Post-Holiday Stress Solutions

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Dr. Shawn Talbott: Post-Holiday Stress Solutions

(KUTV) Dr. Shawn Talbott visited Fresh Living with some great Post-Holiday Stress Solutions. (Watch the Video HERE)

As I write this, Halloween 2016 is a fading memory, I’m finally un-full from Thanksgiving feasting, and warm Christmas memories are just starting to get pushed aside by the New Year 2017. Like so many millions of other people, the holiday season means “busy-ness” – and being overly busy means being overly stressed. 

Too many things to do in not enough time. We’re always time-crunched – our sleep suffers, our diet and exercise patterns change (for the worse), our waistlines expand and our moods decline. 

As much as the holiday season truly is the “most wonderful time of the year” for many people, surveys show that it’s also the most high-stress time of the year. This is why “reduce stress” is always among the most popular of the New Year’s resolutions – typically behind only “lose weight” and “get in shape” in popularity. This is encouraging, not only because stress is associated with a higher risk for many diseases, but also because of the many very effective, very easy to follow strategies that can help control stress. Stress, as we all know, can come from a variety of sources – and at this time of year, turkey with the in-laws, hanging Christmas lights, and opening your post-holiday Visa bill are just some of the many sources of our escalating stress levels. 

The link between stress and disease is partly due to the fact that stress generally encourages us to eat more and exercise less – which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing when we’re under stress. It also appears that these higher stress levels also cause a direct change in the body’s metabolic machinery – so appetite increases, fat storage accelerates, brain cells shrink, and immune cells become sluggish. Think about it – this means that holiday stress (and chronic stress in general) is making us hungry, fat, dumb, and sick – no wonder Santa can’t find good help these days. A key culprit in these metabolic changes appears to be the body’s primary stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is one of the hormones involved in the body’s Fight or Flight reaction to stress – so in this way cortisol is a “good” thing. But prolonged exposure to cortisol, such as those that we’ll all experience during this holiday season, are most certainly a “bad thing” because of the growing link between cortisol and health problems. Luckily, we have a lot of options for controlling stress – and guess what? – our grandmothers had it right all along. 

Getting enough sleep, regular exercise, and a balanced diet can all help to control the stress response and keep cortisol levels right where they should be. All of these approaches work – but the key here is BALANCE! By balance, I do NOT mean “deprivation” – but instead, I mean that one eggnog is better than 10 – and a slice of pumpkin pie is nicely balanced by a post-feast walk around the neighborhood. 

Here are my favorite “Super Stress Busters” – my favorite “stress balancing” foods and supplements that can be used to help bust stress and improve sleep quality. 

  • Green tea / Theanine (psychological stress) – a unique amino acid naturally found in green tea leaves. Theanine reduces the beta brain waves associated with tension/anxiety – and increases the alpha brain waves associated with relaxed alertness and calm focus. 
  • Dark Chocolate / New Zealand Pine Bark Extract (physiological stress) – contain OPCs (oligomeric proanthycyanins), that protect the body and brain from inflammatory and oxidative stress – improving both mental performance (of the brain) and physical performance (of the body). 
  • Japanese Asparagus Extract (environmental stress) – a novel amino acid profile stimulates the production of anti-stress compounds called heat-shock proteins (HSPs) that improve the body’s stress resilience at the cellular level. HSPs not only “protect” us from stress-induced cellular damage, but they help to “clean up” and repair residual damage – sort of like an internal cellar “tuneup” that keep cells running smoothly. 
  • Corn Grass Extract / Phytotonin (sleep stress) – a plant-derived phytonutrient (MBOA), a non-drowsy melatonin-like “plant-melatonin” that improves mood during the day and dramatically enhances sleep quality at night. 
  • Milk / casein decapeptide (cellular stress) – the “old wives tale” about drinking a glass of warm milk before bed to help you sleep is TRUE! The anti-stress and relaxation benefits of milk are due to a specific protein chain (decapeptide) that naturally induces a relaxation response in the brain – improving both sleep quality and stress resilience. 
  • Ashwagandha (hormonal stress) – the most revered of all the “adaptogens” in ancient Ayurvedic medicine (5,000 year history). Ashwagandha not only reduces feeling of stress and anxiety, but also helps our body to adapt to future stress by naturally balancing production of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. 
  • Hemp / Cannabinoids (time stress) – “hemp” is the name for cannabis (Cannabis sativa) with no psychoactive compounds (such as THC – tetrahydrocannabinol). There are nearly 400 other cannabinoids in hemp, many of which help naturally balance the endocannabinoid systemm (ECS) in the brain – resulting in lower stress, reduced anxiety, and improved mood. Our body’s naturally produce their own “endocannabinoids” to help us adapt to stress – they’re responsible for the familiar “runner’s high” that we get after a good workout. 
  • Sugar – that’s right – sugar – it’s not exactly “toxic” like you may have read about – but you need to use it wisely. We all know that when we’re stressed out, we crave sweets. This carb-craving is because cortisol (our primary stress hormone) signals the brain to seek out sugar to “fuel” our fight-or-flight stress response. Instead of gorging on junk food to satisfy these sugar cravings, we can use the right amount of properly balanced carbohydrates to reduce cravings, while also improving daytime mood and enhancing nighttime sleep quality. Just the right amount of low-glycemic carbohydrate, about 10-20 grams (40-80 calories), can increase serotonin levels (for good mood during the day) and naturally enhance melatonin production at night (so you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper for improved sleep quality). 

By using your food (and supplements) to address different aspects of our stress response, we can effectively and naturally control existing stress – while also “vaccinating” ourselves against future stress – which increases our overall resilience to the stressful modern world in which we all live – especially during the Holidays! In bringing this balance into our holiday seasons, we’re better able to control stress and less likely to suffer the Bah-Humbugs that so many of us succumb to each year. Look at it this way, if indulging in holiday cheer just a little bit (instead of a lot) can help you control your stress levels, then you’ll be happier and healthier in the New Year. If nothing else, grandma’s gonna be happy just knowing that you took her advice – and that’ll be good for everybody’s stress level. Happy Holidays! 

Shawn M Talbott, PhD, CNS, LDN, FACSM, FAIS, FACN Nutritional Biochemist and Author  801) 915-1170 (mobile) 

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Dr. Shawn Talbott is a nutritional biochemist who studies “psychological vigor” (which is a combination of physical energy, mental acuity, and emotional well-being). He is the author of 13 books, was part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to fight childhood obesity, and was recently named the “World’s Fittest CEO.”

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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