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.

 

Are you putting yourself at risk for dementia with OTC medications and prescription drugs?

Reading Instructions from PharmacyA new study links the increased risk of dementia with certain medications. (Anticholinergic drugs and risk of dementia: case-control study) The focus of the study was on drugs that have anticholinergic effects. Acetylcholine is vital to memory and learning. There are lower levels of this neurotransmitter in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, animal studies have shown that anticholinergic drugs may contribute to brain inflammation, another risk factor for dementia.

It’s estimated that approximately 50% of adults in the U.S. take one or more medications with an anticholinergic effect. Some of the most common are:

  • amitriptyline (Endep, Elavil), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), and bupropion (Aplenzin, Wellbutin). These drugs are commonly taken for depression)
  • oxybutynin and tolterodine, taken for an overactive bladder, found in Ditropan, Oxytrol.
  • diphenhydramine, a common antihistamine found in: Advil PM, Aleve PM, Bayer PM, Benadryl, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Simply Sleep, Sominex, Tylenol PM, Unisom, etc.
  • Chlorpheniramine, found in Actifed, Allergy & Congestion RElief, Chlor-Trimeton, Codeprex, Efidac-24 Chlorpheniramine, etc.

According to Shelly Gray, professor pharmacy at the University of Washington, and author of  Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia” (March 2015, JAMA Internal Med.), the longer people took the drugs and the higher the dose, the higher the risk of dementia, although it’s important to note that short-term use was not linked to higher risks.

Gray suggested that people, especially seniors, who have trouble sleeping find a non-drug therapy for insomnia Celexa and Prozac for depression and Claritin for allergies.  She emphasized that it is important to speak with one’s doctor before stopping a medication that you have been taking.

Natural alternatives

Help for depression

  1. Get some physical exercise every day; even just a 20 minute walk helps tremendously.
  2. Use aromatherapy oils. 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
  3.  I gave my husband Ginkgo biloba for depression (and also took it myself). It helped right up until he was in late stage Alzheimer’s. One word of advice, not all brands are efficacious, so pick one carefully. Also note that it takes about 6 weeks to notice an effect. This is a typical difference of taking a pharmaceutical versus a natural remedy.
  4. Vitamin B complex optimizes cognitive activity and brain function, has a positive effect on memory, learning capacity and attention span, and supports a healthy nervous system and a stable mood. Vitamins B6 and B12, in particular, play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter linked to improving memory, lifting mood and regulating sleep.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life.
  6. Maintain your social connections. Loneliness can actually lead to health problems and mental decline. Join a group—any kind of group: worship,  hiking, scrabble, table tennis, knitting, discussion group, or book club. Volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen or animal shelter. It’s important to stay connected and to feel as though you are a contributing member of society.

Natural sleep aids

  1. Try valerian, passion-flower or skullcap herbal tea at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
  2. A cup of warm milk with a small pinch of cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and cumin, and an 1/8 of a tsp of ghee is a tasty and relaxing bedtime drink. The calcium in the milk is a muscle relaxant and the Indian spices help induce relaxation. Experiment to see which spices you like.
  3. Eat a banana. Bananas contain potassium and magnesium that help reduce risk of muscle cramps. These two minerals also support heart health and cognitive function.
  4. A drop in blood sugar during the night can cause us to wake up. Although it’s better to not go to sleep on a full stomach, a small protein snack such as a slice of cheese or smear of peanut butter on a cracker can help maintain balanced blood sugar.
  5. Melatonin supplements help some people, but you might have to experiment with the dosage. I like Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm, a powdered calcium supplement that you put in water or juice. I also like the homeopathic remedy Hyland’s Calms Forte.
  6. Spritz lavender oil on your pillow or put a sachet of lavender flowers under your pillow.

Natural antihistamines

  1. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that is naturally found in plant foods such as apples, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli or cauliflower), onions/shallots, green tea and citrus fruits. It stabilizes the release of histamines and helps to naturally control allergy symptoms.
  2. Apple cider vinegar is my new “go to” remedy for almost everything. I take 1 Tablespoon everyday by pinching my nose and drinking water to flush it down. It helps alkalize the body and supports immune function.
  3. Butterbur is a natural herb that is sold as an extract. A study published in August 2005 in Phytotherapy Research found that when compared to an antihistamine, the butterbur extract worked just as well, without the side effect of drowsiness.
  4. Remember that Claritin does not contain diphenhydramine, so use it by all means if these other remedies do not do the trick.

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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” 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.