3 Steps to a Stress-Free and Food-Friendly Christmas

Photo: Jamie McCaffre
Photo: Jamie McCaffre

Does the mere thought of Christmas make your body so tense that you are wearing your shoulders blades as earrings? The To-Do List at this time of year is endless:

Christmas Shopping
Food – what to cook, what to buy, what to prepare
Decorations
Eating too much
Wrapping presents
Entertaining children, family and friends
Travelling
Eating too much again
Attending all those Christmas parties

And the list goes on and on. The stress the body creates in response to all of this – and how it affects your health and your weight – brings me to the topic of today’s blog. I hope through this post you will connect to the stressors and relax into them, which will improve your health and keep your weight where you want it to be. The result? A happier Christmas for you and those around you. Let me explain.

The Stress Response
Stress is a part of everyday life for the majority of us, whether it be through chasing targets and goals in high pressured jobs, chasing children, keeping up with fast-paced technology, driving fast cars to get to the next destination as quickly as possible, eating fast-food on the go or putting your body through high intensity cardio. We are physically pushing our bodies into a constant state of stress, which wreaks havoc on our health in many ways. The body rebels with symptoms such as depleted immunity, digestive issues, weight gain, fatigue, depression, disease, illness and more.

The stress response is linked to the nervous system, which has two primary aspects.

Fight of Flight
When your body is in fight or flight – the sympathetic nervous system that goes into action to prepare us physically to deal with an emergency situation – it moves the energy and blood flow to the arms and legs so we can physically flee an urgent situation (meaning all the organs including the digestive system are depleted of energy and stop functioning optimally to give the physical body the resources it needs to survive). The stress response immediately impacts our digestive system and metabolism by shutting it down, resulting in poor assimilation of nutrients, increased cortisol and insulin (which trigger the body to store fat instead of burn calories), depleted human growth hormone and thyroid function.

Take note that the stress response is not only triggered by physical exertion but also the daily mental and emotional strains known as the silent assassins – negative thoughts and beliefs, anxiety, worry and self-criticism.

Rest and Digest
When your body is naturally relaxed the parasympathetic nervous system –when the body and organs are in the natural state of functioning – conserves energy, slows the heart down to a healthy and steady pace, increases digestive functionality and opens the blood vessels. The body breathes calmly and our digestion improves as does our ability to assimilate nutrients from food and burn calories effectively.

The majority of our days should be in rest and digest but realistically many of us don’t even touch on this state of relaxation for days, weeks or months, which eventually can lead to chronic fatigue, exhaustion or adrenal burnout.

So back to the theme of today’s blog: 3 steps to a Stress-Free Christmas.

1. Breathe
One of the simplest yet overlooked functions of the body. We literally cannot survive without it but many of us are not fully breathing, meaning we take short sharp breaths (stress response) instead of mindful, long deep breaths into the whole body (relaxation response).

Even though you may not be able to change stressful situations or activities, you can change the response of your body and how you deal with the stress.

Start your day by mindfully taking 5 to 10 long deep breaths that completely fill every part of your lungs, breathe in so much air that your lungs and stomach expand to their full capacity, feel your stomach open as if you have an umbrella opening from within. Then, slowly release out every single drop of air, pause at the bottom and repeat. Observe how you feel before and after.

You can also practice this exercise before you eat, which brings your body mindfully to the table and prevents over eating. It also increases pleasure and satiety from your meal.

In stressful situations, if you feel yourself reaching boiling point, stop and practice these techniques, following the breath as it goes in and out of the body. Continue until the stress passes and you can think logically again.

2. Slow Down
Imagine your body as a car going 100 km/h, you are in control of the car and you put your foot slowly on the brakes bringing the speed down to 25 km/h.

Be realistic about what you can physically and mentally do in a day. Try to be prepared and make a daily list of chores in all areas of your work/life assessing the time needed to complete each task always making space for extra time and breaks to avoid the speed up to the stress response!

Use visualisation to see yourself shifting from the stress response into the relaxation response and notice how it feels. Start to become aware of a slower-paced life, do you notice your mood, are you calmer, has your digestion improved or are you loosing weight without changing your diet?

Naomi’s TIP: If you find yourself running at a fast-pace notice your breath and swap from short and sharp to long and deep breathing.

3. Enjoy
When we focus on enjoyment, we activate our pleasure receptors, which has a positive impact on our parasympathetic nervous system. When our body is actively enjoying, for example, food, our digestive health, nutritional healing and overall wellness can improve dramatically.

This Christmas, try to let go of any negative thoughts around food. Many of us label food as “good” or “bad” which triggers a mental stress response. The truth is no food is really that bad for us if we eat small amounts mindfully and allow ourselves to enjoy it without guilt. Remember that through satisfaction, the relaxed body will assimilate food optimally, meaning that it will dispose of anything it doesn’t need quickly and efficiently. The toxic thoughts can be usually more damaging than food sometimes.

Eat slowly, breathe and feel into the pleasure of food, family, celebration and Christmas!

Join my Fun Festive Sweet Christmas Treats workshop on Tuesday, December 13 at 9 am at The Monte Carlo Munchkins club for a practical demonstration of three festive recipes, a nutritional talk and taste testing of all the recipes (which are emailed at the end of the event).

All are welcome to attend, entrance is €35. Please email workshop@naomis.kitchen to secure your place: booking essential as places fill up quickly.

Article first published November 30, 2016.

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