Chill Out Already
’Tis the season to be stressed-out
by Wendy C. Smith
Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and goodwill toward all men (women, children and pets included). But when Christmas rolls around, the stress meter goes wild.
It starts the week of Thanksgiving, when the to-do list begins to stretch longer and longer. There’s the task of planning the perfect meal, deciding who gets to sit next to crazy Aunt Sally, or perhaps driving several hours to catch a plane. Then, after Thanksgiving, there is the gift giving and card buying, the parties to attend, the catching up with out-of-town friends.
What seems in September a far-off season of joy is suddenly an anxiety-filled headache. How many of us have interrupted our rendition of “Joy To The World” to curse the driver in front of us for not using those final seconds of yellow to rush through the intersection?
Stress and its associated companions—sleeplessness, depression, weight gain or loss and anxiety—cause a lot of chemical changes in the body. One of the most important is that the level of cortisol (a steroid and anti-inflammatory produced by the adrenal gland) increases. The body produces cortisol in response to stress, and a high level of it is associated with short-term memory loss. This explains why forgetfulness always seems to increase at the worst time. Additionally, cortisol increases insulin resistance, leading to increased glucose levels and an inability to dispose of excess glucose.
Stress reduces the body’s level of serotonin, a monoamine neurotransmitter synthesized by the central nervous system. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression, irritability and poor sleep. Women generally have lower levels of serotonin than men do, and diets low in C & B vitamins make it difficult for the body to produce serotonin.
Stress also affects the level of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 chemical reactions in humans, and the more stress a body is under, the more magnesium it uses. Unfortunately, the majority of the population already has a magnesium deficiency due to diet. This mineral is very important for brain health and is necessary for the brain to construct the nutrients it needs. Magnesium helps regulate moods and can assist in curbing anxiety and depression. It is also an important part of bone health, and there is some evidence that it helps regulate blood pressure.
The more stress someone is under, the faster certain nutrients are used—and the body is hardly skilled at doling out nutrients in proportion. The brain uses 25 percent of the body’s nutritional requirements, but the body doesn’t feed the brain first. That explains the holiday anxiety and blues that many people feel.
So how should we deal with the increased holiday pressure and stress? The first thing is simple: Don’t forget to breathe. A few very deep and cleansing breaths—eight counts in and eight counts out—can help almost anyone feel more grounded. If we remember to breathe, the increased oxygen in our blood and brain make us feel calmer.
Consider also some supplements. The amino acid PS (phosphatidylserine) has been getting some attention of late. It first got noticed as an aid to help older people improve their memory, but it turn out that PS also lowers the level of cortisol in the body. Omega-3s (fish oil, flaxseed oil) help level moods and keep the mind sharp. The brain can’t utilize Omega-3s without magnesium, so a magnesium supplement might prove useful . “Calm” is a magnesium supplement that mixes up like fizzy lemonade and is easily absorbed by the body.
Another amino acid that aids in relaxation is theamine, a substance found in green tea. Theamine has been determined to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. It also raises the levels of dopamine and serotonin, both of which promote relaxation and increased mental (alpha wave) activity. Drinking green tea is a pleasant way to ingest theamine, but capsules produce that relaxed alertness without the caffeine.
Certain herbs contribute to relaxation and stress reduction, with lavender leading the pack. It is probably one of the better known herbs used for relaxation and as a sleep aid. It can be purchased as oil for use with a diffuser or to put in lotions or baths. Passion flower and chamomile also have relaxing qualities and can be taken as teas or used as oils. My very favorite product along these lines is “Bach’s Rescue Remedy.” The tincture is dropped on the tongue to promote repose, and it aids in reducing fear and anxiety. It can also be put on blisters, first-degree burns and bruises to help the skin heal faster.
The holiday hassle is here for another few weeks. Take it easy on yourself. Eat well, take some Rescue Remedy, and walk the dog. As you leave the house on your next crucial errand, take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Then, with a smile, share a seasonal greeting with everyone you meet.