This year has certainly brought a lot of challenges with it.
Many have lost jobs or lost businesses that they may have worked their entire lives to build or that they had just started to build. Some may have lost a loved one or some may have lost relationships with a spouse, friends, and other loved ones.
Stress & Trauma Response: Fear of the Unknown
We have all been tested. Humans are very social creatures who need touch, love, attentiveness, and in-person social interactions. Without these needs being met, we are experiencing the negative effects to our mental and emotional wellbeing, and in-turn, to our physical health. Over the past few months, many Ampersand clients are reporting new or exacerbated health conditions: mental and physical. This is largely due to the increased stress response and trauma that comes with being forced into a situation where there are many “unknowns.” It comes with the fight-or-flight response that often involves impulsive decisions to bring some type of comfort: over-indulging in junk food, sugar, alcohol, other recreational drugs, over-spending, hoarding (such as buying too much toilet paper), and more. The holidays always bring struggles for clients to stay on track with their healthy lifestyles and food choices, but this year is proving that it will “take the cake.” (Pun intended).
Coping with Loss of Holiday Tradition During COVID-19
Many of us will not be able to travel to see our family members like we always do. We may not be able to host the family dinner or relish in traditions. We may not be able to take our children to sit on Santa’s lap or to church in the traditional ways we are used to. This may be very hard for some to cope with and manage through. Change is never easy, but can be especially difficult when forced upon us. We have not been able to traverse through the Stages of Change starting with Contemplation. Instead, we’ve been thrown right into forced modification of our behaviors. And though we were told 2 weeks to “slow the curve,” we are now 8 months in with no end in sight, which is unnerving to many. But instead of getting all wrapped up in the anxiousness of the unknown or the grief that missing out on holiday traditions may bring, I am imploring others to dig deep inside themselves and focus on their health and wellbeing. When life feels out of control, it is best to focus on the things that we are able to control.
Balancing Physical & Emotional Well-Being
Focus on ‘Good Mood Foods’ (see list below), exercise, stress-reduction techniques, and developing good sleep habits to fortify your bodies and immune systems. Do not fear! Develop new holiday traditions with your close family and friends. Challenge yourselves to cook nutrient-dense, nourishing foods that you’ve always wanted to try, but maybe couldn’t bring to family dinner because of “tradition” or because Aunt Marge or Grandpa John won’t like them. Challenge yourselves to forge new habits that involve thinking of health instead of throwing all caution to the wind and the health-bringing habits that you’ve worked so hard to develop right out the window because you are stressed.
Adopting New Holiday Traditions
We are all in this together and if each of us commits to self-care and nourishing care for our families, we can make positive changes in our lives and be models for others to do the same. Consider reaching out to friends and family more often and check-in on their health and wellbeing. Offer to make food or host a socially-distanced gathering. Send cards, presents, surprises, that maybe we wouldn’t have in the past. Let’s do our best to embrace the challenges and adapt. We can be resilient and develop new positive health habits.
This year is different. This year is challenging. There is not doubt. But we have the opportunity to change our lives and health with the habits we build now, starting with: taking on a nutrient-dense diet, exercise, sleep, stress-reduction practices, and throwing the negative health habits out with the turkey carcass (after you’ve made bone broth with it, of course).
Good Mood Foods to Keep Spirits Bright During the Holiday
Turkey: rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is the precursor to serotonin, the body’s “feel good” neurotransmitter.
Wild-Caught Fatty Fish: rich in omega-3 fatty acids for brain and heart health, omega-3 fats have been shown to reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms, improve mood and focus.
Grass-fed Beef and Lamb: rich in both omega-3 fats, amino acids, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid)
Bone Broth: source of l-glutamine, glycine, collagen, elastin, gelatin- excellent for gut, skin, hair, and nails, but also mood. Glycine is a calming amino acid.
Cranberries: Have compounds that may boost brain health, stroke recovery, protect the brain from toxins, microbes, and boost immune function.1
Herbs: rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil, cilantro
Spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric, cumin, marjoram
Nuts and Seeds: provide healthy fats, fiber, and protein, as well as amino acids for brain function, insulin sensitivity, and blood glucose control.
Cacao: a great memory and mood booster. It also has been found to promote neuroplasticity. It can improve cognitive abilities and possibly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.2
Leafy Green: full of fiber, folate, magnesium, B vitamins, and polyphenols, which help with brain, mood, memory, energy, and immune function. Intake of higher amounts of raw vegetables and fruits in general has been shown to boost mood and cognition.3
Pumpkin and squashes (and their seeds): rich in carotenoids, precursors to Vitamin A, which is an immune powerhouse antioxidant. Pumpkin seeds increase tryptophan. The nutrient-profile of pumpkin scores a 46% on the Anti-Depressant Food Score and butternut squash scores a 34%.4
- Andrews LW. Minding the Body: Cranberries are a Smart Choice for Your Brain. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201311/cranberries-are-smart-choice-your-brain
- Nehlig A. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013;75(3):716-727. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04378.x
- Brookie KL, Best GI, Conner TS. Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables. Front Psychol. 2018;9:487. Published 2018 Apr 10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00487
- LaChance LR, Ramsey D. Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression. World J Psychiatry. 2018;8(3):97-104. Published 2018 Sep 20. doi:10.5498/wjp.v8.i3.97