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How to Beat Holiday Stress Naturally

Right after Thanksgiving and Halloween, it seems like we blink and we are in full holiday preparation mode. Every year we promise that this is the year we will relax and enjoy the holiday season but as the days get shorter and colder we become sucked into the vortex of parties, shopping, decorating, and the stress that comes along with it. One study reported that 20% of Canadians would prefer to skip Christmas all together. While that sounds like the plot to a holiday movie, the combined stress of time, money, and gift-getting is all too real.

Not to mention the pressure of entertaining and having everyone’s favorite food perfectly prepared; this adds up to a perfect storm of stress and poor food choices that can actually lead to the opposite of what the holidays are supposed to be all about. Let’s explore a few simple options to avoid falling into the trap of holiday blues.

Excessive stress can trigger a neuro-hormonal pathway that places demands on the body’s nutrient and vitamin stores over and above what is required for normal function. This over activation of our nervous system can lead to insomnia and anxiety. The good news is that there are a number of natural and safe options to keep you calm while dealing with the extra stress.

L-Theanine is a calming amino acid naturally found in green tea. First discovered in studies showing that L-Theanine helps reduce nervousness and restlessness while also promoting relaxation without causing drowsiness. It increases alpha waves in the brain which foster a calm and focused feeling without becoming drowsy. L-Theanine also influences the levels of the neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin and GABA in the brain-helping to balance your mood, sleep patterns and learning capacity. It reduces the stress response by inhibiting some of the actions of norepinephrine (a stress hormone) in the central nervous system. The big advantage of L-Theanine is that it is rapidly absorbed within 30-40 minutes, relaxes the brain, and calms racing thoughts while promoting alertness and concentration.

Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in adapting to stress and producing energy. This makes it vitally important for all cellular functions and processes, especially the ability to maintain function in times of stress. When a person is under stress, one of the first signs they experience is tense muscles, especially in the neck and shoulders. In muscle tissue and blood vessels magnesium causes relaxation while calcium levels increase muscle tone. Adequate levels of magnesium are required to offset stress-related muscle tightness. Magnesium also has the added benefit of helping to lower anxiety levels and promote healthy sleep habits when taken before bed. The best supplemental sources of magnesium with the highest rates of absorption are those that are joined with amino acids such as glycine, taurine, or malate. To offset the negative effects of stress and prevent disease, consider a daily supplemental dose of magnesium. The right dosage of magnesium for each person can vary so a gradual daily increase in dosage until the loosening of stools is an effective way to reach your optimal level.

Herbs that have adaptogenic properties help the body deal with stress. The most well known ones are part of the ginseng family, but one of my favorite hidden gems is called holy basil. On top of helping the body deal with stress, it also has research showing it can reduce anxiety and regulate blood sugar; both of which are especially important during the holidays. People using holy basil reported an increase in relaxation, a feeling of calm and reduced stress and moodiness. It has also been shown to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol in diabetic subjects. Holy basil is an excellent option for those looking for a herbal anti-stress supplement with additional blood sugar balancing and cardiovascular benefits.

The holidays may be a joyous time for many but keep in mind that it can be a stressful and emotional time for others. It’s okay to not have the picture-perfect holiday that so many of us expect we should be having. If you are struggling with holiday overload don’t forget to stop and smell the hot cocoa. Remember that you can always simplify, scale back, breathe in, and enjoy the magic of the holiday season.


Dr. Paul Hrkal

About The Author

Dr. Paul Hrkal is a board-certified Naturopathic doctor with a passion to apply innovative and evidence-based nutritional, biological, and supplemental interventions to address underlying metabolic, endocrine and immunological dysfunctions. He is strong advocate of integrative medical education frequently writing and lecturing to both healthcare practitioners and public audiences. He also is the medical director for Advanced Orthomolecular Research, a leading Canadian natural health product company, and maintains a clinical practice in the Toronto area.

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