5 Tips for Identifying and Managing Holiday Stressors
There’s no denying that the holiday season is filled with excitement and joy, but it can also be one of the most stressful times of year. Between increased travel, family dynamics, an abundance of highly palatable foods, work deadlines, seasonal illness, and more social events than any other time, it’s no wonder many of us can begin to feel anxious and overwhelmed. During these times of heightened stress, it’s important, though, to cut yourself a little slack (for not being able to stick to your same schedule, get in all your workouts or cook every meal from home, etc.). It’s equally crucial to anticipate these challenges and create a backup plan to support you, too. The stress of the holiday season is inevitable, but adrenal fatigue, excess weight gain, and total burnout doesn’t have to be.
So how does stress impact the body?
Let’s first cover the basics: Cortisol is a natural stress hormone that both men and women produce in their adrenal glands for it to be released into the bloodstream in response to stress. It gets a bad rap because of the cascade of symptoms it can be responsible for (when it’s found in excess), but it also plays an integral role in regulating metabolism, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, influencing memory formation, and helping us get out of bed with energy in the morning. While the occasional stressor is perfectly normal, it’s when your adrenal glands are on high alert due to chronic stress that cortisol can become a catalyst for adrenal dysfunction. When you have an imbalance or cortisol, you may notice symptoms such as increased anxiety, lowered immunity, irregular/missing periods, acne, low libido, poor energy, belly fat and weight gain.
In the days of our ancestors, the “fight or flight” response would be activated in times of extreme stress (e.g., being chased by a bear, times of great famine, etc.), but our bodies weren’t designed to live like this day in and day out. Just because we’ve evolved from the days of being hunter-gatherers, that does mean our current lifestyle is free from modern day “bears” such as sleep deprivation, external demands (from bosses, partners, social media etc), long hours, financial burdens, technology addiction, poor nutrition, excess caffeine, and over exercising - just to name a few. These modern “bears” - when allowed to exist continuously without relent - can cause the same kind of extreme stress response that leads to an unbalanced body.
In addition to the symptoms listed above, cortisol production triggers cravings for quick energy sources such as simple carbohydrates (sugars such as breads, pasta, baked goods, chips, candy, etc.). These simple carbohydrates, when consumed, are broken down and metabolized quickly in the bloodstream. The occasional simple carbohydrate or those that are part of a balanced diet are fine and will not cause the body great harm. It’s when excess simple carbohydrate consumption becomes a repeated pattern that glucose levels can remain constantly high. This can even eventually lead to insulin resistance and conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and diabetes.
The goal here is not to eliminate all stressors. Rather, the goal is to become more aware of the different forms that stressor can take and become more cognizant of their present and ability to quickly become “center stage” without us even knowing. From there, you can take steps to lessen the load. And yes, you can do it even during stressful or busy seasons!
Some Well Known Stressors Include:
-Work deadlines, demanding bosses, long hours
-Finances, career pressures
-Relationship issues, arguments, breakups
-Moving into a new house/across country, etc.
-Danger/threats (robbery, car accident, etc.)
-Trauma (losing a loved one, witnessing an accident, etc.)
-Illness, injury, disease
Some Lesser Known Stressors Include:
-Over eating, poor nutrition
-Under eating, lack of nutrition
-Over exercising (too much cardio and/or high intensity training)
-Excess caffeine and alcohol intake
-Environmental and household toxins (car exhaust, skincare, cleaning products, plastics, prescription drugs, pesticides, GMO foods, etc.)
Now that you’re aware of the common and lesser known stressors, ask yourself first: “How many of these are present in my life right now?” Then: “What can I do to better manage my stress?”
Here are some ideas that work well for Metabolic Research Center clients:
- Practice Mindfulness. Rather than assume the holiday season is a hall pass for over eating and inconsistent habits, think about the ways in which you can be more mindful about your choices. For example, before going back for a second slice of pie, give your body 20 minutes to fully digest it. In the meantime, drink some water and distract yourself with connection and conversation. You will likely find that you don’t even need or crave the second slice after all. Instead of ordering back to back cocktails, slow down and have a glass of water in between drinks. This will not only hydrate you, but will keep you from having more alcohol (and sugar and carbs) than you intended. Take a moment to think of other ways you can practice mindfulness and write them down as a commitment to your present and future self.
- Avoid Naked Carbs! Eating carbs alone (especially processed carbohydrates) can cause blood sugar spikes and dips, leaving you hungry shortly after and craving another energy boost, usually in the form of more carbs, sugar or caffeine. When sustained over time, this can lead to insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances and weight gain. One way to remedy this potentially dangerous cycle is to pair your carbs with a serving of protein and healthy fat. For example, rather than have a plate of mashed potatoes, add a protein (and be sure to make it the focal point of your plate) with a generous serving of veggies with olive oil and just a scoop of mashed potatoes. When you’re not sticking to your regular nutrition or eating plan, this little hack will make a major impact on your mood, brain function and weight management!
- Always Have the Essentials on Hand! Think about and make a list of the things that make you feel your best when you're in a solid routine. That might be eating lots of greens, drinking 64 oz of water, prioritizing protein, and/or getting 7-8 hours of sleep. If you know you’re going to be out of your routine, you need to plan ahead and make sure to have support on hand. Some ideas: bring MRC protein drinks packets with you (these individually packaged drinks come in both liquid and concentrate form; and travel easily in any bag), keep a reusable water bottle on hand, add a greens scoop like MRC’s Super Fruit & Vegetable Drink Mix to your water, pack a sleep mask, download guided sleep meditations on your phone and/or pack supplements like magnesium and melatonin for relaxation and sleep, Vitamin D3 for immunity, a multi-vitamin to cover your bases, and digestive enzymes for support breaking down and digesting heavier meals. Note: your MRC consultant can help you find and prioritize supplements that will work best for you and your lifestyle and goals.
- Get in Daily Movement! Simply moving your body for 5-10 minutes following a meal can improve blood sugar levels and help the body utilize carbs and sugar for energy. Think about easy ways you can incorporate movement into your day - and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box either! Movement doesn’t have to be traditional or conventional. Some ideas: pack resistance bands for a 15-20 minute workout from anywhere, get your errands done on foot instead of driving (grocery store, post office, etc), park in the farthest spot from your destination, encourage your family and friends to go for walks together, turn on a great playlist and dance, etc! The more movement you can get in, the better you will be able to manage your stress, cortisol levels, and your weight.
- Keep Stress Busting Tools in Your Back Pocket. There are many different ways to manage and combat the effects of stress. Here are some of our favorite tools to have on the ready:
- Download a library of guided meditations
- Listen to calming music or binaural beats that can take you out of “fight or flight mode” and into “rest and digest”
- Go for a walk in nature and put your phone away to fully immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells
- Breathwork is a great way to bring down anxiety and support deeper sleep. There are many different mindful breathing resources that you can utilize
- Breathe in calming essential oils such as lavender
- Get outside and move your body
- Log out of social media, put away your phone, and be present with your friends and family
- Carry healthy snacks on hand: nuts, grass-fed jerky and protein bars to promote better mood, energy and a sense of calm
What else would you add to the list? By incorporating some of these tools and tactics into your holiday plans, you will not only feel more balanced and in control, but you will be able to make small progress towards your goals year round, instead of waiting for the new year! Lastly, be sure to reach out to us for more support sticking to your health and weight loss goals and let’s create a plan to get you back on track! Click here to connect with an MRC Team near you and get started with a coach today.
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