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It's Holiday Season

Time to get the stress out


Chronic stress symptoms can rear their ugly heads during the holidays. Exercise, sleep, nutritious food, and supplements can help you get rid of stress.

Visiting family, cooking for guests, wrestling over that perfect gift in an overcrowded mall—it’s that time of year again.

The holiday season brings a lot of fun, activity, and joy; but it can also mean a lot of stress. With so much to do and never enough time to do it, stress levels can quickly reach a peak.

High levels of stress can have a big impact on health, so it is important to do what you can to mitigate the effects of stress, particularly during holiday season when there can be so many demands on your time and energy.

What is stress?

The body has a wisdom all its own and it is designed to do what it can to keep us from harm. The physiological changes that occur when we are exposed to a stressful situation are actually meant to help protect us in the short term.

Way back before we were enjoying the holiday season in the comfort and safety of our homes, we were roughing it day in and day out, protecting our  food (and ourselves) from some pretty stiff competition from predators and other humans.

We needed to be able to run quickly at a moment’s notice, clot well if we were injured, and get our heart rates up fast to get blood to running and/or fighting muscles, pronto.

Although circumstances and types of stress have changed for most of us, the body has not changed all that much. When exposed to a potential threat in the modern world (competition from other holiday shoppers, overcooking the turkey, tension with in-laws) the body resorts to the same set of reactions that used to keep us safe when life literally depended on it. 

The body’s release of hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, into the bloodstream is designed to help us run faster, clot better, and generally get our skins home safely so that we can eat dinner—and not be dinner.

We used to either fight or flee, after which levels of hormones such as cortisol would return to normal levels and we would recover, ready to fight another day.

The problem in modern times is that often the stress keeps right on going. We have stressors at work, stressors at home, and even stress as we drive between the two. To the body, the fight never ends, and the flee is never complete. As a result, increased levels of stress hormones keep right on pumping. What was designed to be an acute response now becomes a chronic state, and before too long our health begins to suffer.

What to do?

While stress is an inevitable part of everyone’s life, learning how to manage the inevitable and mitigating or avoiding the other sources of stress is important to maintaining good health.

It’s important to take control—wherever possible—of managing how you perceive stress and how you react to it. Here are some other ideas about how to manage the inevitable.

Chill out
It is a simple-sounding thing that can be amazingly difficult to do when you have a lot on the go. But it is important to take a little time every day to tune out, relax, and just be. We must take time to unplug ourselves from stress on a daily basis.

Even if you only have five minutes to spare today, give it to yourself and enjoy doing absolutely nothing with it. This allows the body to experience a break in the stress and to reset and recover a little. This will start to chip away at the negative effects that stress has on your life on a daily basis.

When we are short on time, sleep is usually the first thing we start to cut down. We are all guilty of skimping on sleep, but good sleep is one of the body’s best defences against stress and is crucial for proper immune function.

A 2009 study looked at how much of an effect sleep can have, and the results were remarkable: those who slept less than seven hours were almost three times more likely to get a cold than those who slept eight hours or more.

When researchers looked at the amount of time spent in bed with the intention of sleeping compared to how long people actually spent sleeping, even more interesting results surfaced: those who spent less than 92 percent of their bedtime sleeping were over five times more likely to get a cold than those who spent 98 percent or more of their bedtime asleep.

This demonstrates that it is not just a matter of lying down and resting that provides health benefits; we must actually get proper, restorative sleep in order to keep ourselves in peak form.

The body used to dissipate a lot of its stress through the fighting or fleeing that came with our harsh living environment. Nowadays, we often just sit and stew in our stress. Getting out there and exercising on a regular basis can be extremely helpful in managing stress; even taking time out for a walk can be helpful.

Do your best to get at least 30 minutes of purposeful exercise most days of the week. Consider tai chi, yoga, and relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Eat against stress
As if high cortisol and poor sleep were not enough to worry about, stress can also lead us to poor nutrition. During fast-paced, high-stress times it is common for us to miss out on proper nutrition as we reach for quicker, convenient, and generally more processed foods.

Just when our bodies need more nutritional support, we often provide them with less. This can really sap energy and compound the already negative effects that stress has on our system.

Generally, do all you can to avoid canned, frozen, or packaged foods. Processed foods lose valuable nutrients, particularly B vitamins and magnesium—just the nutrients your body needs for support during stressful times! Focus on whole foods: unprocessed grains, fresh fruit, vegetables, and lean proteins.

Stress is a useful defence mechanism in the short term, but chronic stress can be detrimental. Take time out each day to escape and unwind from stress, don’t skimp on your sleep, and try to avoid processed foods.

For extra support, supplements such as vitamin C, B-complex, and herbal adaptogens can help to carry you through stressful times. Happy stress free holidays!

Symptoms of chronic stress

The effects of chronic stress, the unfortunate byproducts of a stress response left uninterrupted, are many and can be seen throughout the body.

  • sleeping too much or too little
  • eating more or less
  • procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • moodiness, irritability, or short temper
  • agitation, inability to concentrate or relax
  • feeling overwhelmed, lonely, or isolated
  • depression
  • poor judgement
  • memory problems
  • aches and pains
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • headaches
  • chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • frequent colds
  • hormone imbalances
  • herpes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • poor healing
  • immune suppression

Supplements for stress support

Vitamin C is highly concentrated in the adrenal glands; needs increase with stress.

The adrenal gland, a major player in our response and resistance to stress, has one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C among our organs. As a result, vitamin C is believed to play a vital role in the health and function of the adrenal gland, and additional intake of vitamin C is beneficial when we are exposed to significant stress.

Vitamin C supplementation has been shown to help reduce elevated cortisol and may reduce the risk of the common cold by as much as 50 percent in those who put their bodies under significant stress, such as endurance athletes.

Vitamin B complex supports increased metabolism and is used for proper formation and function of hormones.

Stress, and the increased metabolic demands that it creates, also increases our need for B vitamins. A good B-complex supplement, providing at least 25 mg of most of the Bs (more for B5, less for B12 and folic acid), can help to support the body during stressful times.

Rhodiola rosea is a superstar in the world of adaptogens (products that help the body to adapt to stress). Safe, effective, and relatively fast acting, rhodiola has been shown to help improve mental performance and reduce stress-induced fatigue.

Rhodiola has also been shown to help reduce elevated cortisol levels in those suffering from stress-associated burnout. This is an effective herb for people who are always on the go and whose jobs or lifestyles place high demands on their adrenal glands and for those who have been “burning the candle at both ends,” missing out on much-needed sleep.

Eleutherococcus senticosus, sometimes known as Siberian ginseng, has been used for decades to help support stamina and well-being. It is a popular herb amongst natural medicine practitioners for its safe and effective adaptogenic actions.

For proper dosage of herbal products, consult with a naturopathic doctor or knowledgeable herbal medicine practitioner.



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