Most of us feel as if we are stretched to our limit with our daily activities. Add to that list the hustle and bustle of the holidays and it is easy to become overwhelmed and stressed. While stress during the holidays might be a common occurrence, we can react in ways that can actually help us be healthier and more productive.
Many of us eat to relieve stress. There is actually a physical reason for that. As stress rises in our body, so does the stress hormone cortisol, which causes an increase in our desire for carbohydrates and fat. The carbohydrates and fat we reach for are the ones in high-calorie rich foods such as ice cream and some of our favorite baked holiday treats. These foods can actually produce a feeling of calmness, but keep in mind the feeling is only temporary.
Another thing we might reach for in times of stress is caffeine. Like sugar and fat, caffeine also provides something we desire — a jolt of energy. Too much caffeine can prevent you from getting good rest. Without proper rest, it's hard to accomplish all you need and the stress cycle continues.
Healthful eating can actually help your body withstand stress. Stress weakens the body's immune system and a healthful diet can help combat stress-related illness. Magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin C are needed more in times of stress. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables can provide these needed nutrients. It is also easier to maintain a healthful weight when these foods are eaten instead of some of the high-fat, high-sugar foods.
You will feel better and be more productive if you listen to your body's cues for hunger: Slight stomach discomfort, growling and feelings of fatigue. Some people find it helpful to eat small, frequent meals to keep their energy level up. Keep foods such as cheese, peanut butter, whole-wheat crackers, whole or dried fruit, nuts, yogurt or carrots handy as quick, healthful snacks. Foods with protein can help you to feel full longer and help curb the carbohydrate cravings.
Exercise can help boost your energy level and that can help you be more productive during the holidays. Exercise helps your body to relax and release emotional tension, which can help you fall asleep faster and promote better quality sleep.
In addition, people who exercise describe feelings of psychological well-being. Establish these healthful habits this holiday season and maintain them throughout the next year — it'll be a great gift to give yourself.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.