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5 Tips for Healthy, Low-Stress Holidays

Posted: Stress » Seasonal | December 28th, 2004



By Kiki Powers

Between holiday parties, entertaining at home, shopping for gifts and other obligations, we may often feel more than a little overwhelmed.

How does holiday-induced stress affect our health and wellness? According to Dr. Konrad Kail, N.D., higher than average levels of emotional stress result in the suppression of our immune system, which increases our susceptibility to illness.

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However, managing our stress in healthy ways and safeguarding our immune systems naturally can keep us healthy, happy, and in charge of our well-being. This way we can focus on family, friends and holiday joys.

Protect yourself with nutritional supplements

Increased holiday stress can often deplete us of key nutrients. During this time, it is more important than ever to protect ourselves with nutritional supplements.

A full-potency, comprehensive, multi-vitamin/mineral formula will replace the many nutrients we need during these busy, active times. Your formula should include the entire B-complex, a complete array of antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E, and selenium, as well as the full mineral spectrum.

Some minerals, such as magnesium, are particularly vital. Research suggests that chronic stress decreases magnesium in the body and simultaneously increases oxidative stress intensity. This data supports the need for magnesium supplementation with antioxidant vitamins for people experiencing stressful conditions.

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Moreover, substances we often consume during busy times, like caffeine, sugar and alcohol, further promote the loss of magnesium and other vital nutrients from the body. Vitamin C is also very important, which our bodies excrete at an increased rate during stressful times, elevating our need for this essential nutrient.

Maintain your exercise regimen

Many of us put our exercise routines on hold during the holidays due to the numerous demands on our time. However, this is when we most require the benefits of exercise.

Along with helping to keep you trim and energetic and moderating stress, regular exercise also promotes a robust immune system. Research clearly indicates that those who exercise regularly show a measurable improvement in immune cell activity when compared to their sedentary peers.

The good news is that as little as 20 minutes three times each week is enough to help manage stress, decrease your risk of illness, and boost your overall health. Of course, health benefits will only continue to increase as you spend more time being physically active. Gentle stretching before bed promotes relaxation and enhances healthy sleep.

Additionally, exercise may also help to counteract the “holiday blues” that some of us may experience. Combine exercise with your time with friends and family by sharing post-meal walks or hikes.

Safeguard against colds and flu

Most of us can feel a cold coming on before it actually strikes. Illness can take root when we continue to push ourselves beyond fatigue, and ignore the early warning signs, such as scratchy throats, swollen glands and headaches.

The best way to “cure” a cold is to prevent it. When you feel you are on the brink of a cold or sore throat, create time for rest and repair as soon as possible. Start to directly increase your intake of healthful fluids like water, herb teas, fresh juices and clear broths.

And don’t forget your Vitamin C, as there is considerable evidence that this important nutrient affects various immune functions by enhancing white blood cell activity, and also has similar effects to interferon, a naturally occurring anti-viral and anti-cancer compound in our bodies.

The herb echinacea has a long history as an immune system enhancer. Germany’s Commission E Monographs, a comprehensive body of scientific information on herbs, specifically supports its use for colds and flu. Echinacea is sold in health food stores in many forms, and most grocery stores now carry echinacea tea, as well.

Enjoy holiday treats in moderation

Although you don’t have to deny yourself holiday delicacies, you can minimize stress placed on your body by focusing on healthy foods between celebrations.

Targeting complex carbohydrates, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and low-fat proteins helps minimize irritability by maintaining more steady blood sugar levels.
Complex carbohydrates also fight stress by boosting the brain’s level of the mood-enhancing chemical serotonin, says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D, a research scientist at MIT.

If you overdo the rich holiday offerings, enjoy natural stomach soothing digestive aids, such as peppermint, chamomile and ginger teas, or natural digestive enzymes available at most health food stores.

Take time for rest and quiet

Though you may feel that nurturing yourself with rest and serenity is a luxury you can’t afford during busy times, the reality is that you can’t afford not to. Adequate rest offers profound benefits for immune health and overall wellness, and ignoring this need will eventually take its toll.

Take the time for bubble baths, a massage, or a short nap. Renew your physical and emotional reserves, so you can enjoy a high quality holiday experience. Remember, the most precious gift you can offer others is the gift of yourself!

Read more
Cernak I, et al. Alterations in magnesium and oxidative status during chronic emotional stress. Magnes Res 2000 Mar;13(1):29-36.
Ginter, E. Optimum intake of vitamin C for the human organism. Nutr Health 1, 66-77, 1982.
Med Sci Sports Exerc 1993 Jul;25(7):823-31.
Bendich, A. Vitamin C and immune responses. Food Technol 41,112-114, 1987.

© Kiki Powers

Kiki Powers, M.S., is director of Natural Health Solutions and a national health writer and lecturer. With a background in health science, research and clinical nutrition, she specializes in health promotion and disease prevention through diet and lifestyle changes and advocates natural alternatives to traditional medications and treatment where appropriate.

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