With a B.A. in journalism from Temple University and a M.S. in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania, Leah Zerbe covers health news and functional fitness topics. She’s also a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. Leah resides on her family’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.
By Leah Zerbe
Holidays is that time of year when we usually gather with our loved ones, but like 2020, this year continues to test our resolve. Whether or not you are able to safely gather, "holiday stress" is alive and well. Sigh.
Common holiday stressors can include experiencing a financial crunch at the worst time of the year, feelings of loneliness or loss, making sure all is perfect for the joint celebration and fewer hours of daylight.
Fortunately, we have some exercises, diet tips and even supplements that can help you battle that stress.
Best Exercises and Activities to Battle Stress
It’s increasingly clear that excess stress can take its toll.
Thankfully, one of the best approaches to help break the stress cycle is exercise. Specifically, the right kind of exercise to help your body find balance.
As one of the best natural ways to relieve stress, exercise does temporarily spike the stress hormone cortisol, but that generally lowers several hours later. Over time, regular exercise holds the power to generally encourage cortisol balance.
However, when you’re beating up your body with ultra-intense, prolonged daily workouts, you could be inviting too much physical stress. If you’re feeling unrested after a full night’s sleep, like you can’t get through the day without boatloads of coffee or your exercise recovery seems to take forever, you may be overtrained and need to work more gentle workouts into your mix.
But for someone experiencing holiday stress, you may want to trade brutal workout sessions for shorter bursts of exercise, or more gentle forms like yoga, tai chi or walking. (This beneficial pose is the No. 1 recommended exercise to start soothing a stressed-out system.)
And don’t discount the benefits of resistance training, either. A recent study looking at strength training provides more inspiration to grab those dumbbells, bands or even your own bodyweight to blast away the stress effects.
An analysis of 33 randomized clinical trials involving nearly 2,000 people found strength training two or more times a week significantly boosted people’s spirits. Interestingly, the feel-good benefits occurred regardless of a person’s health status. Even weight training here and there provided a de-stressing boost in the outlook department, regardless of strength gains.
Here’s a complete circuit to try. It’s one of Dr. Axe’s favorite home workouts.
5 Diet Recommendations
What you put into your body undoubtedly impacts how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Here are some foods to help get your feel-good vibes flowing again — just in time for the holidays.
1. Eat foods required for normal serotonin production
If you’re dealing with chronic stress, it may also affect serotonin levels — something that definitely impacts how you feel. And since lack of sunlight can also impact the neurotransmitter serotonin, this time of year can do a number on you.
Try putting these foods into your holiday eating plans: eggs, pineapple, nuts, cheese, tofu, salmon and turkey.
2. Make sure B6 foods make the menu
Because vitamin B6, in general, supports normal production of feel-good serotonin and neurotransmitters, healthy B6 levels are associated with a positive outlook and reducing stress naturally.
Eating foods like shiitake mushrooms, bananas, pinto beans, avocados and turkey and chicken can naturally boost your B6 intake.
3. Make sure you’re getting tryptophan on your plate
Since tryptophan converts to serotonin in the brain, eating tryptophan-containing food should be part of everyone’s personal holiday survival guide.
Some foods to sneak into your snacks and meals include...
- Albacore tuna (choose pole-caught to prevent bycatch)
- Nuts and seeds
- Chicken and turkey
4. Opt for vitamin C foods throughout the day
Vitamin C is an important cofactor required for the conversion of tryptophan to 5-hydroxytryptophan in normal serotonin production.
High vitamin C foods include…
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Camu camu
5. Put some calm-promoting staples on your grocery list
To promote calmness, a positive outlook through your diet, aim for foods containing magnesium. These include…
- Cooked Swiss chard and spinach
- Dark chocolate (in moderation)
- Sunflower seeds
- Almonds/almond butter
- Pumpkin seeds
4 Best Supplements for the Season
Most of us don’t want to simply “survive” the holidays … we want to thrive, too. And here are some options for effortlessly working the best-suited supplements into a daily routine during this season.
Oh! One quick note: You may be surprised to see collagen on the list, but it’s actually a foundational supplement that supports gut health. This is key, since approximately 95 percent of the body’s serotonin, generally speaking, is produced in the gut, not the brain like most people think.
1. Ashwagandha to reduce stress and promote a positive mindset
If you find your stress levels and mindset out of balance during the holidays, you are not alone.
That’s why I believe every holiday survival guide wouldn’t be complete without ashwagandha, a go-to Ayurvedic herb for thousands of years.
Ashwagandha helps reduce stress, promote sleep and a positive mindset as well as support healthy energy levels.
Suggested use: Adults take 1 Ashwagandha Tablets around dinnertime
2. Multi Collagen Beauty + Sleep for more restful sleep
Whip up a special sleep-supporting chai in seconds to provide your body with calming magnesium, gut-supporting collagen and skin-promoting botanicals like camu camu and pomegranate fruit extract.
Chai not your thing? Try one of these other drink recipes for better sleep.
Suggested use: Mix one heaping scoop of Multi Collagen Beauty + Sleep with one cup of warm coconut milk, stir and sip before bedtime (preferably while reading an uplifting book!) before brushing your teeth and going to bed.
3. Stress-targeting probiotics for an added layer of support
The gut-brain connection exhibits the importance of supporting the gut for a wide range of wellness benefits. With hundreds of probiotic options out there, though, it can feel overwhelming trying to find the best fit.
SBOs, known as “soil-based organism probiotics,” stand out in the crowd because they contain “survivable” probiotic strains that naturally survive the heat, bile and stomach acid of your body. Because they are inherently “tough,” you don’t have to refrigerate them like fragile strains.
SBO Women’s Probiotics (and Men’s) are a great choice for the holidays because the formulation incorporates gut support and ashwagandha for that added layer of stress reduction.
Suggested use: Take 2 capsules with 8 ounces of water and with an empty stomach upon waking (after brushing your teeth). Check the label for directions.
4. A well-rounded multi to fill in the nutritional gaps
Last but not least, be sure to take a high-quality multivitamin every morning after brushing your teeth to deliver the B vitamins and other nutrients your body needs to get through the stress of the holidays and beyond.
Ancient Nutrition's Multi-Vitamins combine a variety of vitamins, minerals and time-tested superfoods to address nutrients you may miss through diet alone. Designed to help cover your daily needs, these multivitamins are formulated by age, gender and targeted support.
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