15 self-care strategies to reduce holiday stress

Hand writing text caption inspiration showing Self Care. Business concept for Taking caring for own Health Written on sticky note paper, wooden background with folded pink paper meaning thinkingIt’s National Family Caregivers Month and the perfect time to consider how you can reduce the stress of the holidays by taking better care of yourself.

  1. First, pat yourself on the back. If you are a caregiver you’re doing an incredible service of giving of yourself and your time. Whether your care recipient verbally expresses appreciation or not, know that you are a bright light in that person’s life and in the world.
  2. Before getting out of bed in the morning repeat an affirmation several times to set the tone of the day. Some ideas: “Today is going to be a good day,” “I am a loving, kind person,” “I am grateful for my family and friends.”
  3. It’s especially important to eat well at this time of year when colds and flues are rampant and the stress of the holidays taxes the immune system. Focus on warming foods such as soups and stews, mineral and bone broths, and ginger tea. Citrus fruits are in season and offer vitamin C, important for immune support. The winter squashes offer beta carotene and vitamin A, which are also excellent antioxidants. Please listen to my interview with Mary Collete Rogers on her podcast “The Healthy Kitchen Companion” for ideas about how to include healthy foods into your diet and how to organize your kitchen. Caring for yourself and others with good nutrition.
  4. Make a food plan for the week and bring a shopping list with you so you don’t have to make a repeat run to the grocery store.
  5. Calm yourself with calming foods. Studies show an association between the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and mood. The good news is you can naturally increase your serotonin levels with food such as these: sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa allow your brain to process more serotonin. Eating protein and healthy omega-3 fats, found in fish, walnuts and flax, will also improve mood. B vitamins, which are abundant in fresh leafy greens and in chemical-free, pasture-raised meat, are another important factor because they’re needed for serotonin production. Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, collard greens, are high in folic acid, a B vitamin. Low levels are linked to depression. Bananas contain vitamin B6. They are high in potassium, an important electrolyte for a happy and calm mind.
  6. Reduce stress by supporting your adrenal glands with supportive supplements. The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and produce adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones. If you press on your kidneys and they hurt, there’s a good chance your adrenals are working overtime due to stress. Stress may hit us as a headache, backache, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, respiratory, illness, or the flu.  If we really become overwhelmed, stress may accumulate to the point where our entire immune system is compromised and we end up fighting a serious illness. The good news is that adaptogens and nervines —two categories of herbs—can help your body adapt to stress, creating a state of homeostasis.

Recommended adaptogens:

  • Ashwagandha – is an Ayurvedic herb that has also been called “Indian ginseng.” It raises energy levels, enhances immunity, helps the body cope with stress, and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Cordyceps – is a revered Chinese nourishing tonic used to build strength and stamina, support the immune system, combat fatigue and the effects of aging, and invigorate the elderly and those weakened after serious illness.
  • Gotu kola – is an important brain and nervous system restorative in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also used as a mild diuretic and for insomnia and gastric complaints.
  • Rhodiola – also called golden root, stimulates and protects the immune system by supporting the adrenal hormones. It boosts immunity, improves concentration and stress resistance, and increases physical performance and uplifts mood.  It is also a remedy for sleep difficulties, poor appetite, irritability, hypertension, headaches, and fatigue from intense physical or intellectual strain.

Nervines

According to David Hoffmann, a leading herbalist and spokesperson for a return to herbal medicines, a nervine is a plant remedy that has a beneficial effect upon the nervous system in some way.  Nervines are especially useful during times of stress because they have a strong relaxing and calming effect without producing a dulling, “hang-over” side effect.  They also tone and restore the nervous system to a more balanced state.  Some nervines are also anti-spasmodic, meaning they relax the peripheral nerves and the muscle tissue, which in turn has a relaxing effect on the whole system.

Recommended nervines:

  • Passion flower- is beneficial for anxiety, insomnia, tension headaches, muscle aches and spasms, pain, hyperactivity, epilepsy, and to alleviate anger and help lower blood pressure.
  • Skullcap – is antispasmodic and relaxing and is recommended to relieve headaches, mood swings, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and nervous tension and exhaustion

The next time you’re feeling nervous, agitated, restless or hyped up, calm your nerves with a nervine herb. If you want to rejuvenate your adrenal glands and boost your entire immune system, take an adaptogen.  You’ll have more energy, feel happier and less stressed, and your overall health will improve too!

7. Move! Exercise is vital to staying healthy and strong. The days you feel “stuck” or stiff are the days it’s most important to put on your walking shoes, sunglasses, and a hat, and go for a walk. Chat with/walk with a friend or with your pet dog

8. Take a bath. Hydrotherapy has been used for thousands of years as a healing modality throughout the world to relieve stress, release aches and stiffness, and refresh the mind and emotions. For an added benefit, add Epsom salts and/or essential oil.

9. Dance is an amazing healing aid that can instantly enhance your mood and create joy. Put on your favorite Motown, R & B or salsa music and dance in your living room as though no one is watching. A twenty-one-year long Einstein Aging Study, completed in 2001, found that dancing is the best physical activity to help prevent dementia when compared to eleven other activities including team sports, swimming, and bicycling. The study was summarized in an article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003.

10.Breathe deeply. Most of us breathe shallow breaths that restrict oxygen flow to the lungs and throughout the body, resulting in fatigue and depletion of our vital energy. Breathing is not only free, but it will set you free. Try this simple exercise: Sit on a chair with your back straight and focus on your breath. Take a deep breath, and then let it go, exhaling all the stale air out of your lungs. Continue for several minutes. Notice any sensations in your body. Eventually your body and thoughts will settle down, and you’ll emerge feeling more relaxed. Try to do this at least five minutes on a regular basis.

11. Stay hydrated! It’s important to keep your brain hydrated as well as the body. Have non-caffeinated, unsweetened beverages throughout the day, particularly water and tea. The rule of thumb is to have 48 to 64 ounces of non-sweetened, non-artificially sweetened drinks. Hydration keeps the body in proper pH (how acidic or alkaline your body is) and protects it from getting dehydrated, which is a cause of inflammation and other kinds of imbalances.

12. Meditate, pray, take a walk in nature. Take a walk around the block, even for 15 minutes.

13. Listen to some classical music, meditative music, religious music, etc.

14. Use aromatherapy essential oils such as lavender for an instant relaxing effect.

  • Use essential oils (lemon, peppermint, lavender, frankincense, bergamot, thyme, sandalwood, vetiver, myrrh) to boost immunity. For more information about the use of aromatherapy to reduce stress, improve immunity, reduce agitation, and to promote relaxation read chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn

15. Practice good sleep hygiene. It’s hard to function at your best and to stay healthy when you aren’t sleeping well. Here’s a quick reminder of how to improve your sleep.

Don’t drink caffeine after 1:00 pm. Limit your fluid intake after dinner so you don’t have to pee during the night. Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. Cool your bedroom, but make sure you don’t feel. Or, warm your bed with a heating pad. Get black out curtains. Eat a banana; it contains potassium and magnesium which help reduce risk of muscle cramps. Or, have a protein snack such as a slice or cheese or tsp of peanut butter on a cracker to help maintain balanced blood sugar. For more suggestions read 16 ways to sleep better . . . so you can be a better caregiver. 

Best wishes for a happy, safe and relatively stress-free holiday season!


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

 

10 signs you need help with stress

Businessman sinking in heap of documentsStress is a part of life, and it can be a motivator or it can be a deadly menace. If you are stressed about an exam or need to be at church on time to get married, it can be a good thing. But if you’re a caregiver and have been stressed for years, it can be terrible for your health.

First described by Walter Cannon in the 1920s, the fight-or-flight response, also called the acute stress response, kicks in when we are presented with danger or an emergency. Our brains react quickly to keep us safe by preparing the body for action. Hunters who were responsible for killing game to provide food for their tribe and the animals being hunted experienced the fight-or-flight response on a regular basis. Today, because of the stressful world we live in, the fight-or- flight response is more commonly triggered by psychological threats than physical ones, such as an argument with a spouse, demanding bosses, out-of-control drivers, road rage, etc.

In the physiological response to stress, pupils dilate to sharpen vision, and heart rate and blood pressure increase to accelerate the delivery of oxygen to fuel muscles and critical organs. Blood flow is diverted from non-critical areas, such as the gastrointestinal tract, to the critical areas, such as the heart, skeletal muscles, and liver.

The liver releases glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream. Glucose is for immediate energy; fat is needed when the fight-or-flight response lasts longer than expected. Bronchial tubes dilate to maximize the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

When the body is in a constant state of “emergency alert” due to chronic stress such as caregiving, the adrenal glands—the small walnut shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys—get “stuck” in the on position. When this happens, the whole system goes into chronic fight-or-flight. Glucose that is dumped into your blood stream goes unused, so your body has to produce an enormous amount of insulin to handle it. Eventually, this can result in hypoglycemia or diabetes. Fat that is dumped into your blood also goes unused, so it clogs your arteries, leading to cardiovascular disease. If you drink three or more cups of coffee every day, the stress hormone cortisol becomes elevated, which can set you up for countless health problems, including poor quality of sleep, impaired immunity, and age-related deterioration.

The key is to be alert to stress triggers, recognize that you are stressed, and discover ways that help keep you on an even keel.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s time for you to take charge of your stress before you succumb to a serious illness or disease.

  1. Fatigue and sluggishness
  2. Difficulty falling asleep and or staying asleep
  3. Chronic colds or other health issues
  4. Depression
  5. Suicidal thoughts
  6. Dependence on drugs, both recreational and pharmaceutical
  7. Too much alcohol and/or tobacco consumption
  8. Irritability, anger and/or anxiety
  9. Weight control issues including abdominal fat or weight loss
  10. Heart palpitations
  11. High blood pressure
  12. Mental fog or forgetfulness
  13. Headaches or back pain
  14. Jaw and/or tooth pain could indicate that you are clenching your jaw at night
  15. Unexplained hair loss
  16. Stomach pain or chronic diarrhea
  17. Twitching in a facial muscle
  18. Holding your breath, or taking sudden deep breaths because you have forgotten to breathe
  19. Painful adrenal band across the kidney region
  20. Skin irritations

If you want to learn more about stress and how you can prevent it, deal with it and conquer it, read 12 quick energy and stress fixes to use throughout the holiday season. . . and all year long.

For a resource guide containing 20 modalities for feeling less stressed, happier and healthier read: Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.   Available on Amazon and at all bookstores that sell quality books.

BarbraCohn__

 

12 quick energy and stress fixes to use throughout the holiday season . . . and all year long

Young ambitious executive enjoying his business success as he stThe holidays are stressful for everyone, but especially for caregivers. Here’s a list of some of my favorite stress relievers and energy boosters.

  1. Breathe! When we are stressed, we tend to hold our breath. Take a 5-minute break and sit down in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, in and out. Then focus on your breath and watch how your mind quiets down and your muscles relax. Then remember to breathe throughout the day. Whenever you feel yourself getting anxious or tight, take a deep breath and let it go.
  2. Drink water. We’ve heard it a million times but it’s always good to be reminded. Forget about sodas and limit the wine and alcohol. Staying hydrated, especially at this time of year, is vital to supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation. It’s also important to support healthy cognitive function and memory.
  3. Eat walnuts. A daily dose of about 9 whole walnuts or 1 Tbs. walnut oil helps your blood pressure from spiking during stress. Walnuts contain L-arginine, an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels, which in turn helps reduce hypertension.
  4. Drink green tea. L-Theanine is the main chemical constituent in green tea. It is an ideal nutritional aid for stress because it produces alpha-wave activity that leads to deep relaxation and mental alertness. This is especially important because in order to mitigate stressful situations, it’s important to remain calm and alert. Theanine also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine, which help us feel happy, motivated and calm. Green tea extract is available as a nutritional supplement, which might be easier and quicker to take, and it’ll save you a lot of trips to the bathroom.
  5. While we’re on the topic of “green,” be sure to eat green leafy vegetables for vitamin B and magnesium, both of which help your body cope with stress.
  6. Two handfuls of cashews (make that a small handful, please; one ounce of cashews contains 157 calories.) provide the equivalent mood-boosting effect as a therapeutic dose of Prozac because they are one of the highest natural sources of tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter.
  7. Did someone mention dark chocolate? It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. Just a couple of pieces should do the trick.
  8. Walk around the block. Just getting out into fresh air will instantly relieve stress, and moving your body gets your blood pumping and will clear your mind.
  9. Light candles and play relaxing music while you eat. It will change the mood instantly.
  10. Aromatherapy is a miracle cure for stress and anxiety. Use a wall plug-in to diffuse the aroma of lavender oil to uplift mood, or place a few drops on a handkerchief and tuck it into a shirt pocket or on a pillow. Other oils to try: vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, orange, lemon, bergamot, and grapefruit.
  11. Music is the universal language, and it is also the universal stress reliever. Whether it’s jazz, classical, or hard rock that makes you feel better, by all means, play it loud, play it soft, dance to it, drive to it, go to sleep to it. It will definitely help.
  12. Getting the proper rest is vital to staying healthy and reducing stress. Prepare yourself for a deep night’s sleep by unplugging from electronics at least an hour before bed, taking an Epsom salt bath (put several drops of lavender oil in the water for added relaxation), and making sure the room temperature isn’t too warm.  Good night, sleep tight!

If you, or someone you care about, tend to suffer from stress, anxiety, or depression, these recommendations might just “take the edge off” and improve your quality of life … without the risk of side effects. May the holiday season begin!

For dozens more tools and techniques for reducing stress, uplifting mood, supporting your immune system, and finding ways to connect on a spiritual and emotional level with the person you care for, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

BarbraCohn__