Statistics Canada recently released the Canadian Community Health Survey, that showed all four Atlantic provinces have stress levels below the national average. Even so, and despite our best efforts to keep stress under control, the holiday season can get the better of us.
We are all familiar with our body's reaction to stress: our heart pumps faster; our blood pressure goes up; our muscles become tense and we become more focused on the stressor; and. some of us even find we get a bit shaky. Our body is preparing physiologically for "fight" or "flight."
For our prehistoric ancestors, this response may have been triggered by the need to hunt or flee from a real or perceived danger. Mostly, these incidents would have produced short bursts of stress, followed by longer periods of rest and recovery. However, in this day and age, our adrenal glands do not know the difference between fleeing from a bear, for example, or a very demanding and stressful holiday season. The response is the same regardless of the trigger- the adrenal glands jump into high gear.
While short bursts of cortisol and adrenaline helped our ancestors survive an attack from a predator, in our times, we are under this "fight" or "flight" response on a regular basis. While stress is a part of everyday life, ongoing stress often turns into 'distress' and can wreak havoc on the systems of the body. Over time, the adrenal glands cannot keep up with level of demand, and they crash. They can no longer produce enough hormones to keep up to the demand we have placed on them. This is known as adrenal fatigue. (Naturopathic Notes, vol. 1 no. 3; http://ndnotes.ca/issues/).
It is very common during a period of extended stress to be able to "keep it together," and then crash afterwards. This is why, after the holidays are over, many people get sick with a cold or flu.
Other symptoms often associated with adrenal fatigue might include: excessive fatigue and exhaustion that is not alleviated by rest; feeling run down or overwhelmed, accompanied by a lot of mood swings; cravings for sweets; being slow to recover from exercise, injury, illness or stress; difficulty focusing, including poor memory or mental fog; and decreased sex drive.
Here are my top recommendations to stay stress free and healthy this holiday season:
1) Diet: balance your blood sugar. This means avoiding heavily processed foods, eating small, frequent snacks including a healthy form of protein, fats and a complex sugar (e.g., an apple with almond butter, or rice crackers with avocado). Another simple tip includes not going to that holiday party on an empty stomach. This can be helpful in avoiding overindulgence.
2) Deelle Hines, a local Professional Lifestyle Coach, recommends practising mindfulness during this busy time of year. She says, "Add five minutes of meditation to your day over the holidays. Stop, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. It will help calm your mind, help you refocus and release tension within your body. Yes, there is a lot of stress and running around during the holidays, which puts our brains on overdrive. Try your best to slow down and notice what is going on around you. Focus on your senses – what you see, hear, feel, taste and smell."
3) Engage your parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite response to the aforementioned "fight" or "flight”). This branch of the nervous system is also known as "rest, digest and restore." This may seem like an impossible time of year to make time for this, but book that massage you have been putting off or go see your acupuncturist. This can help boost energy, promote restful sleep and even boost your immune system.
4) Supplements: a complete B vitamin complex is important. Stress causes a depletion of B vitamins in your body. These are essential in making hormones and support other important processes that help us to maintain health. Also, remember to take a high-quality probiotic to support your digestion and immune system so you don't get sick after the rush is all over.
While I have mentioned some general guidelines, naturopathic medicine is about treating the root cause of problems and providing an individualized treatment plan. Please consult a qualified health care provider before starting any natural therapies to see how they might work best for you.
Dr. Amy Punké, ND, has a naturopathic practice at Whole Self Wellness Centre, 106 Stellarton Rd., New Glasgow . Visit www.dramypunke.com or call 902-755-1210.