The holiday season is a time of gathering, celebrating, and eating delicious food. That’s the plus side. On the downside, it’s also a time of hectic schedules, unhealthy eating, and overeating (cue the weight gain), digestive troubles, and generally feeling stressed out. The good news is, you don’t have to let the holidays wreak havoc on your health. A little self-care goes a long way—and doesn’t have to involve fancy spa getaways or expensive massages. Gifting yourself with nourishing meals, planned downtime, and supportive supplements can turn holiday stress into holiday bliss.
1. Give Yourself (and Your Adrenals) A “Time Out” From Stress
Nourish your adrenals with supportive supplements. Adaptogens such as ashwagandha, holy basil, and rhodiola help the body adapt to stress and support the adrenals. Magnesium plays a key role in regulating the body’s stress response and can suppress the release of stress hormones; it may also prevent the stress hormone cortisol from entering and causing damage to the brain. Vitamin C is required for normal adrenal function and our bodies need more of this essential nutrient when we are stressed out. Supplementing with a high potency B-complex is important during the holidays because the B vitamins are necessary for the production of neurotransmitters that help us feel happy and relaxed. Additionally, stress quickly depletes B vitamin levels so it’s important to top them up daily. If you’re experiencing major mental stress, try phosphatidylserine (PS), a phospholipid that protects brain cells from the negative effects of stress and can lower cortisol levels.
Feed your adrenal glands stressbusting foods. Some of the best stressbusting foods include ones high in B vitamins like grass-fed beef and cage-free eggs; calcium- and magnesium-rich leafy green vegetables and cultured dairy products; and healthy omega-3 fatty acids like those found in salmon (make sure it is wild-caught) and sardines. While you ﬁ ll up on nutrient-dense foods, avoid sugar, processed foods, carb-heavy foods, and minimize caffeine (keep your intake to a minimum and aim to indulge before noon).
Have a meal plan for the week. A meal plan helps to minimize desperately (and often unhealthy) last-minute food decisions. Naturalgrocers.com/recipes is a great place to ﬁnd simple, healthy, and well-balanced recipes. Stock the fridge with healthy offerings for meals and snacks to make life easier, and give yourself time to sit down and actually enjoy the act of eating, rather than rushing through a meal without even noticing what you’re putting in your mouth.
There will be plenty of time-intensive meal prep for big holiday meals and celebrations— take the stress out of meal planning and keep your other meals simple!
Keep blood sugar balanced to support adrenal function. This may seem like a challenge during the holidays when healthy eating habits can be upended but including healthy fats and protein and antioxidant-rich vegetables in each meal is key.
Carve out some “me time” to support physical and mental wellbeing. During the holidays, we tend to focus on everyone else, while we move our own needs to the back burner, but this only serves to drain our stores and make us more susceptible to the ill effects of stress. It looks different for everyone—maybe it’s a cat nap, a hot bath, a yoga class, a trip to the gym, sitting quietly with a cup of hot tea, or turning down an invitation when you just don’t want to go— but these “time outs” are crucial for your physical and mental wellbeing.
2. Make Sleep Non-Negotiable
Use essential oils to help relax and drift off to sleep. If excitement and/or stress have you feeling like you just can’t sleep, try diffusing relaxing essential oils like lavender, chamomile, jasmine, and/or vanilla in your bedroom or soak in an essential oil-laced Epsom salt bath just before bedtime.
Support healthy sleep with supplements like melatonin, magnesium, and valerian. Melatonin helps normalize a disrupted circadian rhythm and improves quality of sleep (it can also help relieve stress and anxiousness). Magnesium can calm your mind, making it easier to fall asleep, and increase your sleep time. Valerian root is a sedative herb that helps improve sleep quality by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter, in your brain.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Practices such as limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake, especially just before bedtime, removing technology from your bedroom and limiting screen time before bed, and keeping your bedroom cool and dark promote healthy sleep. As part of a nightly unwinding ritual, try sipping on relaxing herbal tea, such as chamomile or tulsi.
3. Treat Yourself… With The Right Foods
Indulge with healthier sweeteners and grain-free ﬂ ours. It’s not about denying yourself during the holidays, but rather about ﬁnding a healthy balance. When making desserts, opt for natural sweeteners that have some health beneﬁ ts such as dates, raw honey, or maple syrup instead of reﬁ ned white sugar, and experiment with grain-free ﬂ our options (naturalgrocers.com/recipes is a great place to begin your search for healthy dessert ideas). Have some fun with it and plan a healthy cookie exchange with a small group of friends or coworkers. If you’re hosting a get-together, skip the processed chips and dips and ﬁ ll your appetizer spread with healthier yet satisfying options like olives, fermented veggies, fresh veggies with a healthy homemade dip, and raw cheeses. Fill up before the party. If you know you’ll be at a gathering with unhealthy food options, ﬁ ll up with a healthy meal or snack before you go so you won’t be tempted to graze. And if you do treat yourself to a slice of pie or a cookie, eat it mindfully, savoring every bite, and don’t stress out over it!
4. Show Your Digestive System Some Love
Drink bone broth to boost gut health and improve digestive issues. One of bone broth’s top beneﬁcial components is gelatin and, according to a report published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, gelatin effectively supports intestinal health and integrity. You can make bone broth at home or you can purchase a high-quality pre-made bone broth or a powdered bone broth supplement. Bonus: Sitting quietly with a cup of warm bone broth is a great way to take a mental “time out” while also nourishing your adrenals.
Eat probiotic-rich foods daily to prevent and tackle digestive woes. Probiotics are the beneﬁcial bacteria our bodies require for optimal digestion and overall health. Foods rich in probiotics include raw dairy products, miso, kombucha, keﬁ r, and fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi.
Create a digestion ﬁrst aid kit. This can come in handy when you do overindulge, or just eat the wrong thing, and are struggling with common holiday-time digestive issues like acid reﬂux, indigestion, or bloating. Stock your kit with digestive enzymes, papaya, and bromelain to support healthy digestion and avoid bloating and gas; deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) for unexpected bouts of acid reﬂux and indigestion; peppermint capsules to ease gas; and digestive bitters to gently stimulate your body’s own production of digestive enzymes so your body can effectively break down food and properly absorb nutrients.