The end of October brings what seems like an endless string of holidays. Social events, baked goods, travel, and eating out can make for a fun end to the year, but it can also be a huge drain on your energy. For some the holidays are fun, for others it can be a stressful time.
When you start to feel stressed (or put stress on your body by sleeping less or eating different food), your stress hormone (cortisol) increases, which leads to feeling more stressed, on edge, and can lead to weight gain. As this cycle of stress continues, you start feeling irritable and having less energy. This can make it impossible to to enjoy your holiday celebrations and time with your family.
The good news is that there are some thing that you can do to prevent this from happening. These tips and strategies are what I talk about with my patients who start to feel especially stressed during the holiday season.
1. 8 hours of sleep is mandatory
If you travel home for the holidays, you might be surrounded by people who you don't see often and if your time with them is limited, catching up is mandatory. It seems like the conversations that get started after everyone is relaxed and happy post-meal are the best, and while staying connected with friends and family gives you an oxytocin boost (which promotes bonding and can boost self-esteem), staying up talking into the night can mess with your adrenal glands, melatonin, and progesterone.
This doesn't mean that you can't ever stay up late, but it does mean that you should pay a little more attention to your sleep habits.
Before you travel, be sure to be in bed by 10pm and get 8 hours of sleep. If you are going to stay up late, make sure that you can work a nap into your day the following day. Remember that any time you get fewer than 7 hours of sleep, your hormones suffer and you increase your risk of adrenal issues and cortisol imbalance.
When you don't get enough sleep you have an increase in sugar cravings, your body is more likely to store calories as fat, inflammation increases, and your risk for stroke and heart disease increases.
2. Do not skip your workout
While it may be really tempting to skip your workout when your social and travel schedule gets busy, don't do it! It might feel like a good move for a couple of days, in the long run it will leave you feeling more tired and cranky.
It only takes about 10 minutes of movement to get your metabolism boosted and reduce stress. If you are visiting family, find a way to get them involved, or use exercise as a way to get some time alone if you need it. Take a walk, go for a run, swim, bike, or try a bodyweight only workout (google "hotel room workout" if you need ideas).
3. Eat more protein and less sugar
The holidays are full of baked goods and other tasty foods, but not all of these foods are going to make you feel your best, especially if you have a marathon of holiday gatherings to attend.
Upping your protein (and fat) intake will help to keep you energized and help to keep your hormones and mood balanced. It will also help to keep you full and control your blood sugar. Constant spikes and dips in your blood sugar causes stress on your body, which can further impact your cortisol levels and over time creates a disconnect in the way that your adrenal glands (the glands that release cortisol) communicate with your brain.
4. Practice kindness
Kindness to yourself and kindness to others is important.
Negative self talk and criticizing family and friends doesn't do any good to anyone. Criticism and judgement are easy to practice, but building others up, practicing kindness, and showing love and compassion takes effort.
Practicing self compassion can actually decrease inflammation in your body (inflammation is responsible for many modern diseases) and helps you feel more relaxed, have greater satisfaction with your life, and sleep better.
5. Eat your veggies
Fill up half of your plate with vegetables. I'm not talking about sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes. I'm talking about green things or other colorful veggies that grow above the ground. Eating plenty of vegetables helps to fuel your body, keep your blood sugar under control, and give you plenty of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to keep your body functioning optimally.
I'm not saying that you can't eat the yams or mashed potatoes, but at least 3/4 of your plate should be full of protein and vegetables before you hit the starchy veggies.
6. Practice the one bite rule
As you are navigating multiple social events, you'll find yourself faced with endless (and probably amazingly delicious) desserts. My best advice is to avoid them altogether, but I realize that is not always possible.
Assuming there is a dessert present that won't make you sick if you have a food sensitivity (in which case a simple, "no thank you, I'm allergic to X, Y, or Z," will do), just take one bite. The first bite is all that it takes to satisfy your brain and you'll be limiting your sugar intake at the same time.
This same rule applies to anything else that you are craving that may not fit into your current food framework. One bite and done.
7. Get your B vitamins
B vitamins are essential for energy. While eating whole foods is always a preferred way of getting any vitamins, during times of stress it's a good idea to supplement.
B vitamins help you convert the food you eat into fuel, make hormones, and plays a role in the overall health your cells.
Eating a varied diet of whole foods (protein, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats) is enough for most people to get their B vitamins. But short term supplementation during the holidays will help your hormones stay balanced and decrease your perception of stress.
Feeling your best doesn't have to be hard or complicated.
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