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Stress and the Holidays

Click here for more great resources, tools and information from Team Beachbody to help you reach your health, fitness and lifestyle goals!

De-Stress Your Holiday Season by Eating Better

During the holidays, your life is extra stressful, which for some of us can ruin the most festive time of the year. Stress can lead to more than dreaded holiday weight gain. It disrupts our ability to function at work, messes with our moods, and can upstage the things around us that we should be grateful for. It demands attention. And with attention, stress gains power in what can become a vicious cycle of reacting to stress and building on it. Be we needn't be a slave to it. By addressing the issue with a proactive mind-set, we can head stress off at the seasonal pass.

The common lore is that extra vitamins and minerals will solve the problem. After all, you can buy "stress tabs" at most any market. But according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), "It's a common myth that our bodies use more nutrients when we're under mental stress. Although pressures at home or work sometimes cause people to neglect eating well, we do not use any more or fewer essential nutrients while under stress." So your first tip should be to eat well over the holidays. Hmm, more easily said than done.

However, Leo Galland, M.D., author of Power Healing (Random House, 1998), reports, "Chronic stress depletes the body's essential supply of magnesium, the nutrient most important for handling stress and contributing to sound sleep; relaxed, healthy muscles; and staying calm."

Dr. Galland goes on to say: "The fight-or-flight syndrome causes magnesium to pour out of the cells, which makes you more vulnerable to anxiety's negative effects. What's more, the substances we often reach for when we're tensecaffeine, sugar, high-fat foods and alcoholleech even more magnesium from the body. Leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, on the other hand, are full of this nutrient. Load up on these foods if you're under a lot of stress. And it's not a bad idea to consider taking a magnesium supplement."

Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, adds, "Complex carbohydrates are champion stress-fighters, too, because they boost the brain's level of the mood-enhancing chemical serotonin. These include an array of vegetables (broccoli, leafy greens, potatoes, corn, cabbage, spinach), whole-grain breads and pastas, muffins, crackers and cereals. Bananas also help quell anxiety."

So while the need to supplement is debated, there is no denying that eating better can reduce stress, and that poor eating facilitates the need to supplement your diet. Both the ADA and practitioners of holistic medicine recommend certain teas to reduce stress as well. Many herbal teas, like chamomile, peppermint, and others, have ingredients that have a calming effect.

The safe assumption is that if you eat healthier and pay closer attention to the details of eating, the level of stress in your lifestyle will most certainly decline. And if you know you're not eating well, adding supplemental vitamins and minerals, particularly magnesium, will most likely help.

But there's more to the holiday de-stress puzzle than the knowledge of what you should be doing. A well-thought-out proactive lifestyle change will help you more than anything. Here are a few steps that will make it easier to stay on track over this holiday season and beyond.


1. Take time out for a healthful breakfast. It will help you get going for your busy day and will keep you from feeling hungry just when you need to be gaining momentum. Hence, this should help you . . .

2. Limit bingeing. As part of the above, if you have some planned healthy meals starting with breakfast, you'll be far less apt to grab whatever is in sightwhich is usually a lot of junk at this time of year. If food has ever altered your mood or made you feel sluggish, you'll understand the importance of this step.

3. Plan meals in advance. If you have stress-related time constraints, as is the case with most of us, try planning meals ahead of time. Even many canned or frozen meals are better than the smorgasbord of baked goodies that you'll be tempted with at the office. Order in if you have to, but try not to skip meals. Hunger makes stress feel worse, as does bingeing, and then you're in a cycle that gets worse before it gets better.

4. Exercise. Exercise makes your engine run smoother, removes toxins from the body, lowers anxiety, makes you feel good about yourself, and reduces your cravings for junk. If you want stress relief, try going for a long walk, a jog, a bike ride, or anything that raises your heart rate. Nothing regulates the body as well as exercise.

5. Stop and Breathe. Not everyone has time (or interest) to work on meditation, but there is no doubt that more meditation would lead to a less-stressed world. Mini-meditation sessions focused on breathing are great stress reducers. It's as simple as taking a minute from time to time and just concentrating on your breathing. Sitting or standing quietly, take a deep breath, filling your belly with air as you inhale. As you exhale, silently count "one" to yourself and empty your belly of air. Continue inhaling and exhaling until you reach the count of 10; repeat as often as you wish. It works.

6. Stretch. Yoga would even be better, but any type of stretching will help with stress relief. Starting each morning with two or three minutes of light stretching as soon as you get out of bed can do wonders for your outlook on the day. Go very easy and just hold a few different light-stretching poses for 20 to 30 seconds each. You will find that this gets your blood flowing, regulates your breathing, centers you, and makes you more alert. Adding a stretch to step 5 might be all you need to get right back in the holiday spirit.

7. Drink Water. Not only does water regulate and flush your system when it's overrun with holiday goodies, it will also make you less hungry. Forcing yourself to drink a glass of water a few times a day is the simplest body regulator there is.

So now you know how to eat, drink, and be merry without setting your body back six months. Have a great holiday season!



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