The holiday season is upon us, which can result in additional stress and anxiety due to time crunches, obligations, and demanding schedules. Minimizing stress, getting plenty of sleep, daily movement and sunshine, foregoing demanding obligations, and healthy eating is especially important since colds, flu and even depression tend to be more prevalent this time of year.
Stress is inevitable for all of our lives. It’s our perception and how we react. When we’re stressed out time and time again, the body produces excess cortisol, the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, which in turn increases blood glucose, depletes the adrenals, accelerates aging, adds belly fat and causes weight loss resistance and immune dysfunction.
The 12 tips
1. Sleep. Immune power builds the most during restful sleep. A good night’s sleep is required for thinking, feeling and looking your best, memory, fat loss, healthy aging and preventing sugar and carb cravings. Unplug by 9 p.m. and get to bed by 10:30 p.m. every night. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night in a pitch-black bedroom. Recharge your cell phone in a room other than your bedroom.
2. Healthy gut function. Approximately 80 percent of the immune system and 95 percent of serotonin is located in the gut. Go easy on the sugar, starchy foods, holiday treats and alcohol, which damage the intestinal lining, destroy the ability of white blood cells to kill germs, spike insulin, and suppress the immune system.
Do your best to avoid dairy, wheat, gluten, corn, soy and processed, nutritionally void foods that zap energy, cause skin or sinus problems, diarrhea or constipation, bloating, hives, achy joints, increased inflammation, and exhaust the adrenals and immune system.
Medications, both over-the-counter and prescription drugs (overuse of antibiotics, antacids, PPIs, NSAIDs, aspirin, ibuprofen, pain meds and steroids), also have detrimental side effects on your gut, brain, liver and overall health.
3. Eat breakfast. Fuel your brain and body with a nutrient-dense, protein-rich breakfast. The first 40 grams of protein you consume daily goes to rebuild your immune system. If you are not rebuilding your immune system, you’ll have a hard time rebuilding your brain chemistry to be happy and think straight.
4. Stay hydrated. Drink a minimum of half your weight in ounces of water daily to keep the body hydrated and flush toxins. Many people have no idea that they’re chronically dehydrated, which results in dry skin, constipation, brittle bones, low back pain, cravings, hunger and depleted brain chemistry.
Green and white teas contain powerful antioxidants that inhibit bacteria and viruses, and stimulate the immune system. L-theanine found in green tea has a calming, anti-anxiety properties.
Homemade bone broth is a nutrient-dense, immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory healing potion for digestion, allergies, infections, brain health, weight loss, joints and bones.
5. Green smoothies. Many folks initially turn up their nose at the thought of green smoothies, but when their skin becomes clear and vibrant, energy levels soar, digestion and elimination improves, cravings disappear, and they stop running to the doctor for antibiotics, they begin to see the endless health benefits of nutrient-dense green smoothies.
6. Consider basic nutrients. Vitamin D, probiotics, multi-vitamin/mineral, magnesium, essential fatty acids and digestive support. Goldenseal is helpful in combination with Echinacea, vitamin C and zinc for the treatment of colds and flu. Consider nutrient support for stress such as magnesium, B-vitamins, Rhodiola or Phenitropic.
7. Take time to relax and connect to your spiritual life. Practice yoga, go for a walk, listen to your favorite Christmas music, meditate, get a massage, read a book, spend time with those who inspire and lift you up, soak in a hot bath before bed with Epsom salts, baking soda and relaxing, immune-boosting essential oils (frankincense, eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree).
8. Move your body every day. Set aside 20-40 minutes for a strength training workout, high-intensity intervals at the track, on the treadmill or your favorite trail. Detoxify and boost your cardiovascular, immune and lymphatic system by bouncing on a mini-trampoline 3-5 minutes daily.
Just be sure not to overdo it. Excessive exercise is an additional stressor that compromises the adrenals and suppresses the immune system.
Create balance and include parasympathetic, calming activities such as qi gong, tai chi, restorative or yin yoga, and leisure walking to reduce stress.
9. Just breathe. Deep, full diaphragmatic breathing is the foundation to destressing, healing, revitalizing, and energizing every cell in your body. Studies show that deep, full breathing lowers blood pressure, increases creativity and productivity, enhances your ability to handle stressful situations, and releases healing hormones throughout your body.
10. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often and thoroughly throughout the day with soap and water, especially after restroom use, shaking hands, traveling or shopping. Refrain from sneezing or coughing openly into your hands and instead sneeze or cough into your elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth since that is often how the viruses enter the body.
11. Holiday gatherings. Set healthy boundaries. Minimize time with people, places or things that deplete your energy. Practice gratitude and forgiveness. Give more hugs. Create memorable moments with those you love. Listen, smile and laugh more. It releases endorphins, your body’s natural pain killer, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and boosts your immune function.
12. Make a difference. Most of us have enough “stuff.” Focus on mindful giving with gifts from the heart and gifts that have a special meaning behind them. Remember those who are suffering, alone and truly in need. Give the gift of time or service. Donate to your favorite charity, shelter or nonprofit organization. Teach your children the real reason for the season. Purchase groceries or gifts for family in need. Deliver a meal or some homemade chicken soup to a sick neighbor. Invite an elderly or single person who is alone to holiday festivities and church. Go through your garage and closets and gather all of the items you no longer wear or use, and donate to those less fortunate.
Have a happy, healthy and joy-filled holiday.
• Paula Owens, M.S., is the author of “The Power of 4” and “Fat Loss Revolution.” An Ahwatukee resident for 22 years, she is a leading expert in nutrition, functional health, fitness and fat loss with more than 20 years of experience. For more information, visit www.PaulaOwens.com.