The lead-up to Christmas is traditionally a very stressful time of year. There’s always so much to do and often many people to please.
What you eat and how you plan your time can really help support your health and minimise stress, so you can fully enjoy the festive season.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three top tips for a stress-free Christmas.
Load up on magnesium
Nature has supplied us with everything we need in terms of nutrients. The good news is that the mineral, magnesium, is especially calming. Whilst magnesium is important for energy production, it’s also needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body. This includes playing a role in the production of the brain’s neurotransmitters, especially calming GABA which decreases activity in your nervous system. Magnesium also helps manage the body’s normal stress response as well as aiding muscle relaxation. No wonder it’s known as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’!
Foods high in magnesium are going to become your best friends over the next few weeks. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale, wholegrains such as oats, almonds, dairy foods, beans, and meat should all be on the menu. It may also be worth taking a magnesium supplement. If you take it about an hour before bedtime, it can help you to sleep peacefully too.
Try some calming herbs
Just as nature has delivered us calming nutrients, it’s also delivered calming herbs. And there are many ways you can use them in meal preparation.
Clearly, time is a precious commodity right now, so spending hours in the kitchen is not on the menu. However, basil is a tonic for the nervous system: it’s calming and can also help digestion. Why not use it in an easy chicken pasta dish, using whole wheat pasta (which contains more magnesium and B-vitamins) or with mozzarella cheese and buffalo tomatoes drizzled with a little olive oil? Two easy supper suggestions.
Camomile is a popular calming tea which is especially good before bedtime, as is mint tea which is soothing for the digestive system. Additionally, rosemary adds a wonderful taste and aroma to many different dishes. Think roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, lamb, chicken, soups, or simply rubbed over chunky bread with a little olive oil.
Some herbs can act as both an energy stimulant as well as encouraging calm and relaxation. They are known as adaptogenic herbs; ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng will all have this effect. They are best taken in the morning in supplement form to help with energy levels, but because they manage the stress response, they body will also feel calm and better able to sleep.
Make time for relaxation
Unfortunately, we often push ourselves very hard at this time of year. This can suppress immune function making us susceptible to all the nasty colds and bugs flying around, not to mention leaving us feeling low and tired.
The good news is there are many relaxation apps you can download and listening to them won’t eat too much time out of your day. Meditation can take a little practice, but an app can really help guide you along the way.
The benefits of relaxation are far-reaching not just at this time of year but for long term health and longevity. Try and allocate around 20 minutes a day. Just listening to a relaxation app and being still for a short time will refresh your body and mind.
It’s important to give back to the body what it needs. While it’s working hard and functioning day to day, it’s easy to forget that the stress response uses up more nutrients (especially magnesium and the B-vitamins, which are essential for energy). Therefore, it should be properly fuelled with nutrients and lifestyle changes, so it continues to work as it’s best for you.
So, just a few small changes can make a massive difference to how well you cope over the next few weeks and can hopefully help you have a happier Christmas.
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