While the holidays are a time to relax and celebrate, for many people, holiday stresses tax the physiological system and exhaust the adrenal glands. Exhausted adrenal glands compromise the ability to sleep and to think clearly, and can even contribute to depression.
If we use typical substances to temporarily restore energy, like caffeine or sugar, we add even more stress on our body and brain. These substances provide energy—on credit—and the interest can be steep. In essence, we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and bankruptcy is inevitable. In the short term, certain foods and drinks seem to lift our spirits, but the accounting will eventually arrive.
For most Americans, the winter season is an emotional downswing with fatigue, too much sitting, and unhealthy eating. And for many, especially for those in the colder parts of our country, the lack of sunshine and time outdoors contributes to the winter blues.
To escape this seasonal cycle, you need to get proactive about your mental and physical energy.
None of us were designed to cope with the noise of modern society—especially with the cacophony of the internet and our personal distraction devices. Investing just one minute in complete silence three times a day will help balance your autonomic nervous system by down-regulating your fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system, so your rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system can take over.
If this exercise sounds ridiculously simple, I dare you to try it. I bet your first few attempts will be surprising. Most people are amazed at how quickly their mind wanders back into hyperdrive. But as you practice, the results will encourage you.
What can we “do” during those minutes of doing nothing? Two things: Breathe deeply, and count your blessings. Gratitude is probably the best preventive medicine when it comes to the winter blues.
For the other 1,437 minutes in your day, turn off as much noise as you can, as often as you can. Silence recharges us. Noise and mental clutter drain us and make people more susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings. Stillness allows the brain to reorganize and become more engaged in the present moment.
Too often, we allow cultural excesses, comparisons, busyness, and “fear of missing out” to steal our joy, but this season can be a time of reflection and celebration.
Boost Your Brain
When you exercise—hopping on a treadmill, going for a brisk walk, jogging along a path, or lifting weights—chemicals such as IGF-1 enter your bloodstream and brain, then stimulate production of other chemicals, such as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)—a “Miracle-Gro for the brain.”
The more BDNF, the more your brain nerve cells fan out, forming the interconnected webs needed to communicate as designed, and creating a larger capacity for you to store information. Of all the things you can do to enhance cognitive performance and stave off the kind of decline that contributes to diseases like Alzheimer’s, exercise is number one.
Researchers and functional medicine practitioners have found a significant association between vitamin D levels and patients’ perceived quality of life. Low vitamin D in winter can worsen depression or bring on what is known as “seasonal affective disorder.”
Did you know that the primary source of vitamin D is sunlight? No other source comes close in effectiveness, and it’s free. Shorter winter days and cooler temperatures keep most Americans inside and watching screens, but the light from your smartphone or TV depletes rather than restores you; this could be part of the reason why so many Americans are chronically deficient in this essential vitamin. In fact, most patients we evaluate are found to be lacking in proper levels of vitamin D. Human beings are intimately tied to the sun—so soak it up.
Shake Things Up
Here’s a recipe for our “Quick Energy” shake.
- One scoop of vanilla protein powder
- Half cup of frozen berries
- Half cup of almond milk/cashew milk
- 1 scoop of greens vital nutrients powder[Which product is meant? Capitalize]
- 1 scoop of reds vital nutrients powder[Which product is meant? Capitalize]
- 1 scoop of maca root (If you don’t know where to buy these ingredients, feel free to contact us)
- 2 to 3 drops of flavored stevia (use a different flavor each time to give taste buds a nice variety)
The ingredients in this quick energy shake fuel you in multiple ways. Proteins are the building blocks of life, improving muscle function and providing energy for the metabolic pathways. The greens and reds provide a complete vitamin and mineral profile that aids energy production at a cellular level. Maca root is an ancient herb used to improve adrenal function. If we give the adrenals nutrition to improve their function, they are less likely to run out of fuel. That’s a particular risk today, when these glands work overtime producing stress hormones.
Invigorate Your Largest Organ
Yes, I’m talking about our skin. Create a body scrub by mixing 1 teaspoon of an unscented body soap and two drops of your favorite essential oil (eucalyptus, peppermint, grapefruit, or whatever you like). Use the soap in the shower with a loofah scrub brush.
Doing so opens skin pores, improves respiratory function, dilates respiratory bronchioles, and enhances breathing. When respiration is improved, your body enjoys more oxygen, which increases energy and vigor.
The scents of the oils also work on the olfactory centers of the brain and improve alertness. Using a loofah exfoliates dry, dead skin, and leaves me feeling extra-clean and rejuvenated. (Yes, men, this is for you, too!) Additionally, experimenting with water temperature during your shower can be invigorating, as temperature changes can improve blood flow.
And for an energizing bonus, while you’re in the shower—sing! And keep singing throughout the day. Music and singing uplift our entire being, and, whether they admit it or not, lift the spirits of those around us.
Most people, especially busy people, don’t stop to pay attention to what energizes or drains them—they just keep hustling. Do you feel somewhat down after a Netflix binge? What do you think you should do about that? Does a walk or jog seem like the worst idea in the world—until a few minutes into your excursion? How do you feel after exercise?
When we make unhealthy choices, such as excessive use of caffeine and other stimulants to provide a quick energy hit, they ultimately leave us worse off. Doing this day after day digs the hole deeper, and eventually we cannot dig ourselves out.
Here’s a rather obvious point, but one I need to remind myself of often: Do more of what energizes you and less of what drains you. Try these simple practices, and as you pay attention to what builds you up and enhances your joy of living, do more of that. The new habits you form this winter will make your New Year that much better.