Last week we discussed how to avoid hormonal havoc during the holidays. And despite good intentions, the holidays ’tis the season to be stressed! All that rushing around, last minute shopping, those late night parties and unhealthy habits take their toll – especially on your cortisol levels (your stress hormone levels). Stress doesn’t just pack on the pounds, it also increases your appetite, drops your metabolism, increases cravings, lowers your libido, disrupts your sleeping patterns, and throws your hormones out of balance.
Reducing stress and maintaining a positive mental attitude through the holidays are important for both your health and your sanity. The solution to stress is multifaceted but here are my most recommended five healthy habits that you can use throughout the holidays to keep your cortisol under control:
1. Take your vitamins
Often during hectic times our healthy habits fall to the wayside. A quick and easy way to give your body the tools it needs to stay healthy during the December rush is to keep your vitamin habit in check. If you are rarely home, try taking them with breakfast and before bed to stay on schedule, or take them to the office – five days per week is better than none. Out of sight is out of mind, so store them in a storage container on the counter or in another location that is easily accessible. It looks better than crowds of loose bottles anyway. Snack-sized plastic bags are also great for carrying supplements when you’re on the run.
2. Tote around healthy snacks
Instead of nibbling on blood-sugar boosting treats like muffins or pastry, try some walnuts, pecans, apples, plain yogurt with protein powder or protein bars that have a nutritional balance of 40:30:30 or 40:40:20. Aim to never go longer than three hours without eating. Eating regularly will avoid blood sugar highs and lows that can affect your mood and energy. Missing meals is stressful on your body, causing an increase in cortisol which can actually cause weight gain rather than loss because of the decrease in metabolism associated with caloric restriction. Stress-related weight gain is particularly problematic since it tends to deposit around the abdomen, which is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. If you have an undeniable craving, have a bit of dark pure chocolate or a chewable vitamin C tablet. Having protein with your snacks and meals will also help decrease your cravings.
3. Stay hydrated
Get a two-litre water bottle to keep on your desk or in the car and aim to drink it by the end of the day. Add drops of chlorophyll to your water—it is cleansing, detoxifying and has a nice, minty taste. Instead of grabbing a coffee in between shopping trips, aim for a cup of green tea. Caffeine causes an undesirable elevation of cortisol. Green tea is one of the only products containing caffeine that is not harmful because it also contains theanine which blocks the effect of cortisol.
4. Be mindful of your stress
If you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed concentrate only on what is happening to you in your surroundings. Most people take on too much during the holidays and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so break it down! By getting the task down on paper and out of your head it will help you reduce the stress and plan your day more effectively. Whether it’s Santa’s Shopping List or work-related projects to finish before your Christmas holidays, the ability to cross a task off the list is a great feeling of accomplishment. You can also keep a sweet smelling hand cream or lavender oils in your purse and use this as a reminder to keep you centered and calm when you need to destress.
5. Work in the weights
The best way to release pent up energy from lengthy to-do lists and overcrowded malls is to hit the gym. But be sure to balance cardiovascular exercise with weight training to ensure maintain your metabolic rate. If you are under high levels of stress, try to keep your workouts short so as not to increase your cortisol levels – overdoing it will only create more stress! Instead, a quick 30-minute circuit two to three times per week will combine your cardio workout and resistance training all in one shorter session. Circuit training is also the best type of workout for improving insulin response, boosting testosterone and stimulating growth hormone. So you spend less time exercising but realize even more benefits. Best of all, the extra effort in the gym will help you reach those resolutions early and help you manage your stress levels.