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The Truth about Holiday Stress

By now, it’s no surprise that as the year comes to a close, and we enter the Holiday corridor we encounter many more stress inducing situations in our lives. So, why should we be concerned about long-term effects of stress on the body and what can we do to allow your system to recover? That’s what we’ll be covering in this article.

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Stress effects on the body + brain

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. It is simply a response to demands on the brain.

As long as we take breaks between the stress signals to recover, the brain can deal with stress, and the body can benefit (ie exercise). However, excessive, persistent stress without breaks can actually damage the brain by way of cortisol production (a stress hormone) and other inflammatory signaling. In fact, stress can actually destroy brain cells and reduce the overall size of the brain. These changes impact memory, learning, and may contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

In other words, stress-induced inflammation may or may not be permanent depending on the age and overall health of the brain. That’s why it’s so important to keep stress in check, even when it seems inevitable--hello 2020!

Would you believe it that with a few simple self-care habits, you can reset, restore, and refresh your system to deal with the effects of stress on the body?

Enter nutrition and lifestyle -- here come 10 simple suggestions to help you keep your stress in check..

10 Simple suggestions to keep holiday stress in check:

1. Exercise (moderately) 5-6 days per week for 30-60 minutes per day.

This could be walking (not glamorous, but so effective!), cycling, swimming, yoga, pilates, or weight training. Note: skip the daily HIIT workouts during stressful periods and/or rotate with stress-reducing practices. Intense exercise stimulates more cortisol production which you don’t need when you’re already stressed!

2. Eat real, whole food in the form of Protein, Fat, and Fiber 3 times per day.

Remember PFF every time you eat and nourish your brain to accommodate for high-stress days-- and ideally every day.

Check out our Health(ier) Holiday Desserts e-book for easy, stress free swaps on Holiday Desserts!

3. Get a massage once a month to unwind.

This is a great habit to get into and a simple swap instead of buying alcohol, restaurant food, or entertainment to unwind.

4. Use the Sauna once a week if you have access.

Sauna use is great to help alleviate stress - the heat and detoxing factors help refresh not only your mind, but your body too! See if your local gym has a Sauna (that is open and able to use), or if there are local Sauna Membership options from a local business. Supporting a local business while relieving your stress sounds just like the double whammy I need this holiday season!

Here’s a list of the Sauna locations near you (Charlotte, NC).

5. Go to bed by 10pm and sleep until you wake naturally at least twice per week.

The brain sort of “washes” itself and scrubs away inflammation while you sleep! If you are unable to sleep past 6am naturally, try going to bed earlier once or twice per week to extend quality sleep time. If you have an iPhone, there is a fun feature called Bedtime which your phone can go into do not disturb mode to help you wind down for the night and stay on track to refreshing your brain! Get your mental hygiene on and learn more about ‘Bedtime’ here.

6. Spend time in nature.

Did you know? Being in, and looking at trees, sand, and water have all been shown to have positive effects on mood and overall health. Fun tip: schedule a socially distant lunch date on the water, or picnic style with a friend to incorporate some of Tip 9, as well!

7. Acts of gratitude: snail mail edition

Write a letter or email to someone you’re thankful for; or journal about what you’re grateful for in life. Putting pen to paper is a soothing habit, and practicing gratitude does wonders for our stress levels. Not a natural writer? Set a timer and bullet point list.

8. Enjoy Creative Arts

Listen to relaxing, uplifting music or doing something creative like draw, color, or gardening, all counts towards this tip! Spotify has some great playlists and podcasts readily available and free to access if you need some inspiration!

9. Spend time with friends!

Laughter can truly be medicine for the soul, and so can being in the same space as those you cherish. Making time to just BE this holiday season will help alleviate stress!

10. Practice deep breathing, prayer, or meditation.

Try an app like Headspace or Calm if you don’t know where to begin. Even 5 minutes per day can be truly life-changing!

The ultimate stress buster: Shifting focus to Peace + Restoration

All of these activities allow us to simply shift our focus to peace and restoration vs. chaos and negativity. We can get “unstuck” by doing something on purpose to relax the mind and restore the body. Remember, stress is like mileage on the brain. As long as we take breaks and “service” our brains appropriately, the mileage doesn’t cause excessive wear and tear and we won’t end up burned out and exhausted on the side of the road.

Which of these 10 tips will you be adding immediately into your routine to combat the stress of the holidays (or any-days)?

Follow on Instagram @CarolinaFunctionalNutrition


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