By Dr. David Friedman
In-laws, shopping, traffic, traveling, wrapping, parties… and a partridge in a pear tree. ‘Tis the season to be stressed! More heart attacks occur during the holidays than any other time of the year. In addition to the negative effects stress has on the heart, it’s now considered the leading contributing factor to cancer, strokes, accidents, obesity, depression and suicide. Chronic stress can affect your brain, thyroid, blood sugar, make your bones brittle and elevate your “bad” cholesterol. Eighty percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints (I’m getting stressed just typing this!)
When it comes to combating stress, there’s one thing I live by that has immensely helped me over the years: If you can’t change it, don’t stress about. Living by that rule alone will help eliminate 80% of your stress. Think about that. Whether it’s a traffic jam, weather ruining your plans, car not starting, children getting sick, or a co worker’s bad attitude, you can’t change these things. Why stress about them? Instead, try focusing on the things you can change because that’s the stress you can work to eliminate in your life.
Many of you will be flying during the holidays to spend time with family and friends. Some will encounter flight delays, cancelations, lost luggage, etc. During my travels, I’ve witnessed on many occasions, people shouting at the airport attendant because their flight was canceled. If you encounter a flight delay or cancelation during the holidays, it’s important to realize, there are only two reasons why your flight isn’t leaving as schedule:
- Something is mechanically wrong with the airplane. If that’s the case, aren’t you much safer inside the airport terminal? Try passing the time by reading a book, magazine, Facebook posts or some of my previous blog articles.
- The weather is bad. Weather can have a major affect on an airplanes ability to land, travel or take off safely. Why get upset? Would you rather have the pilot putting you and the passengers’ lives at risk?
Then there’s that dreaded holiday traffic. Instead of slamming your fists against the steering wheel and clenching your teeth, why not use that time to call a friend, listen to some music or a life-changing podcast of To Your Good Health Radio show (ToYourGoodHealthRadio.com) Getting upset won’t make the other cars on the road go any faster. Why jeopardize your health by letting it bother you? If daily stress gets too much for you, there are many things you can turn to that will help including yoga, meditation, acupuncture or Chiropractic.
Diet also plays a role in how the body deals with stress. The word “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts” and during tough times, many people turn to their two best friends for help, Ben & Jerry. That brings on a sugar spike, which wreaks havoc on your cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone.) Certain foods can help stabilize your blood sugar and your emotional response to stressful situations. Here are six healthy choices to reach for when you are feeling stressed:
A very popular dish during the holidays, turkey contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which is to blame for that food coma on Thanksgiving. Turkey aids in the production of serotonin, which is responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being. In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience, men and women who were argumentative (based on personality tests) were relaxed and more agreeable by the end of just two weeks with a diet high in turkey, compared to when they didn’t eat it.
When you have constant negative thoughts in your head, doing something repetitive with your hands can help silence that inner monologue. Unshelling pistachios can help and so does eating them. A Pennsylvania State University study published in the American Heart Association Journal, reveals that including pistachios in a healthy diet may positively reduce the body’s response to the stresses of everyday life. They also help lower blood pressure.
A recent study published by the American Physiological Association found that blueberries worked better than popular anti depressant drugs including Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. Blueberries have powerful antioxidant properties that slow the destruction of serotonin which leads to a stress free, calming effect inside the brain.
Wild Caught Salmon
Researchers at Ohio State University discovered that having 12 to 15 ounces of salmon can reduce stress and anxiety by more than 20%. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon also have heart healthy, anti-inflammatory properties that counteract the negative effects of cortisol.
This fruit (yes, Avocados are a fruit) contains B vitamins, needed for healthy nerves and brain cells. They are high in monounsaturated fat and potassium, which lowers blood pressure. One of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is to eat foods high in potassium—and just half an avocado offers 500 milligrams, more than you’ll get from an entire banana. Avocados are naturally rich in glutathione, which can block stress in the brain. Avocados also help put you in a good mood because they increase serotonin.
A regular healthy indulgence (just a bite, not a whole bar!) of dark chocolate can have the power to regulate your stress levels and lower cortisol levels. Also, the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure, and improving circulation and increasing good cholesterol. Reach for chocolate that contains at least 80% cocoa.
The last one on my list is a nice warm cup of Green Tea. While it does contain caffeine, green tea also has an amino acid called theanine. This has been referred to as the bullet proof vest for stress. It literally calms the body down and diminishes anxiety. Researchers at the University of Illinois did an interesting study last year showing Green Tea’s ability to enhance mental performance. Drink two cups each day and watch the stress go away.
The key to fighting stress is to not let it control you. Instead, turn the tables on your stress—be proactive. By using the above tips, you can create a healthier, more relaxed you. The best advice for anyone feeling stress during the holiday season is to remember what the holidays are truly about, and reflect on being with family and friends and appreciating what you do have.