Avoid Stress During the Holidays

The holidays are coming which means lots of things, good and bad. The good: time with family and friends, giving to others, good food, fun experiences, and great memories made. The bad: the stress of it all, family and friends, feeling pressures to keep up with the facade the media and business has perpetuated about the holidays, and good food.
I’m sure we could add more to both the good and the bad list, but did you notice things like family, friends and food showed up on both lists. This is because they can contribute to both extreme joy and health, but for some they’re stressful, traumatic and straight up unhealthy.
In fact, emotional turmoil can be more toxic than anything in the environment and wreak havoc on your gut and immune system. This is why there’s an uptick in cardiovascular events and strokes at this time of year. This is also the perfect scenario to catch a cold or the flu.
The best way to avoid this is to have a plan.

To avoid stresses try some of these tips:

  1. Plan your budget and stick to it. Finances are one of the biggest stressors at this time of year.
  2. Plan your meals. If you have eczema, gut issues, or autoimmunity, this is essential. Ask hosts in advance of plans and let them know you have special needs. Offer to bring a few dishes that work for you and you can share with others. Better yet, host a dinner or party yourself and show everyone that eating your way can be delicious (it’ll be your gift to them).
  3. Say no to events that will cause you unnecessary stress. There is no rule that says you have to go to everything you’re invited to (this includes family). Politely decline and wish them a happy holiday.
  4. Invite only who makes you happy… even if it’s your family member you’re excluding. I’ve gotten to the point where my health and the health of my family are more important than the feelings of a mean spirited family member, so we don’t invite them. We have a rule: you must play well with others. If you don’t, you’re not welcome. Some may feel this is harsh, but sometimes said family member learns a lesson and is nicer. Sometimes they don’t. They point is that you and your family aren’t victim to someone else emotional bullying or games.
  5. Plan for down time, naps and rest. There’s a reason why nature slows down at this time of year and we should follow suit. Relaxation helps support a healthy immune system.
  6. Have fun and laugh a lot! Again, great for your immune system and mental outlook.
  7. Make sure you get enough sleep (most of the time, anyway). Holiday parties, shopping, and events can last late into the night, Pay attention to your body and listen when it says it’s time to shut down.
  8. If you have kids, pay close attention to them. Sometimes the holidays are stressful for them, but they don’t tell us or have the words to convey it. It’s our job as parents to observe and look for signs such as acting out, behaving in an unusual way, or isolation to clue us in.
I hope you find some of the tips helpful in navigating the amazing, yet stressful time of year.
On the same note, check out the article on Addressing Emotions in Kids to Prevent Eczema and Autoimmunity. Emotional health and good emotional intelligence are essential to long term health. The foundation is set in childhood (even in utero) and has lifelong effects. Let’s help our children avoid the epidemic of chronic disease we’re seeing today.
Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, and fun Thanksgiving!!!
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Question of the month:
Q: How do I maintain my diet during the holidays and will it affect me if I cheat?
A: We hate to place labels or stigmatize food, but the truth is that sometimes dietary modification is necessary for healing. Even during the holidays (where it may be more important!).
For anyone that has ever worked with us, you know our philosophy is to only do necessary dietary restrictions for the shortest period of time and then expand the diet again. If this happens to occur during the holidays there are ways to navigate it.
Planning your food as mentioned above is key. This involves contacting hosts or even restaurants to find out what the menu offerings will be. Most restaurants now a days will accommodate dietary restrictions, especially if you will let them know in advance. And, contrary to what most people believe, most hosts are understanding as dietary needs as well. Some will go so far as to provide menu offerings that suit you (when I host a gathering I reach out to the invitees to find out if there are any dietary restrictions ahead of time). If they don’t do that, you can always offer to bring some dishes yourself to share to make sure you have something to eat.
Keep your home pantry stocked with foods that you can eat for impromptu gatherings. I also recommend making some food ahead and placing it in the freezer to avoid last-minute scrambling to make special dishes or “having” to eat something outside of your special diet.
Grocery stores are more frequently carrying gluten, dairy, nut, and soy free products making it easier for you to pick up something on the fly as well. Just be sure to read labels.
And the “cheating” conundrum…. First, I hate to use the word cheating because that implies you’re doing something wrong. Let’s be clear- while you’re definitely not doing something wrong, you may be doing something that does not promote health in your body at the time. For some, if you are on vacation or holiday, and you indulge in something that is not on your current menu, it may not affect you at all. For others however, that same indulgence may tip the scale toward an inflammatory cascade. So much of it depends on your stress levels and gut integrity. The more stressed out you are feeling, the more likely is that you’ll experience symptoms from eating foods that are potential triggers for you.
Try your best to avoid items that you know can cause issues. Remember that the holidays are a relatively short blip in time when compared to the rest of the year. They will soon be over and you’ll still be on your journey to vibrant health.

Three of the Most Underappreciated Keys to Health

Yesterday my sister had a baby boy… Congrats! It got me thinking about the fresh start we have when we enter this world. The human body is truly astounding. We are inherently born with amazing capabilities that allow us to grow and thrive in spite of the constant insults we hurl at it in the forms of stress, poor eating and sleep habits, lack of movement, not enough time with nature, insufficient meaningful human contact, and the increasing abundance of toxins and pollution in our environment (inside as well as outside).

Unfortunately, the rate at which we are abusing our bodies is catching up with us. There are more chronic diseases now than ever before, and sadly that rate is increasing. We are producing generations now that have a lower life expectancy than we have and our grandparents had. This is not acceptable.

This is by no means is this a news flash, but is worth being said over and over again until people take heart and the message sinks in. LIFESTYLE MATTERS. I’ll say it again, LIFESTYLE MATTERS. Perhaps more than anything else.  No supplement, diet, or workout alone will do this.

Being healthy doesn’t involve drinking warm lemon water every morning or doing a 2 week detox or even running 3 times per week. While those can be healthy actions, what really matters is HOW you choose to live your daily life- the habits that become part of the fabric of what makes you, YOU. This is what will bring out the best you because it will improve your epigenetics, or how your genes are expressed. Wouldn’t you rather have genes “bathed” in clean air, water, and nutrients in a body not ravaged by stress or illness? Yes, please!

Actually doing this does take time and effort. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy and health exists on a continuum. The key is shifting the balance in favor of health, so that when an unforeseen stressor or illness arises, you have the capacity to rebound quickly and return to your healthy place.

By now everyone knows they should consume clean food and water, and get proper sleep and adequate daily movement, but I know countless unhealthy people that do all of that on a daily basis. These are definitely important pieces of the puzzle, but to experience true health you need some other fundamental components: true stress reduction and mitigation, a clean environment, and connections with nature and people.

Real Stress Reduction. Stress is a common buzz word, so much so that I believe it has lost its impact and we’ve become desensitized to it. The majority of patients and people I encounter believe to some extent they are managing it well, which is almost never the case. The truth is that real, measurable stress reduction is hard. Stress is inevitable, but how you deal with it is essential. The first step involves honest introspection to identify your stressors, be it relationships, work, finances, losses, past traumas, etc., and finding ways that work for you specifically to overcome them. This could be counseling, talking to a confidant, joining a support group, enlisting a coach, or self-education. For others, physical activity plays a big role in their management of stress.

The second step is having a daily ritual that involves taking “timeouts” to unplug and do some deep breathing, meditation, or even sitting in silence to clear your head. Helpful tip: if you can’t get away from people, go to the bathroom… it always works because no one questions you.

Clean Environment (in and outside your body). This is a broad topic that is often overlooked, but it can have a significant impact on your health since the indoor environment is often more polluted than outdoors. Thankfully you can fairly easily clean up your home and work environment. Here are some helpful strategies:

– Clean air ducts and replace filters regularly

– Ensure proper ventilation in dwellings

– Invest in house plants or air purification systems that clean the air

– Do proper mitigation if you have mold, radon, lead paint or pipes, etc.

– Use natural options for personal care products and household cleaners

– Don’t get your clothes dry-cleaned

– Reduce exposure to EMF (electromagnetic frequencies) by reducing cell phone use, unplugging all unnecessary appliances and electronics when not in use (especially in the bedroom while sleeping at night), limit Wi-Fi use and turn off when not using it, avoid using a microwave, and choose incandescent bulbs over compact fluorescent ones.

Connection with nature and people. Exposure to sunlight, as well as seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of nature are part of what makes us human. Most people are calmed by the sounds of a rushing river or crashing waves, invigorated when the cool breeze hits their face, or moved at the majesty of mountains or a beautiful forest. There are biological reasons for this. Our ancestors had a strong connection to the natural world and used it as means to survive. It guided them to set up dwellings near water and green space as resources were more abundant there. This environment likely also allowed them to recover from the stresses of living life at this time as well.

Our rapid evolution in the last several millennia has dramatically reduced our contact with nature and we are suffering the consequences. Technology has replaced our relationship with nature… and with other humans.

Connection with other humans is another factor that has ensured our survival throughout time. We are communal animals by nature. We now share more face time with our computers, tv’s, cell phones, and tablet devices than other humans which is hurting us. Studies show that a sense of community and having solid relationships with others is important to health and longevity.  Make an effort to build and maintain your relationships with others and respect people while they are with you by not having your phone in your face. Also, be kind to your fellow humans as well… there isn’t enough of that anymore.

Again, take time to unplug daily. Get outside- even in the winter months. Grab your family or friends and take a walk through the woods and leave your phone at home. Have a “no devices present” rule at meals. There are countless ways to take back your connections.

Here’s to living a cleaner and less technologically driven life while being more present and connected to what really matters!