How To Improve Stress Resilience During The Holidays
It's that time of year again! Dealing with everyday demands from our family and friends, as well as the ups and downs and twists and turns of daily life can cause a great deal of emotional and physical stress. Not to mention being constantly bombarded with stimulation caused by social media, traffic noise and light pollution, and the effects of a global pandemic!
As we enter the holiday season, you don't have to look far to find additional stressors.
Luckily, we have an internal response mechanism in our bodies that helps us to deal with stress via the HPA Axis. This is a complex set of direct influences and feedback interactions among three parts of the body: the hypothalamus, a small area of the brain, the pituitary gland and finally our hard-working adrenal glands.
The big players in this response are our adrenal glands. They st right on top of our kidneys and product stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine. They are also our back up hormone system and help in producing DHEA, testosterone, progesterone and estrogen. The adrenal glands are tiny, but play a big role in our livelihood, energy and mood.(1) We really need to look after them!
Problems arise when the HPA Axis and adrenal glands get overburdened with more demand than we can manage, and the adrenals are constantly stimulated to secrete hormones to help us cope. This can lead to excess cortisol in the body (overactive adrenals) or even worse, tired adrenals where we have trouble managing the stress response and they risk becoming underactive (2) If our cortisol level is low, we may experience fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, dizziness, headaches, and body pain. (3)
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Inflammation (4)
- Belly fat and weight gain (5)
- Increased severity of menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats (6)
- Hormone dysfunction (PMS) (7)
- Crave stimulants (caffeine, sugar, salt) (8)
- Insomnia - interrupted sleep, irritability (9)
- Fatigue, exhaustion (10)
- Difficulty handling stress (11)
We need to take action to get ahead of stress before it goes too far and symptoms start to set in. If you know you are the type of person who takes on too much, has difficulty saying no, often feels overwhelmed and also tends to be hard on yourself, it's time to take measures into your own hands!
Tips for improving stress resilience:
1. Learn to say no to extra tasks and requests and carve out some time for yourself daily.
2. Breathe, incorporate meditation, yoga and other balancing activities to help ground you and keep you in the moment.
3. Sleep — just 8 hours a night can do wonders for your well-being! Ensure you are sleeping in a dark room, don't eat or exercise too late at night and avoid stimulants like caffeine after noon.
4. Eat colorful, natural foods and avoid processed, sugar laden foods.
5. Take a multivitamin with minerals daily, making sure it includes vitamin C, B vitamins and magnesium
6. Support your HPA Axis and adrenal glands with important nutrients found in stress support supplements
There are various health food supplements available on the market. Look for ingredients such as adaptogenic herbs like Rhodiola, Suma, Schisandra Berries and Sensoril Ashwagandha. Combinations like these can help offer your body and adrenals much-needed support and balance including:
- Helping to relieve symptoms of mental fatigue related to stress
- Supporting cognitive function
- Supporting physical stamina
- Supporting mental focus and mental stamina
- Helping to temporarily relieve symptoms of stress
Now is the time to look after yourself and enjoy life and the holiday season the way you've always wanted to!
1. Aldosterone, Cortisol and Adrogens: John Hopkins Medicine. Adrenal Glands. Accessed May 20th, 2020 at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/adrenal-glands
2. Thomas, C, Newton, J., & Watson, S. (2013). A review of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function in chronic fatigue syndrome. ISRN neuroscience, 2013, 784520. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/784520
3. Thau L, Gandhi J, Sharma S. Physiology, Cortisol. [Updated 2020 May29]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan- Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nik.gov/books/NBK538239
4. Janssens K, et all. Symptom-specific associations between low cortisol responses and functional somatic symptoms: The TRAILS study. Psychoneuroendocrinology Volume 37, Issue 3, March 2012, Pages 332-340
5. Glaser, R., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K (2005). Stress-induced immune dysfunction: implications for health. Nature Reviews Immunology, 5(3), 243-251. https://doi-org.proxy.library.brocku.ca/10.1038/nri1571
6. Pasquali, R., Vicennati, V., Cacciari, M., & Pagotto, U. (2006). The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Activity in Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1083(1), 111-128. https:doi.org/10.1196/annals.1367.009
7. Wood, N., Carr, M. Tao, E; Taylor, H., & Mitchell, E, (2006). Increased urinary cortisol levels during the menopause transition. Menopause: March-April 2006 - Volume 13 - Issue 2 - p 212-221 doi: 10.1097/01.gme.0000198490.57242.2
8. Yamei Huang, Renlai Zhou, Mengying Wu, Qingguo Wang & Yan Zhao (2015) Premenstrual syndrome is associated with blunted cortisol reactivity to the TSST, Stress, 18:2, 160-168, DOI: 10.3109/10253890.2014.999234
9. Ventura, T., Santander, J., Torres, R., & Contrreras, A. (2014). Neurobiologic basis of craving for carbohydrates. Nutrition, 30((3), 252-256. htt6ps://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2013.06.010
10. Âkerstedt, T. (2006). Psychosocial stress and impaired sleep. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 32(6), 493-501. Retrieved March 24, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/40967601
11. DeMorrow S. (2018). Role of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in Health and Disease. International journal of molecular sciences, 19(4), 986. httpsdoi.org/10.3390/ijms19040986
* Written by: Health First Network