The holiday season is filled with parties, family, merriment, champagne and STRESS!
Stress isn’t always a bad thing, in primitive times it was what got us up and out when a sabretooth tiger was knocking at our cave door, but the stress we experience now is much duller, less urgent and constant. There are many aspects of our life that cause stress, some are within our control and others are outside unfortunately our brain just isn’t that great at compartmentalizing our stressors.
Our brain and hormones react the same to physical, mental, environmental and perceived stress. Because of this the best way to think about our body’s capacity for stress is to imagine a glass, and of adding drops of water to that glass to represent a work deadline, another 10 or so for social commitments, 5 for family related commitments, let’s give it ½ cup of water to represent all the tasty treats we will be ingesting, and so on and so forth. Eventually if we don’t take care of the drops of water that are filling up our cup it will overflow and spill over. This overflow are the symptoms we feel from stress.
The most common “symptom” we feel is the dreaded holiday or vacation cold that we mentioned above, but believe it or not your body has been giving you hints and asking you to slow down well before that dreaded crash.
Take a second and read through these signs and see if any of it rings true during your busy times in life:
- Dull and dry hair
- Brittle nails
- Chronic headaches
- Bloating and/or gas
- Constant feeling of fatigue
- Dull skin and/or eyes
- Digestive distress
- Difficulty sleeping
- Constant hunger/ craving carbohydrates
- Heart burn
- Body aches and pain
Additionally to these signs there are some other wonky things happening inside our bodies that we are likely not even aware of. Our body is an amazing instrument - it brings us from place to place, it does what it can to keep us safe, to love and support us in our daily requests and in doing so it releases an arsenal of hormones that you can think of as “checks and balances”. We need all of our hormones (not just estrogen and testosterone) but adrenaline, cortisol, insulin, etc to keep our body happy and healthy.
The problem isn’t the hormones, it is our constant demand for more before using up what we just asked our body to make for us, this would be like getting a second plate of dinner before finishing or even starting our first plate! One hormone that has become famous because of the stressful lives we lead is cortisol.
Cortisol is commonly known as our stress hormone, it is released when we are under stress in an attempt to get us up and out of that stressful situation. While trying to do its job cortisol also temporary shuts down our digestion and our reproduction system. This temporary shut down in itself isn’t a problem if we take the time to burn off the cortisol and get things back to normal, the problems start when we don’t take time to come back to normal. A constant barrage of cortisol will leave our blood sugar unbalanced, encourage weight gain, lower our libido, among other sex hormone issues and increase our blood pressure.
Now that you are thoroughly stressed out over the stress you are under, it is important to know that it doesn’t need to go down this way. Regardless, whether the stress we are under is within or outside of our control there are some steps we can take in order to help protect our bodies, reduce stress levels, increase energy and keep us healthy.
We can help manage our stress levels through what we choose to put in our body and what we choose to surround our body with. Here are 5 simple tips to help you support your health and heal your body from stress all year long:
1. Adaptogens: Adaptogens are typically a mix of herbs, mushrooms and products from nature that function as regulators in our body. At times of extreme stress they assist in reducing overall stress levels within the body, whereas when we are overly depleted they can work in the opposite direction to increase energy and bring us back to equilibrium.
2. Antioxidants: Antioxidants are molecules that stop the oxidative damage caused by free-radicals. What all this means is that antioxidants help keep our bodies healthy at a cellular level, which means younger looking skin, brighter more nourished hair, nails and eyes, it also means protection from cancer. Antioxidants are found in our fresh fruits and vegetables and the most commonly referred to antioxidants are fat soluble vitamins A, E and D seeing how they are fat soluble vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and mushrooms are best paired with a healthy fat in order to optimize absorption.
3. Healthy Fats: As mentioned above some of our most powerful antioxidants are fat soluble so it only makes sense that healthy fats be next on the list of things to help fight stress. Good quality fat provide our body with a calming anti-inflammatory boost, while helping to support our hormonal health (estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, etc.), all while supporting cellular integrity (think tight plump cells). Healthy fats also assist in blood sugar regulation reducing the stress caused by constant ups and downs of our blood sugar levels which occur when we rely on heavily processed and sugar filled foods to provide us with our energy for the day.
4. Rest and Recovery: This is a HUGE factor in our body’s ability to regenerate after and during times of stress. While we rest (or sleep) our body has the chance to focus on detoxifying from the day, resets your brain, balances out your blood sugar, repairs your muscles, finishes absorbing nutrients from the food you had eaten that day, among many other processes. So, you can see how when adequate sleep or rest are not obtained your body might not be able to keep your skin glowing, fuel your brain for a day of socializing and work, get you motivated for the gym, etc. so make your sleep routine a priority.
5. Breathing: Maybe you are thinking "of course I need to breath!", but it is more than just inhaling and exhaling. Mindful breath has been shown to assist your body in slowing your heart rate, reducing blood pressure, reducing anxiety and calming the mind.
Now that you are loaded up with an arsenal of stress reduction tips here is a practical exercise you might want to consider bringing into the fold. The following breath technique will assist in reducing stress in the moment, helping you to find some clarity and provide you with some breathing room (pun intended) so that you can slow down and let go of some of that stress.
1. Sit or lay down comfortably
2.Start by inhaling for the count of 3
3. At the top of your inhale hold your breath for another 3 count
4. Exhale slowly to that same count of 3
5.Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Gradually over time, begin increasing your count by one up to 7. When you begin to increase the length of your breath be sure that at no point do you feel anxiety or panic, if this is happening decrease by 1 and continue on from there.
You can learn more about me and read my latest article - 5 adaptogens that help support a healthier life here: https://www.healing-ginger.com/blog/5-adapyogens-to-a-healthier-life
Brittany Gordon R.H.N