As the holiday season gets underway, many of us feel excitement building in anticipation of seeing loved ones, Christmas traditions, and holiday parties. However, it can also be a stressful few weeks as we try to juggle the demands of work and personal life, as well as schedule time for holiday activities such as shopping, decorating, baking, and entertaining. And of course, we often experience stress when dealing with family!
An increase in physical and emotional stressors will put increased demands on our adrenal glands, our major hormone producing site, to produce cortisol. In normal amounts cortisol is beneficial and adaptive to stress, because it increases energy and stamina, mental alertness, and cognitive function. However, when the stressful stimuli are present for days or weeks at a time, it can result in adrenal gland dysfunction (also known as adrenal fatigue) and imbalanced cortisol levels.
Symptoms that are associated with imbalanced cortisol levels include: fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, weight gain, poor focus/memory/concentration, weak immune function, irritable bowel syndrome, irregular menstrual cycles, and more. If you have some of these symptoms and are experiencing stress, it would be beneficial to be assessed for adrenal fatigue and initiate a treatment plan to support your adrenals and reduce stress.
The following are five important lifestyle recommendations to reduce stress & balance adrenal function:
- Get to sleep earlier.
Don’t skip your zzz’s. Your body restores and regenerates cells and hormones during sleep, so aim to get 7-9 hours each night. The most important time for the adrenals 11pm-1am, so ensure your bedtime is before 11pm. Try relaxation techniques such as guided meditation or deep breathing before bed to help you fall asleep easier and get more restful sleep.
2) Exercise regularly, in the morning or afternoon.
Exercise helps regulate cortisol levels and promotes the release of endorphins, adrenaline, and serotonin. These hormones are important as they reduce stress & anxiety, improve mood and sleep, and increase energy. It is best to exercise in the morning or afternoon as the increased cortisol release early in the day keeps us energized and proactive under stress.
3) Eat a whole foods, plant-based diet.
Whole foods are rich in macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Several nutrients are specifically important and nourishing for the adrenal glands, including protein, fat, vitamin B5, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and selenium. Ensure that you’re eating lots of vegetables and other plant-based foods (ie. olive & coconut oil, avocado, nuts & seeds, oats & quinoa), and lean animal protein sources to support healthy adrenal function.
4) Practice positive thinking.
We all have a choice on how to approach stressful situations, and this will directly impact your perceived stress level and adrenal health. Negative thoughts and emotions can increase anxiety and stress (and cortisol levels). Learning and practicing mindfulness techniques and meditation, and making a conscious choice to have a more optimistic perspective can help you take control of your thoughts, so that they are more positive & productive.
5) Reduce or avoid stimulants (caffeine) & Replace with adaptogens (adrenal supplements)
Caffeine and alcohol put added stress on the adrenal glands, due to their effect of increasing adrenaline release in the body. I love prescribing adaptogens, which are plant-based supplements that balance cortisol and rejuvenate adrenal function. Adaptogens (such as Ginseng) increase in energy and mental focus, and enhance the ability to function under stress… health benefits I know most of us would appreciate!
Wishing you a happy & relaxed holiday season 🙂
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