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Tips to Fight Holiday Stress and Holiday Blues Part 1

October 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

With the holidays coming up, many people see an increase in their stress levels, and some people even have the holiday blues.  Who doesn’t get stressed out with all of the shopping, cooking and travel plans that happen during the holidays?  How many of us are time crunched and sleep deprived already?  Add to that the fear of the flu bug and the H1N1 flu that we hear about on the news, and that worry just adds to our holiday stress levels.

What is stress anyway?  Stress is an internal reaction to external events.  It is an evolutionary response – the fight or flight response.  Continuous stress can manifest itself as GI problems, losing sleep, increased fatigue, heightened blood pressure, headaches, concentration problems, adrenal fatigue and other symptoms.  As we all know, many events can trigger the appearance of stress in our lives – job, marriage, money, new baby, holidays etc.  The body does not distinguish between “good” stress (marriage, new baby, starting a new biz) and “bad” stress. It only knows that there is stress, and it reacts. 

Are there other types of stresses?  Yes.  Our bodies are subject to stress from many sources, both internal and external.  Another type of stress we need to be concerned about is oxidative stress.  Oxidative stress is defined as a condition of increased oxidant production in animal cells characterized by the release of free radicals and resulting in cellular degeneration. 

Think of this like taking a bite of an apple and letting it sit for a few minutes.  The brown pigmentation that we see is due to oxidative stress.  The same analogy can also be seen by rust forming on metal.  This type of stress has been shown to be present in many types of medical conditions, including atherosclerosis, diseases involving inflammation, such as IBS, IBD, arthritis, periodontal disease, Crohn’s disease and Alzheimer’s. 

Free radicals are produced from both our internal cellular processes, such as the electron transport chain, and from the external environment.  For example smoking is one method that is used by smokers to alleviate stress.  When we smoke, however, each puff delivers 1027 of free radicals into our lungs.  Think about that for a second. How much damage do you think this is doing internally?

What can be done to alleviate holiday stress levels?  Here is a list of things that you can do to fight holiday stress and blues.

1.  Get enough rest.  By making sure that you get enough sleep, you will decrease your cortisol levels (this is the hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response).  The release of cortisol is due from stress and doesn’t differentiate between good stress and bad stress.  Constant cortisol release can contribute to adrenal fatigue, which manifests itself in many ways, and increases the storage of food as belly fat, which leads to other stresses as well.

2.  Continue your exercise program.  Many of us, especially when we travel, get out of our normal exercise patterns.  Regular exercise is well documented as having stress reduction effects, especially by increasing brain hormone levels that are involved in mood regulation.  I know myself that after a few minutes warming up on the elliptical trainer, I get “in the zone”, and I find it to have a very calming effect.  Be sure to continue both cardiovascular and weight training.

3.  Don’t overindulge on the sweet foods.  I enjoy Mom’s Christmas cookies every year, so I am not telling you to avoid eating them.  Just watch your amounts so that you don’t get the sugar crash and feelings of lethargy that accompany them.

4.  Watch your alcohol consumption.  Alcohol is a depressant, and too much alcohol can affect your mood levels.  I am not telling you to not drink,  just watch the amount you drink.

5.  Continue to eat well (as best you can).  Rich leafy greens and fruits and vegetables that have deep rich colors not only provide the proper nutrients, but they can also provide the antioxidants that we need to fight free radicals.  Make sure that you have a lot of color in your meals so that you can get the proper nutrition.  Again, you don’t need to avoid the holiday foods, just watch your consumption levels, especially if you are in a situation where you can not exercise.

Part 2 coming next week!

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