Seems as if everyone I talk to lately is really stressed out.
I thought this was the 'Season of Good Tidings and Cheer'?
Gift buying and wrapping, decorating, family obligations, or packing and traveling - let's face it, the holidays are stressful. And then, of course, this is added to your regular everyday stress.
And who do you know makes great decisions in times of stress? ..... Cue the food and cocktails!
It's no wonder that Americans gain anywhere from 2-5 pounds during the holidays - which does not just magically disappear after the New Year.
So, how do you manage the stress, along with the holiday food, desserts, and cocktails?
First, let's understand what's happening:
Holiday stress may come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it may seem ridiculous that you're stressing over a holiday meal, or what to get old 'Aunt Betty'. Still, your perception of stress is what we're talking about - whether you are in real danger or not.
When you get stressed, the tiny glands that sit on top of each kidney (adrenal glands) release adrenaline (fight or flight hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone). This sets off a cascade of reactions that make your blood sugar and insulin (hormone that helps control blood sugar) rise. In fact, chronically high levels of stress can lead to changes in your metabolism leading to weight gain, high blood sugars, and insulin resistance.
Why does your metabolism change and lead to weight gain?
Your body is designed (evolutionarily speaking) to conserve and store energy in times of stress. It doesn't help that when cortisol is released into the blood stream, your body becomes less sensitive to Leptin, your "I'm Full" hormone. When this happens, you usually become hungrier, and often crave sugar. This is how your body prepares for what it perceives to be an emergency - just in time for those holiday cookies!
Other changes include a drop in testosterone, which leads to muscle loss and fat accumulation, a rise in blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides), as well as a rise in blood pressure!
And you know that sick to your stomach feeling when you think something bad is going to happen?
That's your nervous system kicking in. Specifically, it's your sympathetic nervous system that kicks in to further slow your metabolism, causing you to store more fat - did someones say eggnog?
Unfortunately, the viscous cycle doesn't end there. Those accumulated fat cells are going to also promote an increase in cortisol, setting the stage for "metabolic burnout". For example, cortisol levels rise naturally in the morning and lower in the evening. This is all part of your natural bio-rhythm. At night, other hormones rise, like melatonin and growth hormone to help our bodies sleep, and repair themselves. But when you're under stress, cortisol levels can stay high throughout the day, and into the night, ultimately disrupting sleep. When I blogged about Sleep, I mentioned how lack of sleep raises your grhelin hormone levels, this is your "Feed me I'm Hungry" hormone - no wonder why you can't get enough of that Figgy Pudding!
So, now that you know the signs and symptoms of stress, let's tackle Holiday Weight and Food from a different angle: By Controlling Stress!
Here are eight stress busters to help you through the holidays:
- Be Realistic: The holidays don't have to be perfect or just as good as "last "year. Families change, and traditions can too. Choose some to hold onto, and create some new ones. Being a little flexible can help take the pressure off.
- Stick to a Budget: Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much you can afford to spend. Giving tons of presents or expensive presents does not equate to happiness, or good health. Actually avoiding bills that you'll be stuck paying off through the next year will mean less stress, which equals better health!
- Plan, Prioritize, and Organize: Plan your cookie baking, shopping, decorating, and visiting. Don't forget to add in extra time - just in case you forget something. Set priorities by making a "To Do" list. Organize the list into two sections: "Must Do" do versus "Nice To Do", and let go of the "Impossible". Don't forget to enlist other's help to help you complete your list, this includes help with everyday chores, or bigger holiday projects.
- Learn to Say "No": You don't have to commit to something that is going to send you over the top. Know that you can't possibly participate in every project or event. Family and friends - all who love you - will absolutely understand.
- Take a Breather: Literally, try some slow breathing. My favorite is Dr. Weill's 4-7-8 Breathing Relaxation Technique. Not into the 4-7-8? Try centering yourself through prayer, Meditation, Imagery or Progressive Muscular Relaxation
- Be Positive: Look for the positives. I tell my clients all the time: Perception is a Product of Perspective. This might not come easy at first, but if you try to see things from a different angle, you can say so-long to stress. So you didn't get the Christmas Cards out, or get Grandma's favorite chocolates this year. Focus on all the positive things that you have done throughout the season, and throughout the year.
- Don't Abandon Healthy Habits: Don't use the holidays as an excuse to curb your exercise regime, or ruin your diet.
- Maintain your exercise routine - maybe shorten your runs, yoga class, or strength training - but don't abandon exercise completely. Exercise is going to help you blow off some of that stress, and produce those "Feel Good" hormones, called endorphins.
- Plan to eat every 3-4 hours throughout the day. Unlike starving yourself in preparation for a holiday party, eating throughout the day will help you maintain your metabolism. Eating regularly will keep you from overeating sweets, drinks, appetizers, or buffet foods at the next holiday event. Don't forget to drink another glass of water before you reach for a second helping, sweet treat, or drink.
- Eat stress reducing foods: Eat foods high in fiber and antioxidants, such as Vegetables, Fruits, Whole grains, as well as foods high in protein and B vitamins: Low fat Yogurt, Lean meat, Chicken (no skin), and Fish. Eat healthy fats, like Omega-3 found in fatty fish, flax and chia seeds, and foods high in vitamin E and magnesium found in seeds, nuts, and avocados. Have a relaxing cup of tea containing Ginseng, Licorice, Chamomile, and/or Ashwaghanda.
- Give and Receive: Go through your closets, and kitchen cabinets. Donate to the Vietnam Veterans Association, Boys and Girls Club of America, the Red Cross, or your local Food Pantry. Giving and volunteering makes you feel good all over. It should, it's linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone (released during making love, which can also help with stress, eh-hem) that produces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection. People on an "oxytocin high" can also trigger another person's generous behavior. Now spreading a little happiness - that's what the holiday season is all about!
You can count on one thing for sure during the holidays:
But now that you are armed with eight stress busters to keep you healthy, you no longer have to dread the holidays. First, learn to recognize holiday stress triggers, then combat them by setting realistic goals, sticking to a budget, planning, prioritizing and organizing. It's okay to say "No", and to ask for help, and it's more than okay to take a breather by spending some quiet time to settle your nerves. Try to stay positive, and don't give up those quality healthy habits you have proudly established, like exercise, eating regularly throughout the day, and eating stress-reducing whole foods. Last of all, have an attitude of gratitude and donate, or volunteer. With a little stress busting, you can stay on track with your diet and make wise food choices to keep your metabolism revved up, and weight off!
Have a Very Merry, Happy, and Healthy 2015 Holiday Season!
Learn more about stress-busting, revving your metabolism, stress reducing foods, and losing weight. Contact me at 973.852.3335