This time of year can be incredibly enjoyable. It can also be manic with a million things to do, events to attend, shared lunches to prepare for school aged children and let’s not forget present shopping!
So how do we ensure the stress of the silly season doesn’t get the better of our health? It simply isn’t realistic to expect many of us to maintain our “normal” wellness routine with this much going on. We’re going to have meals out, we’re probably going to skip a few gym sessions and more than likely there will be some late nights.
So what should we prioritise when we have time? In this blog I’m going to talk specifically about stress and sleep and how focusing on these two aspects of our health can maintain our wellness - or at least act as damage control - even if our nutrition and movement isn’t as good as normal. We don’t need to beat ourselves up, we just need to go back to basics and nourish our bodies.
I’ve talked before about how the key to good health is ensuring you get the micronutrients; vitamins minerals and antioxidants you need to support all your bodily functions.
Two factors we often overlook is the impact of stress and insufficient sleep have on our nutrient status. Both of these things impact our ability to absorb nutrients while also dictating the rate at which our body uses - and therefore requires - nutrient stores.
Stress is a general word thrown around to describe a feeling or hormonal interchange that poses some form of threat to a person's health and wellbeing. Generally speaking, you won’t hear someone comment about his or her “wonderfully stressful” day. Rather, they will talk about how burdened or overwhelmed their day is, because of the stress they feel.
We speak of stress in the negative, yet we forget to realize that certain stress is healthy. The fight or flight response helps mobilise us when stress is imminent. When we have a saber-tooth tiger chasing us this is a good thing. Stress can also activate certain hormone responses and cortisol rises to remind us to eat - which is obviously critical for gaining nutrients in the first place.
This is important to realise during the festive season because not all stressors are things we perceive as being stressful. Catching up with friends or having dinner with work colleagues may be enjoyable. That doesn’t mean they aren’t also stressful if they keep you out late, or add to your already busy plate.
The harder you push your body, the more stress you are under, the more vitamins and minerals your body uses. In time of stress your body uses more B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc just to name a few.
The final implication of stress is that it initiates coping responses in us. In ancestral times we would sleep more. Now, we reach for stimulants to prop up our cortisol or sugar levels - caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar or grains. Consuming these things occasionally is not a problem. But all these things place load on our liver and affect our ability to store and absorb nutrients from our food.
Observe during the month of December if your commitment to activities has a direct relation to the amount of coffee, sugar and alcohol you are consuming. This is not to feel guilty or to label these behaviours as “bad”. Simply take notice and become aware of the link between stress and your own coping strategies. Once you know you are doing it, you can take steps to make changes.
The research now says that bad sleep, or lack of it, can contribute to major illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. But it also affects our nutrient status. On the flip side, good sleep improves our mood, mental ability, memory, immunity and physical performance.
To understand how sleep and nutrients work in tandem we need to be aware that sleep is both an active and a restorative process, where hormonal and neurochemical (mental) changes occur. Sleep can help or mitigate our stress response by working with or against your natural circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm (aka our internal body clock) is naturally regulated by light and dark; and by changes in body functions, including our body temperature, hormones, airways and kidneys every 24 hours.
This means levels of hormones such as your thyroid hormone, and our sleep melatonin are different during the day and night. Interrupted sleep can throw our hormone balance off and as a result your body requires more nutrients to maintain homeostasis.
During the lead up to Christmas we are often out later, more frequently. Work dinners and drinks, barbeques with friends or school functions mean we get less sleep. Some of this can’t be changed, but how we support our body to cope with the increased stress from a lack of sleep will directly impact how we feel.
Try to schedule 3 or 4 nights per week with no events. On these nights, prioritise getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep.
If you feel yourself getting stressed, practise diaphragmatic breathing, meditation or go for a gentle walk.
Try to reduce your stress around meal times. Eat while undistracted - no TV or smartphones - at the table. Take 3 deep diaphragmatic breaths before eating. Eating in a relaxed state will help you absorb more nutrients.
Start your day with some warm lemon water. The citric acid will jumpstart your energy and detoxification pathways. This can help reduce some physiological stress resulting from less sleep and a busier schedule.
Although you might not be feeling your best with reduced sleep, still plan to get to the gym when you can. As your nervous system won’t be up for much opt for a body balance class, stretching or a very light cardio workout. The exercise will help your lymphatic system drain. Then hop in the sauna for 20 minutes, again being sure to drink plenty of water the whole time. Having a sauna after a night of drinking is an especially good idea.
To support your health, taking a baseline level of nutrients is key. Especially in times of stress and reduced sleep. We recommend taking the Everyday Health Pack, BePure One and BePure Three to support common nutrient deficiencies.
Lastly, if you struggle with sleep, test to see if you have a zinc deficiency. Zinc is a key nutrient for sleep. You could also try meditation, chamomile tea, putting your legs up the wall for ten minutes or gentle stretching.
If you have any questions please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you would like more coping strategies for the silly season be sure to check back on our blog throughout the month of December.
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