Christmas is right around the corner and although this is a happy time for many, this can also be a time for much anxiety and stress, whether that’s financial, family or work related.
One thing is for sure is that there is much we can do to help reduce stress and allow for a merrier Christmas. Did you know that what we eat has a significant impact on how we feel? You see the food we eat can either help to support our energy levels and moods or reduce our bodies abilities of dealing with everyday stresses! You see we are all programmed with a flight or fight response within our bodies sympathetic
nervous system which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce a surge of adrenalin which elevates the blood pressure and boosts energy supplies and cortisol that increases blood sugar into the bloodstream and enhances the brains use of blood sugar that equips us to deal with the stresses of life. These hormones also communicate to the brain that controls mood, motivation and fear until the stress has passed and all functions return to normal.
Long term activation of the stress response and overexposure to the stress hormone
cortisol, can result in symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, digestive issues, weight gain and sleep problems to name a few. Did you know that two thirds of women are on a diet most of the time...meaning that many are restricting the foods they eat, causing possible hormonal imbalances, weight fluctuations, nutrient deficiencies and gut issues and anxiety around food and eating which during the holiday season can be made worse? But eating well doesn’t mean you have to avoid certain foods or restrict what you eat which can often result in anxiety around food and food choices. It’s all about balance and yes that is different for everyone, but enjoying food, not stressing over macros, or counting calories, as well as eating foods that can help support your body and reduce symptoms of anxiety is achievable.
Eat nourishing whole natural and unprocessed foods can support our brain health, provide us with the amazing nutrients that our body needs, support our immune system to avoid those winters colds, and help support our mental health. Sugar and highly processed refined foods can suppress the immune system as well as cause havoc on our blood sugar levels, disrupt out sleep and cause mood fluctuations, so it’s important that the food we eat is natural and unprocessed particularly during times of stress. Did you know that stress depletes Vitamin C levels within the body which is needed for our immune system and skin health and although we think of vitamin c as our immune booster it is also a brain booster and helps to balance out the nervous system.
Eating the rainbow is not only great for your health but also for our soul! Eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruit each day can help support brain, heart, gut, immune, hormonal health as well as supplying all those amazing minerals, nutrients and antioxidants. Aim for at least 8 a day with the majority being vegetables! Make sure you fill the plate with colour at each mealtime. And don’t worry, 8 is not that hard, think 2 for breakfast, that could be 2 types of berries, 3 vegetables for lunch and 3 vegetables for dinner! Remember its about lots of diversity, rather than a couple of veggies, add in an array of colour to your plate.
Do you find that eating colourful food makes you feel great...it’s a bit like when you take a walk and are immersed in wonderful shades of nature...that’s what colour does, it can affect our moods and how we feel, so starting the day with amazing colours is not only wonderful at making us feel great, but also colourful, natural, whole foods are packed with those amazing health boosting vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. And don't forget that all important fibre that helps to support our gut health. Did you know that 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut? Serotonin is our bliss hormone so supporting good gut health can help to improve our mental health.
Think colourful vegetables and fruit, wholegrains such as oats, quinoa, legumes, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats. Omega 3 fats found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel as well as walnuts and chia seeds are essential for brain health. They work by crossing the blood rain barrier and supporting essential areas that focus on mood. Omega 3 has been shown to balance out dopamine levels responsible for how our amygdala reacts to stress. It also strengthens the cell membranes which allows serotonin to transmit messages from neuron to neuron and we know that serotonin is our bliss hormone and low levels have been associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Not only that but omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and can help to reduce inflammation within the body including the brain.
How we sleep can have a major impact on our mental health and our health in general. The quality of our sleep, such as sleepless nights and restless nights is a form of chronic stress on the body. Poor sleep quality has been linked to problems such as a weakened immune system, weight gain, hormonal imbalances and anxiety and depression so improving our sleep can have a major impact on how we feel during the day. Including magnesium rich foods such as cacao, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, leafy greens can have a significant impact on how you feel during the day, improve energy levels and even support sleep. Protein is a fantastic way to stabilise those blood sugar levels, it helps to reduce the hunger hormone Ghrelin as well as boosting the levels of peptide YY, a hormone that is responsible for regulating appetite and making you feel full. Including good sources of protein such as beans/legumes/pulses, nuts and seeds, lean meats, fish, and eggs.
Here are some top tips to help support your health during the festive period…
Start the day with a nourishing breakfast, this will not only help to improve our energy levels but also support blood sugar balance! Opting for a nutritious breakfast which will stabilise blood sugar levels that can help to avoid those energy dips and possible low moods and food cravings. You see blood glucose is the sugar that the bloodstream carries to all cells in the body to supply energy. We need to keep blood sugar levels stable to not only reduce risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease but also to support our energy levels throughout the day and also stabilise our moods!
Life is all about balance so include a nourishing snack during the day if energy levels start to dip or your feeling hungry! Making sure to include a snack that is not loaded with sugar or caffeine will help to support energy levels, stabilise blood sugar levels that can help to reduce stress and anxiety and support moods. Remember that high sugar can have a detrimental effect on mood and blood sugar levels often resulting in energy slumps and anxiety! This is often the case around Christmas when cakes, treats and desserts are on overload, but making sure to eat well throughout the day can reduce the food cravings, energy dips and low mood that is often associated with low blood sugar levels.
Take some time for yourself. Relaxation is completely overlooked when it comes to reducing stress levels and supporting our moods! So it’s time to Unwind, relax, enjoy a warm cacao hot chocolate even if it’s just 10 minutes, it’s a little time for you to forget about life’s stresses and just breathe.
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