’t you say?
Dark leafy greens like kale, collards, chard and others can also help calm nerves. They’re high in minerals like magnesium that support the nervous system, and they help stabilize blood sugar to prevent crashes.
Vitamin C is another important stress buster that plays numerous critical roles in health. Emphasize foods with high C content, like red peppers, strawberries, broccoli (you can never have too much!), papaya, kiwi and cauliflower.
Green and black teas provide L-theanine, which helps to balance the effects of the caffeine. Theanine can help support healthy mood and ease stress and anxiety. Tea also contains other important phytonutrients for immunity, cardiovascular health and more.
Vitamin D-rich foods can also help reduce stress, especially during the fall and winter when levels are lower due to lack of sun exposure. A number of studies link vitamin D deficiency to depression and anxiety. Foods like mushrooms (especially after they’re exposed to UV light), wild salmon, eggs and liver are good sources.
Regular meditation is a very effective method proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. This ancient practice allows the brain and body to relax and recharge.
During meditation, we focus on breathing to calm the mind, and in the process, we reduce cortisol and other stress hormones. In the case of chronic stress, meditation provides the extra emotional stamina and inner calm needed to take on the holiday craze. The 10 to 20 minutes a day we spend quieting the mind and connecting with our breath can be truly transformative and may one of the secrets to long-term health on every level.
Herbal Stress Reduction
In addition to foods, exercise and mind-body practices, there are many herbs and natural remedies that help support natural calm:
- Asian ginseng: This is one of the most ancient stress remedies. Asian ginseng is considered an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body deal more effectively with mental and physical stress. Asian ginseng also supports immunity, cardiovascular health and blood sugar balance — all important during this time of year.
- Holy basil (tulsi): This herb is cherished in traditional Indian medicine. Tulsi helps reduce stress and inflammation, while supporting immunity, healthy blood sugar balance and more.
- Passionflower: This beautiful botanical controls anxiety by modulating the calming neurotransmitter GABA.
- Ashwagandha: This time-honored herb supports mental and physical stamina in the face of stress. It also helps balance hormones, and supports memory and cognitive function.
- HonoPure® 98% pure Honokiol: Extracted from magnolia bark, this is one of our top recommended products. Pure honokiol is a powerful antioxidant that supports healthy mood and restful sleep through its interaction with GABA. It also supports cellular and cognitive health, among other critical benefits.
The most important thing to remember about stress is that we have choices. If we do nothing, over time, stress can eat us up. However, if we take a little extra time for ourselves and plan accordingly with the right support, we can enjoy ourselves to the fullest, this time of year and all year.
This holiday season, celebrate relaxation and health!