The holidays. Does the very thought fill you with exhaustion, or perhaps even some dread?
With its annual stressors and grand expectations, the holiday season can prove difficult for anyone, but particularly for individuals navigating anxiety and depression.
At the root of so much of our seasonal stress is the fact that we live in a comparative society. The pressure to outperform others or keep up with a picture-perfect ideal of holiday fun can translate into a dip in mood and an increase in anxiety.
In particular, social media creates a competitive space where “success,” “community” and “love” are measured in comments and likes. Not only is this forum an artificial representation of life as we know it, but it has been linked to depressive symptoms and an increase in anxiety disorders (McLean Hospital, 2021). It’s no surprise, then, that the stressors of the holiday season may impact our cognition, mood, and overall physical health.
A study conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of those with a diagnosed mental illness report that the holiday season makes their conditions worse (“Mental Health and…”, 2014). The same study cites “high expectations, loneliness and stress” as the primary triggers for these mood imbalances; feelings that are common and certainly compounded around the holidays.
To help you better navigate the holiday season and the year to come, we have prepared a toolkit for reducing holiday stress and balancing your mood. From food, mantras and cold therapy to smart supplementation, here are our tips for a healthier, happier 2022.
Eat Better, Feel Better
Food can be an excellent tool for rebalancing the mood. By strengthening the gut, balancing blood sugar and supporting happy hormone and neurotransmitter production, eating the right foods for your body can provide a solid foundation for a better stress response and improved mood.
So which foods combat depression? That depends on who you are and how you are. Many articles on the topic suggest foods rich in triglycerides or “healthy fats” that feed the brain. These often include avocado, nuts and salmon. These foods may be excellent additions to your diet if you are an effective metabolizer of fats. However, if you are fat malabsorbed, meaning that your body struggles to assimilate dietary fats, these ‘depression-fighting’ foods may actually contribute to further hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances.
In cases of anxiety and depression, it is vital to remember that our hormones are fat-soluble, and only fat-soluble molecules can diffuse into the brain. The body’s process for effectively breaking down fats relies on adequate levels of stomach acid, and enzymes synthesized in the pancreas and gallbladder. The liver also plays a crucial role in fat metabolism, producing bile that disassembles fat molecules, helping the body to produce energy.
If any of these processes are impaired, a ketogenic or high-fat diet may prove to be detrimental to the body as it struggles to metabolize an influx of difficult-to-digest fats. The result may be an inability to produce or break down hormones and neurotransmitters, the worsening of leaky gut syndrome, or a clogged liver.
In this case, it is important to shift the focus from triglyceride-heavy foods to foods that can support fat metabolism and, crucially, liver function. Lower-fat foods that soothe the nervous system include chocolate, which is rich in magnesium and may boost serotonin; holy basil tea, ; eggplant, which contains a natural compound called scopoletin, shown to regulate serotonin levels; and wild yams or sweet potatoes, indicated to support progesterone levels. When we are depressed, we often deplete our body’s natural supply of progesterone in order to make cortisol, a stress hormone that keeps us awake and moving. This is known as the “progesterone steal”, with lower levels of progesterone correlated with higher instances of depression (Shors & Leuner, 2003).
Encouraging healthy liver function is another vital step towards supporting a balanced mood. Foods rich in Vitamin C such as citrus, tomatoes and berries can act as natural liver detoxifiers, while their acid content helps the body to break down fats. Juicing is another excellent option for supporting the liver. In particular, juices that contain cilantro may stimulate digestive enzymes and help the body pull heavy metals, reducing the liver’s toxic burden (Pandey et al., 2011).
And we can’t forget salt! Often overlooked, salt is a mineral essential to the regulation of blood pressure, blood sugar and has been linked in animal models to a reduction in depression. We also know that salt can become depleted when we are in a state of stress. Cooking your meals with sea salt can help maintain healthy sodium levels, and may provide a natural lift for the mood.
Being unfit and overweight has been linked to a decrease in immune function, and an increase in oxidative stress, while exercise and healthy eating have been shown to support a healthy immune response and a balanced mood.
For individuals struggling with anxiety or depression, routine can do wonders for breaking through the mental or physical blockages that keep us down. Make a practice of walking every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes. By adhering to a new routine, the brain is encouraged to depart from the familiar and forge new ways of thinking - this could be a great tactic if you find yourself feeling stuck or bogged down by negative or repetitive thought patterns.
And while you’re deciding on your new routine, consider maximizing your time outdoors. Studies have demonstrated that outdoor physical activity may lower blood pressure and heart rate, and outdoor exercise has been proven to reduce stress by releasing mood-boosting endorphins. Specifically, fresh air is indicated to help improve quality of sleep and may even reduce insomnia, while exposure to sunlight can increase levels of Vitamin D, supporting bone strength, hormone regulation and lifting the mood.
Breathing deep while exercising can help oxygenate the brain and body, leading to a sense of clarity and calm. Anxiety and panic attacks are often accompanied by shallow breathing, and when the body is not getting enough oxygen, our thinking can become distorted. Try beginning your workout with a stretching and deep-breathing sequence and repeat when you are done exercising to ensure your body is receiving adequate levels of oxygen.
Finding whatever movement best serves your body, whether it is yoga, cardio, weights or a simple walk in the morning, could be key to supporting the emotional and physical processes that keep you happy and whole.
Stop, Drop & Roll
Exercise isn’t our only tool for navigating periods of emotional and mental rigor, and movement is not limited to the body alone. The power of thought has the ability to bring about seismic change in our emotional wellbeing by breaking through limiting patterns of belief.
The fact is, it’s easy to be pulled into a pattern of negativity that seems to repeat itself on end. This is destructive not only for our emotional wellbeing, but also for our biological function. Studies indicate that when we exist in a state of chronic stress, our nervous system, memory and even our brain structure may be impacted (Sahebkar, 2017).
It is vital that we remember that we don’t have to suffer in order to improve ourselves or our situation. Instead, we can achieve growth sustainably and healthily by choosing to. First and foremost, real change requires that we adapt our thinking so that it matches the outcome we are seeking.
In times of particular rigor or crisis, give our technique called “stop, drop and roll” a try:
1.) Stop and take a breath.
2.) ‘Drop’ the negative thought pattern or energy by moving it through the body. Shake your hands, do a dance, take a power stance, brush the bad energy off.
3.) ‘Roll’ into a different, more positive mind frame by reciting a mantra or remembering a moment of love, laughter or inspiration. Smell an essential oil that you have imprinted with a sensation of positivity or return to a “charging station” in your home to activate the cellular memory of a positive state.
Always remember that you can determine the direction of your thinking. When we engage in positive thoughts, even in the midst of rigorous times, we take a step towards balance and recovery.
Curate A Healthy Environment
Our environment can dictate how we perceive the world around us, and impact our daily cycles, including sleep.
In this season of early sunsets, you may find yourself using artificial light such as TV, computer and phone screens long beyond the natural end of the day. Blue light from these sources can disrupt our sleep cycle and contribute to insomnia, which is often a side-effect of anxiety and depression.
To reduce the effects of blue light interruptions, opt for a pair of blue-light glasses when you’re watching TV or using a computer screen at night. Better yet, supplement your glasses with natural candlelight. Studies have shown that candlelight can increase focus, reduce stress and even help to promote a healthy sleep cycle - benefits that may help balance levels of cortisol, contributing to a healthier stress response.
Another tool in your arsenal is using scents and sounds to soothe the nervous system. Before bed, enjoy a hot bath with magnesium chloride flakes and uplifting essential oils like geranium, rosemary or lavender. Magnesium is known as the “calming mineral”, and acts as a natural mood booster, while essential oils can relax the body, with one clinical study finding empirical evidence that soothing scents can improve a “patient’s emotional and spiritual condition” (Akbari, 2016). Coupled with breathing exercises, such as Box Breathing, these techniques may be effective in soothing the HPA Axis, the control center of our stress response.
Something else to incorporate into your routine? Music.
According to Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital found that bed-ridden heart patients who listened to music for 30 minutes had reduced blood pressure, slower heart rates, and less distress than those who didn't listen to music. Music with a tempo that falls within the range of 60-80 beats per minute (the average range of a healthy heart rate) provides a good rhythmic scaffolding for the body to hold onto as you transition into a period of calm. Try listening to coherent music in the evening like Mozart or Debussy, for a soothing change of pace.
Lastly, experiment with opposite temperatures. Athletes have been known to oscillate between hot-bath and cold-bath treatments to soothe inflammation and support recovery. New evidence suggests that these treatments may be useful in addressing anxiety, too. The Wim Hof Method encourages those with anxiety to take cold showers to lower the heart rate, release endorphins, reduce inflammation, and even boost immune function. Exposure to cold water may even stimulate lymph circulation in the body, supporting that happy-mood liver detoxification.
Supplement with BodyBio Calm
Smart supplementation can help us target the underlying structures that drive anxiety and depression, such as gut dysbiosis, fat metabolism, neurotransmitter function, insomnia and the stress response. In particular, optimizing our sleep, liver and adrenal health can exert significant influence over our daily quality of life and, subsequently, our mood.
BodyBio Calm is specially formulated to balance the body’s stress response and facilitate the restoration of affected systems. Its informed combination of manganese, taurine, rhodiola, glycine and phosphatidylserine helps to regulate the production, distribution and metabolism of key hormones and neurotransmitters while supporting gut and systemic integrity for holistic renewal and everyday calm.
By balancing the stress response, Calm helps to stabilize brain chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine without causing drowsiness or fatigue. This is due in large part to Calm’s adaptogenic properties.
One of our key ingredients, rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that helps to manage stress and mental fatigue, and may help to support the rebalancing of depressive symptoms (Ishaque et al., 2012). As an adrenal adaptogen, rhodiola has the potential to modulate the release of stress hormones and reduce inflammatory markers in the body (Anghelescu et al., 2018; Haidari et al., 2019). Rhodiola may also modulate serotonin, and contribute to a more balanced mood (Mannucci et al., 2012).
Another key player, taurine, is an amino acid and a significant constituent for both the production and processing of bile salts. Because of its emulsifying effects, taurine may inhibit biofilm formation on mucosal membranes of the body, as well as promoting healthy fat metabolism, which helps to support the inhibition of biofilm formation (Eom et al., 2017). In mouse models, taurine has also been shown to shunt the HPA axis, potentially lowering epinephrine and therefore modulating stress response (Lv Q et al., 2015). By contributing to improved fat metabolism, taurine may address some of the underlying causes of neurotransmitter and hormone imbalances
Calm’s unique blend manages the stress response so that you can enjoy a general feeling of calm and focus in any situation, any time of year. This holiday season, find your Calm and invest in a more balanced 2022.
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