How to Prioritize Recovery After the Holidays

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Post-Holiday Self-Care + Recovery

From November to January, the holiday season is in full swing, and most likely, so are you. Whether you’re frantically decorating the tree, grocery shopping 2-3 times per week, preparing meals for family gatherings, fighting the crowds at the mall, or trying to tie up loose ends at work before the end of the year, the holiday season can be an immensely stressful time.

As we have discussed in previous posts, not all stress is inherently bad. In fact, stress is simply how the brain and body respond to any demand. Every type of demand, also known as a stressor, triggers the body to adjust, all in order for us to acclimate and adapt. Stressors come in many shapes and forms, some of which include: exercise, school, work, family, traumatic life events, and even happy milestones like marriage, a job promotion, a new baby, and yes, even the holidays.

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Good vs. Bad Stress + How the Holidays Impact Stress

There are two major types of stress that we all experience: eustress and distress. Eustress, or “good” stress is beneficial for our minds and bodies alike. Eustress is positive stress, brought on by exciting life events, or short-term stressors. It is motivational in nature, and allows you to channel your energy into tasks that are perceived to be within your own personal coping abilities. Eustress is performance-inducing, and does not last for more than short periods of time.

Contrarily, distress, is "bad" stress. Often accompanied by feelings of anxiety and concern, distress decreases our motivation and performance, because we perceive it as outside the scope of our coping abilities. Distress is typically chronic in nature, and this is the type of harmful stress that can sneak up on us during the holidays if we experience prolonged periods of stress.

The body responds to stress in a myriad of ways, mainly through physical, mental, or emotional reactions. Stress is a large part of being human, and happy life events can trigger stress just as much as unhappy ones can; which is why the holidays and stress can coexist. The key to moderating these stressors and preventing them from becoming impactful to our health and wellbeing is through mindfully ensuring that we do not remain in a stressed state for extended periods of time. 

Why Do We Stress More During the Holidays?

During the holidays, we say yes to things that we typically wouldn’t have to force our schedules to accommodate. Between your child's school programs, classroom parties, meeting a work deadline before holiday closures, anticipating the arrival of out of town guests, or even preparing to travel out of town yourself, self-care, rest, and recovery typically fly out the window for a few months. When we let our own self-care and recovery slip away from us, it can take a bit of catching up, in order to get our bodies back to feeling 100%.

The holidays are a time that can bring immense joy and satisfaction, especially when we get to spend priceless quality time with our families and friends. While this time of the year is generally accompanied by good feelings, it can also be a season where feelings of guilt and anxiety creep their way in. During this time of year, people have a tendency to partake in suboptimal health behaviors—mainly in the form of delicious, indulgent holiday treats, alcohol, and rich meals. Food-related stress can be a trigger for many individuals, and if we're not careful, we can spend a great deal of time wallowing in past decisions, or regretting our indulgent behavior.

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So, You Overindulged. Now What?

We get it: the holiday season can be a time of overindulgence. So many wonderful traditions begin and end around the kitchen table, and enjoying classic dishes with your loved ones is a nostalgic way to ring in the holidays. While regularly pushing your body to its digestive limits isn’t recommended, holiday overindulgence is NOT the end all be all to health and wellness. In fact, mindfully enjoying your indulgent meals with loved ones can be a form of self-care. Plus, with a few simple steps, you can get right back on track with your goals!

1. DON'T STRESS! First and foremost, try not to stress! You cannot go back in time and change what your decided to eat, nor should you. Remember, the holiday season is all about spending time with your loved ones, and for making lifelong, cherished memories. So what? You ate a few more sugar cookies than you actually decorated, or maybe you had an extra serving (or three) of that amazing Christmas casserole. MOVE ON!

The digestive system is extremely sophisticated, and by ruminating on past dietary choices, research shows that your gut's nervous system (the Enteric Nervous System) can enable your gut to behave as your "Second Brain", triggering a stress response that can result in digestive upset. This serves as a further hindrance to your body’s ability to naturally process the extra food intake, and results in additional feelings of discomfort. Moreover, food-related stress is negative stress, which in turn, has been shown to cause an increase in cortisol (a stress hormone), blood sugar, insulin levels, AND blood pressure. Combined, these factors can actually cause weight gain or inhibit weight loss, making food-related stress a completely counterintuitive phenomenon.

Pro tip: Remind yourself of why you indulged, and enjoy every single bite of whatever treat you choose! When it’s all gone, reflect on the state of enjoyment, then move on. Studies have shown that indulging mindfully, with feelings of contentment and satisfaction, can combat stress-related hormone production, leading to not only more satisfaction, but also, less physical and mental ramifications from food-related stress. The more that we obsess about food, the more that we can be impacted by negative factors such as stress, digestive upset, and inflammation. Furthermore, a few days of indulgence will NOT, we repeat, WILL NOT be the end all, be all to your health goals. Water retention and bloating are not indicative of significant weight gain, and once you are back to your routine of consuming nutrient-dense foods and adequate hydration, your body will return to its normal state.

 Speaking of adequate hydration, one of the best ways to get past overindulgence and lethargy is to rehydrate (with water, that is). Water is an incredible full-body cleanser, and can help to stimulate the digestive system. No need to chug gallons at a time. Chances are, during the holidays, you probably aren’t toting your giant water bottle around, and you’re already a little dehydrated. Just start with a few glasses, and keep your water intake up over the next few days.

Word to the wise: don’t reach for an extra alcoholic beverage when you’re battling digestive discomfort or excessive fullness. While rehydrating is necessary, alcohol will inhibit gastric emptying, and has been shown to actually cause additional gastrointestinal distress. Instead, herbal teas are a great asset to aid in rehydration AND digestion. Try a tea with alkalizing lemon, tummy-settling ginger, or nausea-taming peppermint!

If you are overly full and feeling really uncomfortable, digestive enzymes come in a variety of formulations, and can be immensely helpful in aiding in your body's digestive processes. Enzymes are especially beneficial for individuals who struggle with dairy or gluten intolerances, as most digestive enzyme supplements contain enzymatic blends that help your body break down the problematic proteins in dairy and wheat. Enzymes are also incredibly beneficial in reducing bloating, gas, and any digestive discomfort from excess fat and carbohydrate intake, and can help maximize nutrient absorption. We love these comprehensive enzymes, but if you’re in a pinch, fresh pineapple contains bromelain, and fresh papaya contains papain, both powerful digestive enzymes that are easily accessible.

Keep in mind: while Tums or other antacid brands seem like a good way to reduce your symptoms of digestive discomfort, these OTC medications can have a rebound affect, causing you to reach for more sooner rather than later. The biggest difference between antacids, PPIs, and digestive enzymes are that the enzymes don’t get in the way of your gastric juices that are there to digest your food. Enzymes aid in a quicker, more efficient digestive process, whereas antacids reduce the naturally occurring digestive juices, inhibiting the breakdown of food particles. For more information about digestive enzymes, along with the way that they work with your body, head to this article.

4. Don’t rush to the gym!
 You might feel a nudge to go sweat out all of your holiday indulgences, but resist that urge just for a little while. High impact exercise can actually exacerbate any digestive discomfort that you’re experiencing, and too much activity will have you totally regretting that holiday meal AND workout. Instead, opt for a walk outdoors, or find another low-impact exercise that aids in digestion. Research shows that slow, low-level moving like walking aids gastric emptying; meaning, a nice, long walk will help that meal move along, and help to decrease your discomfort more effectively.

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It's Time to Take Care of Yourself

As we've discussed, the holiday months can be all-consuming and stressful at times. What makes matters worse is the fact that the holiday months also overlap with what is known as Cold + Flu season. This time of year, the weather is changing rapidly, and oftentimes, people get hit with viruses, infections, and seasonal ailments. What many people don't know is that cold and flu season isn't really a season! Instead, it is our body's inability to adapt, due to decreased sun exposure, less water intake, increased sugar intake, (hello, holiday food!) and higher levels of stress.

Yes, the flu is real, and this time of year, people absolutely get sidelined by colds and flus more frequently than any other season. But it's no coincidence that during the winter months, we are more susceptible to getting sick. Think about it: we are inside more than normal, leading to less Vitamin D exposure, a critical vitamin for immune system support and strength. Our heaters (more often than not), are on full blast, which can lead to dried out nasal passages, making us more vulnerable to incoming pathogens. In addition to these factors, we are also consuming sugary, nutrient-lacking foods during the holidays, and as we've learned in previous blog posts, sugar is highly inflammatory, and can cause immune system disruption. Combined, all of these factors create a breeding ground for illness to take place. So what can you do?

1. Protect Your Gut. Since we know that overindulgence during the holidays is pretty much a given, your food choices have been scientifically shown to impact your gut microbiome in some way, shape, or form. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that it only takes a few days to elicit a substantial change to our gut bacteria. In order to prevent gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut), a good probiotic supplement, along with consuming prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods, can be a helpful asset in supporting gut health. In addition to a good, diverse probiotic, help replenish your healthy gut environment and strengthen the tight junctions in your gut with a supplement like Restore.

2. Fresh Air + Vitamin D! This one goes hand in hand with the walking suggestion above, but if the sun is shining (or the weather is somewhat decent), adding the element of outdoor exposure is extremely beneficial. As stated above, during the winter months, humans spend even more time than normal inside. Humans already spend up to 90% of their day indoors, and when we spend less time outside, we are inclined to becoming Vitamin D deficient. Low Vitamin D levels are significantly correlated to impaired immune functioning, making us more susceptible to colds, flus, and other seasonal illnesses. This is due to the fact that without adequate Vitamin D, our T-cells cannot ward off and kill infections like they are meant to. Spending time outside can make a substantial difference in your body's Vitamin D stores, so don’t underestimate the power of nature!

Speaking of nature, time in nature exposes us to naturally occurring, highly beneficial chemicals called phytoncides. Phytoncides have been shown to reduce blood pressure and the infamous stress hormone, cortisol; therefore, the more time that you spend in nature, the less stress will impact you. Find your favorite tree-lined trails, and go for a long stroll. Your body (and mind) will thank you!

3. REST! 
This time of year, we are ALL exhausted, whether we acknowledge it or not. In fact, for many of us, the holiday season is a wake-up call as to just how little sleep we're getting. We have participated in more events (family events, work parties, school programs, or holiday activities) than usual, and by the time the holidays are over, we NEED to rest and recover, in order to prevent burnout. One of the cornerstones of recovery is sleep, and without adequate sleep, our immune systems cannot protect us. During the holiday season, we are often moving so quickly that we aren’t able to truly acknowledge our lack of rest, and our bodies have been through the ringer by the time the New Year rolls around. Get a head start on rest by winding down earlier at night, and try to aim for 8-10 hours of recovery sleep.

If you’re battling insomnia, try to establish a healthy nighttime routine. Blue light blockers after the sun goes down, a dark, cool sleeping environment, and sleeping without your phone nearby are all wise suggestions to encourage restful sleep. Your body works so hard for you; give yourself the gift of rest!

You didn't think that we would let you go without mentioning this one, did you?! During this holiday season, your recovery routine has most likely been inconsistent and/or lacking. Now that Christmas has come and gone, it's time to remind you that prioritizing your recovery is imperative to your health and wellbeing. Keeping your recovery schedule as consistent as possible will not only lead to better stress management, but it will also bolster your immune system, lead to better quality sleep, and keep inflammation levels in check--even after those holiday treats. Cryo Recovery provides a multitude of research-backed modalities that facilitate in inflammation reduction, pain relief, detoxification, and so much more.. Head to our website to learn more about these modalities, or give us a call to schedule a consult. We would love to hear your goals, and help you achieve them!

Bill Hanks