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Thriving Under Holiday Stress

Tis’ the season that you’re overloaded with great food, company and stress! It may seem impossible to overcome because you’re easily side tracked from your regular eating and exercising routines; however, it can be simple to maintain your health with some quick and easy suggestions.

Exercise BEFORE Dining

If you know that a Holiday dinner party is coming up, plan a workout before the dinner. Try to spend at least 30-45 minutes engaged in aerobic and anaerobic “HIIT” (High Intensity Interval Training) exercises. Aerobic exercises include running, walking, dancing, swimming, hiking, biking, or using the treadmill and elliptical machines, to name a few. Anaerobic exercises include sprinting and weight lifting. Together, these exercise strategies increase your heart rate, speeding up the burning of fat and glucose. You will replenish the calories and energy burned exercising with your delicious holiday meal.

Savor the Meal

As you sit down to enjoy this holiday meal, remember to slow down and take pleasure in the experience instead of finishing like it’s a food marathon. Not only does slowing down improve digestion by helping you chew your food longer, it has also been shown to help you shed pounds! This mastication method will prevent over eating and help your brain process two important hormones involved in eating, Grehlin and Leptin. Grehlin signals the stomach to discontinue sending hunger messages to the brain while Leptin signals the brain that satiety is reached. In the long run, you will eat less, and both your stomach and body will thank you for it later.

Remember to Breathe

The hectic season is upon us, causing stress levels to rise. Stress can be caused by time constraints, changes in your routine, and the rush to meet deadlines. A 2 to 5 minute daily deep breathing exercise can tremendously help you cope and manage through these times. Even a 15 minute “de-stress” session by yourself with no distractions can reset your mind so you can handle the stress. Stress will always be there, it is how you cope and deal with it that makes a difference in your health. There are great ways to incorporate rest and relaxation into your holiday season like reading, yoga, mediation, and breathing exercises.  With the abundance of technology today, there are even applications you can download to help you relax.

Don’t Sacrifice Sleep

Sleep is essential to your daily functioning, but during the holidays, this critical process can be sacrificed. With lots of family and friends around, you steer away from regular bedtime schedules. Getting at least 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep will help you function better, improve your metabolism and help you keep the weight off. Even taking a short nap throughout the day can invigorate and refresh your mind. With proper rest, you will be more productive throughout the day and have more time to spend with loved ones. Keep in mind that it is the quality of sleep that counts, not the quantity. To improve your quality of sleep, avoid caffeinated products, alcohol and eating late in the evening. A nice Epsom salt bath at least 30 minutes before bed promotes a relaxing sleep thanks to the magnesium content that acts as a muscle relaxant.

Cooling Down Hot Flashes

During the holiday season, we are surrounded by the comfort and cheer of our family traditions. What many women might not know is that these very traditions could be triggering an increase in hot flashes.

Hormones can affect our overall well being.  Throughout different times of our lives, hormones cycle and fluctuate.  What is important is that we support the body and consider the inter-connectedness and relationships of all of our hormones.  All hormones in the body are designed to work together- a type of hormonal symphony.  If one member is off pitch, it affects the entire orchestra and the other members have to try to compensate.

Here are three common culprits for hot flashes and how to avoid them this holiday season.

Sweating Over Sweets

Sweet treats like holiday cookies, candy canes, and gingerbread houses may be holiday treats, but they can also spike your blood sugar. This dramatic fluctuation in blood sugar can affect hormone levels, which trigger the tale-tell heat of a hot flash.

To combat this common culprit, try swapping sugary sweets with healthy alternatives. If you do feel the need to indulge, try saving the sweets as a treat after a meal filled with lean protein and fiber. This will slow the absorption of the sugar, keeping your blood glucose from spiking. In a pinch, try combining the sweet with a protein such as lean turkey or some nut butter.

The Flush of Wine

Holiday toast is a wonderful tradition; however, be careful of consuming too much alcohol. The sugars in wine and other alcoholic beverages can spike your blood sugar the same as eating a holiday cookie. In addition, the alcohol puts an extra strain on your liver that in turn affects the way your hormones are processed.  Party punch spiked with alcohol is especially dangerous for triggering a hot flash.

To combat this common culprit, try limiting alcohol to a few sips. Try drinking it with a meal rich with fiber, essential fatty acids, and lean proteins to keep blood sugar stable. The best alternative is to reach for water.  This will help hydrate you during the dry winter months and keep your skin glowing.  A glass of green tea is another great option because it has L-theanine, which, can be relaxing and balance out the caffeine. If you’re still missing the wine, try sipping on pomegranate, tart cherry, or 100% cranberry juice in a nice holiday wine glass.

The Strain of Stress

Although the holidays are about family and memories, it can also be an incredible stressful time. From baking to shopping to extra obligations, it is no wonder our stress levels rise this time of year. Unfortunately, too much stress affects almost every body system in a negative way. Hormone levels can become unbalanced as our adrenal glands work overtime to try and compensate.  Plus, the extra cortisol released from the adrenal glands can lead to weight gain directly around the abdomen.

To combat this common culprit, try implementing some coping strategies for holiday stress. Make sure not to over commit or agree to too many extra obligations. Even though coffee and all the holiday caffeinated drinks may give you a short-term boost, it can trigger hot flashes and affect restorative sleep.  Support your body with extra sleep and exercise. Mindful practices such as meditation and yoga can also help.  And remember, you don’t have to do everything. It’s ok to say no, or ask for help.

When in Doubt, Ask for Help

If hot flashes become too troublesome, be sure to ask your naturopathic doctor about other alternatives.  All of the possible effects of hormonal deregulation can be overwhelming and confusing.  The great news is that we are here to help.  As naturopathic doctors, we have a lot of treatment options that include trigger avoidance, specific lifestyle recommendations, targeted nutrients, herbal/botanical support, and delivery and dosage options for bio-identical hormone replacement- including creams, capsules, injections, and pellets.  One size does not fit all with regards to hormones so it is important to customize and personalize to your individual needs.

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