Stressed Or Blessed?
Find peace during the busy holiday season

James Rouse, ND

Last year during the holidays I was sitting in my car lined up at a stoplight with other on-the-go fathers, mothers, grandparents, kids, and businesspeople. All of us had been hurrying on our way to work, the store, a dance recital, or a holiday party, when the red light suddenly forced us to stop. It was then I noticed a sign in front of a nearby church that read "Peace on Earth ... Stressed or Blessed?" That sign made me pause to consider the joys of my full life.

Making the switch from feeling stressed to feeling blessed could be one of the most important changes you make for your health. Seventy-five percent to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are stress related. This month—packed with parties, shopping outings, travel, and houseguests—it's essential to do what we can to fortify our physical, mental, and spiritual resilience.

Rather than being caught off-guard by stress, prepare for it. Be sure to fuel your body with unrefined foods that are rich in magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and essential fats because blood levels of these key nutrients drop during long-term stress. These nutrients are found in brown rice, quinoa, and other whole grains; nuts, such as almonds and walnuts; flax and sunflower seeds; broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables; sea plants, such as dulse and arame; and halibut, salmon, and other fresh fish.

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To ease stress, combine the following essential oils in a small glass container and add to your favorite unscented lotion or massage oil; or add to warm bathwater for a soothing soak.

4 parts lavender
2 parts bergamot
1 part ylang ylang

Getting enough vitamin C is also crucial during the winter months because it helps strengthen immunity while maintaining brain balance and concentration under stress. Vitamin C stores are 15 times higher in the brain than in the rest of the body. This is important because vitamin C is critical to the conversion of certain substances into neurotransmitters—brain chemicals such as dopamine, acetylcholine, and norepinephrine—that facilitate the transmission of nerve impulses across synapses. Thus, vitamin C is instrumental for focus, memory, mood, and mental strength.

Vitamin C is also clinically proven to help us deal with physical stress. Studies show that people with the highest levels of vitamin C in their blood have the fewest signs of physical stress. So to keep mentally and physically sharp, eat plenty of vitamin C-rich foods, such as red chili peppers, mangoes, guavas, kale, collards, kiwi, and citrus fruits.

Aromatherapy will also help ward off stress. The soothing scent of lavender has been shown to increase alpha waves in the brain, which are associated with relaxation. Essential oil diffusers add a relaxing scent to the air; or use an essential oil-infused lotion or massage oil to end the day on a tranquil note.

Combine this private time with a "minute meditation": Take 60 seconds to stop all the doing and instead contemplate peace—the need for peace in our global community, peace in your family, and peace in your heart. Research shows that meditation can be effective in relieving symptoms of stress. This season, choose to see and embrace being "blessed with stress" as a sign of the fullness of your life. Then seek out balance and truly enjoy the blessings of the season.

James Rouse, ND, is the creator of Optimum Wellness and The Fit Kitchen, seen weekly on NBC's KUSA television news.