The Holidays are supposed to be a happy, festive time for celebrating with family and friends. Socializing over tasty, comfort foods, Holiday parties, Christmas lights, parades, decorating the Christmas tree, baking (and more eating!), shopping for gifts (or online shopping from your computer or phone for many of us), ice skating and skiing, Christmas movies, Netflix binging and so much more. Contrary to what many people are experiencing this season, for some, this can be a very stressful and/or sad time. Rather than evoking joy, they may be inclined to feeling emotional distress. The reasons are infinite but may include:
The death of a spouse, partner, family member or other loved one
Divorce or Separation
Job loss or unwelcomed change in employment
Kids and family members have moved away
Estrangement with family and/or Friends
Loneliness and Social Isolation
Chronic illnesses – both physical and mental illness
Feeling overwhelmed and pressured to over shop and overspend
Eating more food, gaining weight (when trying to lose weight)
Infertility when you are trying to build a family
Unfulfilled dreams and goals
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.): temporary depressed mood related to shorter, darker or gray days with diminished sunlight
And many others
Humanity! Embrace it. Literally. People, not things, should always come first. As much as you are able, reach out and connect with others who are caring, loving, supportive. Spend time with people that feed your heart and soul. Material items will come and go. That heart to heart conversation with you best friend or your other favorite human in your life, that truly is physically healthy for the nervous system, the heart, the brain – the entire body benefits. And with physical touch like hugging, holding hands, kissing and much more, there’s this beautiful love/snuggle hormone called oxytocin that is secreted and that has many health promoting advantages for the body. As always, people are nature’s #1 anti-depressant!
Hug Your Pet/Get a Pet
Our beloved fur babies adore us and willingly shower us with unconditional love. Okay, maybe not all pets, but most do. 😊 The love we give and receive from our pets can ease our worries in a matter of seconds. Animals intuitively sense when we are not feeling well and they try their best to comfort us. That same oxytocin hormone – produced in abundance when we snuggle with our furry littles. Don’t have a pet? Foster a pet temporarily, volunteer to pet sit for your friends and family or even better, give that special animal a loving home and a loving heart.
Do What Makes You Happy
If you are feeling down or stressed, do what makes your heart sing! Go with what you know or try something different. Go to a Holiday play or show or arts and crafts event, make your own gift for someone (people love this!) go ice skating, a concert, binge watch Christmas movies or football, knit a blanket or scarf, a holiday church or other spiritual services, go golfing (or Top Golf!), read/listen to a really good and sip on a cup of tea or coffee, cook your favorite meal and invite friends over, take a cooking class, bake your heart out and give away those goodies to others. Doing what makes you happy and brings a smile to your face lifts your mood, spirit, energy and not only improves your relationships with others, it improves your relationship with yourself.
Don’t skip out on your workouts completely just because its colder, darker, you’re feeling tired or busy – there’s always going to be excuses. Not in the mood to face the inclement or changing weather? That’s okay! Work out indoors. Go to a yoga or other gym class, stream a workout from an app on your phone or TV (this is a whole new world if you haven’t figured this out yet) or try a workout on YouTube.com. There are a lot of fitness trainers that want to market themselves and for that reason, there’s a plethora of free workouts on YouTube. With countless health benefits of exercise, serotonin (a feel-good neurotransmitter) and endorphins (peptide pain relieving hormones) thyroid (fat burning/heat producing hormone), cortisol (better energy/mood/anti-inflammatory hormone) are all secreted in abundance when we exercise to enhance our mental and physical health.
The Sugar Blues
‘Tis the season for sugar and lots of it! Not just sugar laden baked goods and chocolates but also includes those syrupy coffee drinks and juicy (sugar) cocktails, wine, craft beers and on and on. Chronic sugar (and other refined carbohydrates) overload is a well-known contributor to weight gain, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and diabetes, hypoglycemia (blood sugar swings), headaches, low energy, but also to depression and other mental illnesses. I have heard countless patients over the years tell me that when they did a sugar (and grains too!) elimination diet for a period of weeks to months, not only did their blood glucose, inflammation and weight drop, their energy and mood and outlook on life substantially boosted. Sugar is highly addictive! Clear it out of your diet for 30 days and you will be amazed at how that addiction resolves and how much better you feel.
Your Greatest Gift is Your Time
There are many people in this world who are far less fortunate us. And this time of year may trigger feelings of sadness and hopelessness rather than joy. Whether it’s the homelessness, the elderly that are feeling isolated, those struggling with life threatening illnesses, or those that have lost their loved ones and feeling lost themselves – your precious time is incredibly valuable and so appreciated by others who need that sense of connection, belonging and community. Volunteering your time in your local community to serve those in need might just mean the world to someone and truly brighten their life. The benefits to you? More than you could imagine! Giving to others gives you a sense of purpose, teaches you new skills, boosts confidence, decreases depression, uplifts mood, reduces stress, keeps you mentally and sometimes physically active, creates new friendships and elevates your self-esteem. This past year, I became a CASA volunteer for Placer County, spending time with a 9-year old little girl. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, a trained and county court assigned position that connects you with an at-risk youth to provide mentorship, guidance and simply listening and observing time and attention towards that child. Many of these children have been neglected, emotionally and/or physically abused, victims ofparental drug and alcohol abuse, severe poverty or their parents have unfortunately relinquished parental care and rights. Because of those unfortunate circumstances, these children suffer emotionally, physically, socially, academically and financially. Though challenging and heartbreaking at times for the volunteer to witness, the psychological rewards you receive in return for your time and attention is beyond words. Volunteering provides an immeasurable difference in the lives of others and to your own life as well.
Don’t Forget Self Care
With the hustle and bustle of this overpacked season, don’t forget to treat yourself with kindness. Get a manicure or pedicure, a much needed massage (lots of great deals on Groupon and Living Social this time of year!), a facial, buy a little something for yourself, keep your workouts (exercise is an excellent form of self-care even though it might seem like work), go to be earlier and get that nourishing and healthy sleep that we all need to recover and repair our bodies and brain. Also, be sure to take time to nurture those relationships with others that are important in your lives. Yes, relationships are part of self-care as it makes you and others happier. And that positive energy has a beautiful ripple effect across the world. Pay it forward with kindness and generosity.
A Grateful Heart is a Happy Heart
Gratitude has the power to change your health, your mood, your life. I recently started a nightly gratitude practice of verbally stating what I was grateful for that occurred that entire day. Even if it was a mistake I’d made, it was a powerful teaching lesson for me. I’ve noticed that it has improved my sleep and has helped me to feel happier the next day. Everyone has their own perception of gratitude. It might be feeling grateful for the feeling of community and love from your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. It might be your favorite meal that you love to prepare and eat each day. It might simply (and very importantly) be the money coming in each week and month that gives you the life you need and want. It could be your amazing, relentless and highly intelligent self- healing body that is doing its best to protect you from outside pathogens and diseases. Health benefits of regularly practicing gratitude include greater psychological and emotional health, better sleep, mood and digestion, empathy, optimism, resilience and healthier relationships. It’s simple, easy and free. 😊
Hormones, Neurotransmitters, Food Allergies Oh My!
Sometimes our mood and our bodies just don’t feel well and it’s not related to our life circumstances. We could be feeling very happy, grateful, blessed, secure. “Life is good, yet I’m feeling down and I don’t know why,” you might say. Feeling anxious, depressed, out of balance could be related to physical changes in your body. If you are 40 and beyond, it could be your declining hormones – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, cortisol. It could be that your neurotransmitters are imbalanced –serotonin, epinephrine, dopamine – all of which can affect your mood, alertness and focus. As I mentioned earlier, blood sugar levels that are rising or fluctuating too drastically can affect your physical and mental health. And then there’s food intolerances or sensitivities that can wreak havoc on our bodies and brains and make us feel inflamed, bloated, tired, swollen, achy, congested and gain weight more easily. Schedule an appointment with me to get all of that tested, evaluated, treated and get you back on the right track to feeling better!
Wishing Everyone a Happy Holiday Season!