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November 27, 2019

Silly Season Stress Survival Guide

French Bulldog in a Santa Hat

Silly Season Survival

How is your diary looking this week? If it’s anything like ours, you’re going to be busy! The holidays can be a really fun time of the year but often, they’re also a source of stress and anxiety. Given that they’re mostly unavoidable in some form, we talked to Kelly, one of our in-house naturopaths, about self-care and supporting our stress response during the silly season.

So, Kelly, are you going to be busy over the holidays?

Oh yes, the countdown to Christmas is on!  And like everyone else, I feel like I have a million and one things on my to-do list before I’m ready to wind down for the year.  Plus an increasingly hefty list of holiday chores – decorating the tree, planning my Christmas Day menu, last-minute gift and grocery shopping, preparing and packing for a trip out of town … it does feel like its never-ending!

I’m totally looking forward to a little holiday excursion Air-BnBing on Lake Taupo, with water sports and catching up with family from overseas. It’ll be great!

Sounds Fun! Do you find being busy stressful? How are you planning on looking after yourself?

Whilst I love this time of year and the anticipation of good times, that feeling of “I’ve got so much to do and time is running out” really puts the pressure on!

Being too busy can be very stressful, for sure.  There is a balance to be had between ‘good’ stress and ‘bad’ stress. Being busy without being overwhelmed is beneficial – it keeps you focused and motivated.  In physiological terms, it’s known as “positive adaption”, akin to the philosophical idea of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – aka resilience.

The flip side is having too much to do and feeling pressure about getting it done. Then we can easily slip into procrastination which inevitably only adds to our tension. Or we run around flitting between one thing and the next without really achieving anything.  Underneath it all is a growing sense of anxiety that increases our stress levels.

Taking care of yourself is important so that you don’t get to a point of feeling completely stressed out.  I make sure I keep my nervous and adrenal system nourishment up at these busy times of the year.  Magnesium is a must-have nutrient for this purpose, but I also love my herbs so a product like Nutra-Life Stress Ease is ideal. It combines a really good quality form of magnesium that is well absorbed with three of my favourite adrenal herbs – Withania, Holy Basil and Rehmannia. I love how these herbs support the body’s response to stress, improving our coping ability and overall resilience. By supporting our adrenal glands it ultimately helps to improve our stamina, energy and vitality.

Are there any easy (and quick) things we can be doing before special events to help prevent stress?

Yes indeed. One of the best ways to calm yourself before a stressful event is super easy, quick and, best of all, free…

Diaphragmatic breathing – that is, purposeful, slow, belly-deep breathing – has a wonderfully calming and balancing action on the nervous system. It also allows you to feel calmer, focused, centred and less anxious when your nerves are becoming frayed.

Most people take about 10-14 breaths a minute when at rest. To activate the relaxation circuitry of our brain – the parasympathetic nervous system – we need to reduce our breathing to 5-7 breaths per minute.

You can practice this technique anywhere, anytime.  Simply, find a quiet place to focus on your breathing.  Empty your lungs of air, and slowly through your nose, inhale deep into your abdomen to raise your diaphragm for a slow count of 4 seconds.  The shoulders stay down, and just the lungs and ribs expand. Hold for a count of 7 seconds, then more slowly than the inhalation, exhale for a count of 8 seconds.  Pause for several seconds before slowly repeating.

This breathing pattern helps to quell feelings of tension and anxiety by stimulating your vagus nerve.  The slow expansion of your lungs signals your heart to beat more slowly, which sends feelings of calm throughout the entire nervous system.  The vagus nerve connects the brain with most major organs and regulates many of our bodily processes. With this technique, we can signal our vagus nerve to release acetylcholine, a calming chemical to give us an instant shot of relaxation at any time.

And what should we be doing after, to calm ourselves?

We need to nourish!  Providing the body systems, involved in the stress response, with the right nutrients is really important both as a preventative and as a response to a stressful event or period.

Our nervous system and our adrenal glands are the two key players here.  Our nervous system senses and responds to anything we perceive as a ‘threat’ or a challenge.  In lightning speed, it activates areas of the brain and the adrenal glands (our stress glands) to respond.  And they do by producing chemical messengers – hormones and neurotransmitters – that affect not only our moods & feelings but many other processes in the body too.

Stress is fine in small manageable doses. When these areas of our body are activated and then ‘turned off’, we’re OK.  But prolonged stress can really play havoc with our wellbeing, so that we feel always ‘on alert’, and turning off our ability to feel calm and relaxed.

This is where daily magnesium supplementation is so important. It really could be called “Nature’s chill pill”! Magnesium is one of those critical nutrients that is used in hundreds of different ways in the body.  When we’re stressed, it helps to calm an over-stimulated nervous system.

Stress can increase the amount of magnesium we lose from our body too which compounds the problem of not getting enough through our diets. In our stress-filled world, this explains why so many people are actually quite magnesium deficient.

B vitamins get used up quickly by the body when we’re under pressure too. They are vital for optimal mental energy to stay focused and on target as well as for healthy emotional balance.

Finally, do you have any last words of self-care wisdom for us this month, or know anywhere we can find some?

A few tips to help us all through the frazzling festive season:

Slow down

Get where you’re going in one piece. This applies equally to our holiday road toll, as well as our sense of sanity through the crazy busyness. Prioritise the important ‘must-dos’ over the perhaps more appealing ‘nice-to-dos’ or delegate some of the jobs from your to-do list to others to even the load.

Take time out for you

This is the season for fun and frivolity, of relaxation and good times. It makes no sense working ourselves into a frenzy so that we’re too wired to actually chill out! Taking time for ourselves is important to keep our energy reserves high. It could be as simple as 5 minutes behind a closed-door concentrating on our breathing.

Manage expectations…

…including our own! Perfection is an unrealistic, unattainable goal. Aiming for the ‘perfect Christmas’ is a recipe for disaster. This includes biting off more than we can chew in terms of Christmas Day preparation or going overboard on indulgent gifts. Accepting the imperfection inherent in being human allows you to truly experience the beauty of life.

Keep up your health regime

Christmas is naturally a time of indulgence, but going wildly off-piste with our diet and exercise program will only make the New Year return-to-normality grind that much harder. Regular exercise decreases tension and boosts mood – a natural stress reliever.

And for those more tech-focused, there are heaps of great apps that can help us keep our mental wellbeing on an even keel.

Four of the most popular include:

  • Breath2Relax – a useful app to help teach diaphragmatic breathing, plus a breakdown on how stress affects the body.
  • GPS for the Soul – turns your phone into a biofeedback tool to measure your stress levels and teach you how to return to a place of calm.
  • The Mindfulness App – learn the art of meditation, you can choose a meditation duration to suit your timetable with something for everyone, from beginners to those more advanced.
  • Calm – a complete oasis of calm, featuring guided meditations, breathing exercises and sleep stories and sounds all in one ultimate stress-busting app.

Thanks to Kelly for answering our questions! If you have a question about stress, sleep or self-care, ask us by replying to this email, and we could answer it next time!

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about the Nutra-Life Magnesium range, you can explore online.