So, it’s officially November with the holidays literally around the corner. If there is ever a time when stress can get the better of us, that time is now. Days are short, temperatures are cold, and the long to-do list is simply overwhelming. When confronted with stressful situations, the body goes into fight or flight mode (as does the mind). In times of crisis, cortisol levels increase, serving you well by moving blood from the digestive tract to the muscles and raising blood sugar levels to supply energy. The problem is, so many modern-day anxieties linger, leading to chronically elevated levels of cortisol, which research has linked to diabetes, lowered immunity, depression, allergies, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and more. The good news is that you can take charge of resetting your cortisol levels by incorporating a few healthier habits and techniques.

Let’s start with your nutritional choices. When entering into a stressful period of time, you truly do need to watch what you eat. Many folks find junk food a comfort during stress, but as much as those Oreos may offer emotional comfort, they provide the opposite effect physiologically. Simple carbs such as sugar and white flour break down into glucose which the body uses for energy.  But if glucose levels are too high, the body perceives a state of stress and actually produces more cortisol. So, what do we do?

Good carbs support your mood by stimulating the production of serotonin, the brain’s feel-good chemical.  A breakfast of whole-grain oats or whole fruits such as apples, peaches, pears, etc., deliver complex carbs, which contain enough fiber to slow down the rate of digestion, therefore decreasing the total level of sugar in the blood. When it’s time for lunch or dinner, consume low-starch vegetables such as green beans, asparagus, broccoli, salad greens, winter squash, lean protein and healthy omega-3 fats.

Another approach is to warm up with a nice cup of coffee. There is a lot debate as to if coffee is good or bad for the body and not unlike many things in life, it’s all about moderation. Too much of this natural pick-me-up may make you feel tense and irritable, but a moderate amount can counteract the effects of anxiety by sharpening mental focus and reducing overall fatigue. The tipping point for coffee tends to be about 200-300 mg a day, so limit your intake to 1-2 cups of joe daily, ensuring to only consume before 2PM. Or, you can try to alternate your coffee with green tea. L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, has a non-sedating, calming effect that overrides the stimulation of the caffeine in the tea, so it’s perfect for your mid-afternoon beverage.

For additional support throughout the stressful holiday season, you can also incorporate a few soothing supplements.

  • 5-HTP: This amino acid builds serotonin, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter. 100-400 mg daily
  • Fish Oil: The omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil also boost serotonin. 1-2 grams daily/ 1-2 Tbsp. daily
  • GABA: This natural neurotransmitter exerts calming, anti-anxiety effects. 500-2000 mg daily
  • Phosphatidylserine (PS): Generated naturally within the body, this chemical maintains cellular function in the brain and can reduce anxiety and depression. 100-200 mg daily
  • Vitamin D: Most Americans are deficient in D, which studies have found effective against depression. 2000-5000 IU daily
So, aside from nutrition, what else can we do to combat stress? Apply these techniques/healthy habits, as well:
  • Exercise: Optimize your work-out routine. A brisk walk, yoga, and resistance training can reduce emotional stress by boosting endorphins.
  • Rest: Are you sleeping 8 hours a night and still feel sluggish and tired? People who are rest-deprived end up with overloaded emotions, minds, and nervous systems. Unlike sleep, rest can be an active process where you can consciously rebuild, reset and renew. Meditation and prayer, reading a good good, spending time with a loved one.
  • Sleep: A much as it is important to find rest throughout the day, sleep is truly the time in which the body renews itself.  Make sure to go to bed at a time which will allow you to get at least 7-8 hours of solid sleep.  Turn off the lights and deplug from electronics and TV.
  • Time-Management: Rather than letting all your “to-do’s” whirl about in your brain, write down a weekly list. Evaluate your list and then determine what can be moved to a “to-don’t”. If everything is a priority than nothing is.
  • Sing/Laugh/Dance: Studies show that singing a happy tune not only decreases cortisol levels but is more effective in stress relief than simply listening to music – so sing it out!  And if you feel like, get up and dance at the same time. Laugh with your loved ones – experience joy.
Nourish your body with healthy foods and supplements, get plenty of rest and sleep and prioritize what is most important to you and you’ll find that not only can the holiday season be stress-free, it can be a wonderful time to look forward to year after year.

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