A Happy, Stress-Free Holiday – Part 3: Handling Holiday Stress

nutrition for stressLast week we discussed ways to change, reduce and control holiday stressors.  This week we’ll look at ways to strengthen your body’s ability to deal with the impact of holiday stressors that can’t be avoided.

The body’s main stress management hormone cortisol, is produced by our adrenal organs  Cortisol is released in response to stress. It increases blood sugar to fuel our muscles for fight or flight and shuts down non-essential rest and digest functions.  Cortisol is necessary to prepare our body for stress in the short-term, but in excess over the long-term, it can throw off hormonal balance impacting reproductive, digestive, immune and metabolic functions.

Below are some tips for protecting your body against the negative effects of stress naturally.


1. Reduce sugar: cortisol works against insulin (the hormone that lowers blood sugar) and if increased for long periods, cortisol can cause blood sugar dysregulation increasing risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and inflammatory conditions in the body. In order to avoid adding fuel to the fire, limit excessive sugar intake and think twice before you polish off that tin of Christmas sugar cookies.

2. Choose magnesium rich foods:  Magnesium is a mineral that helps to relax tense muscles and prevent or reduce migraine headaches. It is needed for over 300 metabolic processes that regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels, protein synthesis and proper nerve and muscle functions.  Foods rich in magnesium include: almonds, spinach, peanuts, cashews, soy milk and black beans[1]

3. Incorporate foods with B vitamins:  As stress increases, so does your body’s demand for nutrients.  This is especially true of the B vitamins which play a significant role in the function of our nervous system.  Holiday libations can be particularly hard on our vitamin B1 supply, while holiday stress can increase the adrenal gland’s need for vitamin B5.  Anxiety, depression and mood disorders are commonly associated with B6 deficiency, while a B12 deficiency can lead to nervous system symptoms such as tingling, poor memory and concentration, and fatigue.  Though many people require supplementation with a good B complex, foods commonly rich in the B vitamins include:

B1 (thiamine)[2]
  • Beef liver, pork, egg, beans and peas, nuts and seeds
B5 (pantothenic acid)[3]
  • Beef liver, meats, poultry corn, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, avocado, legumes, egg yolk, sweet potato, salmon
B6 (pyridoxine)[4]
  • Chickpeas, beef liver, tuna, salmon, chicken breast, turkey
B12 (cobalamine)[5]
  • Beef liver, clams, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products
Note: many grain products (such as cereals and breads) and nutritional yeasts are fortified with B vitamins


1. Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng): An herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic for fatigue, stress and weakness, it is well known for its adaptogenic properties (helps the body adapt to stress). In addition to being great for stress, panax also lowers blood sugar levels and stimulates the immune system. This is one herb that seems to be tailor-made for the holidays.

2. Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera): Like panax, ashwaganda is best known for its adaptogenic properties and immune supporting ability. This herb has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine (a traditional medicine native to India), and one of my favorite herbs to use for promoting relaxation.

Rhodiola, shown to increase serotonin levels.

Rhodiola, shown to increase serotonin levels.

3. Golden root or rose root (Rhodiola rosea):  Well known for its ability to quell anxiety rhodiola, another adaptogenic herb, has been shown in studies to reduce irritability, fatigue and insomnia.  Its ability to reduce stress, anxiety and depression is often attributed to its effect on serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters (the feel good chemical messengers of the brain).

It’s important to keep in mind that the above tips for managing holiday stress work best in conjunction with a lifestyle that promotes well-being.  The vitamins, mineral and herbs discussed here can be helpful but must be complemented with regular, healthy living habits which we’ll discuss next week for “part 4: setting up for a stress-less new year” of the “Stress-free Holiday Series”. See you next week!

Part 1: Knowing when you’re stressed

Part 2: Control your stressors:  Creating change and avoiding over-indulgence

Part 3: Handling holiday stress

Part 4: Setting up for a stress-less new year (next week)

[1] National Institutes of Health.  Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Magnesium. [internet] 2013 Nov 24 [cited 2013 Dec 19]. Available from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
[2] National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus. Thiamin. [internet] 2013 Oct 31 [cited 2013 Dec 19]. Available from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002401.htm
[3] Ehrlich SD. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid). University of Maryland Medical Center. [internet] 2013 Aug 5 [cited 2013 Dec 19]. Available from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b5-pantothenic-acid
[4]National Institutes of Health.  Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin B6. [internet] 2011 Sep 15 [cited 2013 Dec 19]. Available from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/
[5] National Institutes of Health.  Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin B12. 
[internet] 2011 Jun 24 [cited 2013 Dec 19]. Available from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-QuickFacts/

One thought on “A Happy, Stress-Free Holiday – Part 3: Handling Holiday Stress

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s