Natural Ways to Tackle the Holiday Blues
The amount of stress placed on the body and mind is called Allostatic Load. Allostatic Load is a burden on the body which increases as we become exposed to repeated or chronic stress.
Certain people may feel more anxious and depressed around the winter holidays. Allostatic Overload can cause physical symptoms as well, as the body tries to maintain homeostasis, releasing adrenalin, cortisol and other chemical messengers in an attempt to mediate stress.
Over time, this can create gut inflammation, affect immune function, cause headaches, fatigue, and more anxiety and depression. Serotonin, the “feel good” chemical in our brain is mainly created in our gut. Stress-caused gut inflammation can affect the production of serotonin levels, which affect how we think and feel.
Of course, the holiday season also coincides with the shortest days. Sunlight affects our mood and well-being. Many are plagued with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression due to the lack of sunlight.
Are you experiencing the Holiday Blues? Here are some signs:
- Mood swings
- Anxiety, heart palpitations, feelings of being overwhelmed
- Loss of interest in activities, socializing, completing tasks
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating
Winter months are notorious for Allostatic Overload. Shopping, hectic schedules, family interactions, increased demands, more time indoors, less time outside, financial overextending, consumerist pressures, cooking, guilt, grief, loneliness, anxiety, regret—it’s all part of the holidays for many people, but it doesn’t have to be. And even more so, it doesn’t have to affect your health and well-being.
Here are some natural ways to tackle the Holiday Blues:
B vitamins: Many medications deplete certain B-vitamins including acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, oral contraceptives and SSRIs, along with stress and poor diet. Adequate B vitamins are essential for maintaining energy levels, and additional intake is often needed by those with high levels of stress. Those with chronic illness, autoimmune disease, systemic inflammation, methylation issues and MTHFR benefit from methylated forms of B vitamins, which help to boost energy, manage homocysteine levels and combat anxiety and depression.
Magnesium: In a University of Vermont 2017 study, magnesium significantly improved depression in just two weeks. Magnesium was effective regardless of age, gender, depression category. Look for bioavailable, chelated forms, such as Magnesium Glycinate, which are also gentle on the stomach.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D supplementation can improve mood status and anti-inflammatory biomarkers, according to a 2019 study of diabetic women. In a 2012 study, people with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to report symptoms of depression, compared to people with higher blood levels of vitamin D.
Sleep: Most people require 7-8 hours of sleep a night, particularly when managing times of high stress. Unplug from TV and social media earlier in the evening and be sure your room is dark and cool. Darkness promotes your body’s release of melatonin, a hormone that naturally helps you sleep. Experts also advise that you should lower your room temperature about 5-7 degrees below your daytime thermostat temperature to help promote better sleep.
Move: Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, your feel-good, pain-relieving, stress-busting brain chemicals. Even just a twenty minute brisk walk makes a difference. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.
Eat well: Processed food, sugar, saturated fats lower your vibrational energy and don’t provide your body with necessary nutrients to combat stress. Instead, load up on organic fruits and vegetables full of anti-oxidants. Avoid overuse of alcohol, which acts as a depressant.
Fatty fish, such as wild caught salmon, helps control adrenaline levels during stressful times. Almonds and walnuts are rich in zinc, which helps boost the immune system. Research shows that dark chocolate lowers stress levels by increasing serotonin levels.
Create Lists: Shrink the feeling of being overwhelmed by creating a list of what needs to be accomplished in order of priority. There’s a certain pleasure to crossing off items on a “to do” list that can move you in the direction of getting things done with less stress and anxiety.
Say No: Grant yourself permission to not take on more than you can handle. It’s okay to say no, to spend an evening taking an Epsom salt bath and reading a good book instead of attending every holiday party or agreeing to cook the turkey for the company potluck. Preserve your time and energy by seeking shortcuts and compromises that allow you to still give time, energy and love back to you.
Get light: The holiday season coincides with colder, shorter days, limiting the amount of sunlight and outdoor time we receive daily. Decreased sun exposure has been associated with reduced serotonin levels, which can lead to major depression with seasonal pattern. The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight entering the eye, so take off those dark shades! Get outside when you can. Open windows to allow natural sunlight into your home, as well.
Give back: Nursing homes, food banks, animal shelters and soup kitchens are always needing help around the holidays. If’ you’re feeling lonely and blue, seek out the company of others and give to those in need. According to research, gratitude and giving rewires our brains and unchains us from negative emotions, leading to improved mental health.
Diffuse essential oils: Your sense of smell is most connected to your brain, and certain scents help stimulate the brain to think more positively. Because of its healing terpene content, essential oils are utilized in aromatherapy to help combat stress. Studies have demonstrated the effects of lavender, for example, at reducing stress for up to 4 days. Other calming, stress-reducing essential oils include citrus oils, such as orange, grapefruit and lemon. According to a 2015 study, Bergamot essential oil reduced cortisol levels and improved mood and fatigue.
Take Time for Tea: Sipping tea has relaxing effects. Certain herbs help stimulate neurotransmitters to improve mood. Saffron influences the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which gives off a feel-good signal, resulting in a happier state. Turmeric also helps improve mood by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels.
Lemongrass and lemon balm are great for reducing anxiety and stress, as well as promoting sleep. Folk remedy has passed down information about lemongrass’s medicinal ability of reducing stress, improving stress, calming the body and improving immune function.
The holidays are a time to surround yourself with people you love. However small that circle is, find the ones who bring out the best in you and raise your vibrational energy. Even if it’s difficult to smile through dark times, remind yourself of the power of gratitude and love. This season is about more than consumerism and gifts, food and presents, shopping and wrapping. Focus on the power of positivity and presence, health and wellness. There is much love and light in this world when we are open to giving and receiving it.
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