Many people experience more stress this time of year, from longer periods of dark vs light, too many school-related activities, end-of-year work projects, and the upcoming holidays – can you believe it’s almost November? These stressors can cause you to hit the ‘pause button’ on your health journey. And now, more than ever, is it crucial to optimize your health and resilience to stress, not to mention immunity as the winter season brings along with it more risk for infections.
Research shows that chronic stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone. This sets you up for the flight or fight response, whether you need to run or fight or not. The body starts to break down quicker than it can build back up, which can impact your sleep, weight (we have 4x the receptors for cortisol in our midsection), muscle gain, and immunity. In fact, it increases your risk for recurrent infections.
When you enter these seasons of excess stress, it can be overwhelming to stick to your full nutrition and lifestyle program. My biggest piece of advice is to simplify your program vs ditch it altogether. Be honest with yourself about how much you can realistically focus on and achieve, without stretching yourself too thin. If you overcommit yourself, it can create a sense of failure and overwhelm, leading to you ‘jump ship’, reverting back to habits that do not serve you, your health, or immunity.
So how do you simplify your plan? It will look different for everyone, but I encourage you to start by taking an inventory of what you are and aren’t doing in regard to your healthy habits compared to what you would most benefit from. If you are experiencing more stress, I encourage starting with prioritizing 7-8 hours of sleep each night with bedtime before midnight. Implement a short mindfulness practice to help build resilience to your life’s stressors. Get outdoors for fresh air, sunshine, and gentle movement – it’s great not only for your physical health, but also your mental health. For healthy meals, maybe this is the time to order healthy pre-made meals to heat up or easy-to-prepare meal kits to make meal prep easier.
The bottom line is that maintaining small habits, via simplifying your plan, to improve your health is better than halting the process altogether. Take this time to reflect on what truly makes you happy and healthy, what you need most, and what you are able and willing to tackle today.