By Kristy Giles
As the holiday season approaches, for many, so do higher levels of stress. You may worry about money and the overwhelming to-do list or dread all the added social events and those challenging family dynamics. You start to realize that all of those goals you had hoped to achieve this year may have to be pushed forward into the New Year. If health and fitness were big goals for you this year, you may be trying to accept that this last month will be the hardest time to challenge unhealthy eating patterns or to find time to exercise.
Stress on the body
We all know stress is hard on our systems. It decreases oxygen flow, suppresses our immune system, compromises digestion and causes your whole body to operate in a state of limited function. When stressed, your body believes it is in danger and needs to focus only on the short term, immediate needs. Unfortunately, where so many of us get in to trouble is that we start to operate more frequently in this stressed state, which is meant to be a temporary state. We become more accustomed to a stressed-based functioning that we don’t know how to motivate ourselves to live in a more rested, calm and stress free condition. The very discouraging fact about habitually doing this is that our bodies will not easily release calories, burn fat or provide extra energy for fun and activity. Your body is in protective mode so it is not going to do something new or different.
What we don’t realize is change, even healthy, good and positive changes cause stress to our bodies. Becoming effective at creating new habits, adding new practices or changing eating patterns, requires a body that feels safe, rested and relaxed. If it is operating in a low-level chronic stressed state those positive changes will only increase the level of stress to your system and simply work against any positive impacts you are trying to make. If you want to lose weight, it will cause your body to hang on to more calories. If you want to add exercise, it will draw from your emergency resources, depleting energy and making it hard to recover. You will struggle to digest food properly, and extract the vital minerals and vitamins that your body needs more than ever. Your body will be inclined to work against you to stop you from creating added stress in the situation you are in. So, although you will feel like you are making important health and fitness changes, you could quite literally be setting yourself up for illness, injury and guaranteed fatigue. You can be sure you will have increased the stress level you are already experiencing.
So what can you do to help yourself during this stressful, busy time of year?
First of all, be kind to yourself. It is a mentally and physically challenging time for everyone. So, talk to yourself with compassion. It’s not easy and if you are finding it hard recognize you are human and many are struggling just like you. This is not time to be tough on yourself.
Secondly, do what you love. If long walks or trail hiking are your preferred activities, then just do more of that. The movement will still be extremely valuable to your body. But, you don’t need to start a new fitness regime or intensify the gym workout. You can save those fitness goals for when things quiet down after the holidays. Spend your time doing what your body is used to and what your mind will love. This will move your fitness goals further ahead than you know.
Third, when it comes to eating, take on a whole new perspective and take the pressure off. You are going to be presented with some incredible feasting opportunities. Some can be much more healthful that you think. Sure, they may not fit the diet regime you had most recently decided to try, but they quite possibly could be providing the exact nutrients your body needs this time of year. And in some cases, you may have nutritious choices you can make, so do so when the desire hits. But when you do decide to indulge on a holiday favourite you have missed since last year, then do so. Do so without guilt. Enjoy it, recognize you are treating yourself and know you deserve it. If you are going to experience a treat make sure it feels like a treat; let your body, mind and soul enjoy it, and it leaves nothing but a positive feeling in your body. That’s its purpose – don’t take that away by wallowing in guilt. Guilt only adds stress to your system.
And lastly, focus on ways to destress your body. Adopt management practices that work for you. I always encourage people to develop more than one type of stress management techniques, because sometimes it takes a few, done regularly to really make an impact. And if you want to know where to start, you should always start with breathing. In the face of stress, take yourself away and take some deep breaths. The increased oxygen concentration will tell your body that things are returning to normal, it’s safe and things are functioning properly. If you can, take yourself outside to take some deep breaths. The fresh air will increase the oxygen saturation in your body and create a sense of calm quicker and more intensely with the concentrated oxygen in the air.
Now that you have taken some pressure off of yourself during a very stress-filled season, I believe you have the ability to see things in a more positive light. If you spend this time trying to reduce and manage your stress, you will be spending valuable time training your body to operate under a totally different regime. This new regime will be perfect to help you lose weight, metabolise better, decrease cravings, boost your immune and digestive systems, and absorb more vitamins and minerals, among many other benefits. Then in the New Year, when you find the right time to make some health and fitness changes, your body will be able to receive them, adopt them and benefit from them like it has never been able to before.
Kristy Giles, is a Life, Health & Fitness Coach with Nurtured Life. She has a BSc in Biology and a MSc in Environmental Health. She has been a Health and Fitness Coach for over a decade, specializing in outdoor programs, free running, triathlons, high intensity intervals and free weights. Due to a recent battle with Chronic Lyme disease she become very passionate about helping people find true happiness, fulfilment and wellbeing of body, mind and soul. As a result of that life experience she also became a certified Life Coach, because she believes the key to finding lasting health and fitness requires looking at the individual, their lifestyle and what brings them joy…and that is where one will find a wellness regime that will always succeed.