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Welcome to the final week of my series of posts on adaptogens and their health benefits, including stress relief.  Today I’m going to talk about Astragalus, a very popular adaptogen in China and one that my acupuncturist has recommended to me personally.

What is Astragalus?

Astragalus is a perennial plant about 16 – 36 inches tall, that is native to the northern and eastern parts of China as well as Mongolia and Korea. It has hairy stems with leaves made up of 12 – 18 pairs of leaflets. Astragalus grows particularly well in well-lit environments and grows in small bush-like bundles. The root is the medicinal part, and is usually harvested from 4-year-old plants.

Medicinal Uses and Indications

Astragalus is an herb that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, often in combination with other herbs, to strengthen the body against disease, physical, mental, or emotional stress. It may help protect the body from diseases such as cancer and diabetes because it contains antioxidants, which protect cells against damage caused by free radicals, byproducts of cellular energy. Astragalus is also used to protect and support the immune system; for preventing colds and upper respiratory infections; to lower blood pressure; to treat diabetes, and to protect the liver.

Astragalus has antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties and so it is sometimes used topically for wounds. In addition, studies have shown that Astragalus has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system, suggesting that it is indeed effective at preventing colds.

In the United States, researchers have investigated Astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been compromised by chemotherapy or radiation. In these studies, Astragalus supplements have been shown to speed recovery and extend life expectancy.

Recent research in China indicates that Astragalus may offer antioxidant benefits to people with severe forms of heart disease, relieving symptoms and improving heart function. At low-to-moderate doses, Astragalus has few side effects, although it does interact with a number of other herbs and prescription medications and you should always consult your doctor before adding an herbal supplement to your diet.

Traditional Uses Summary

  • Adaptogen – protects the body from stress
  • Colds and influenza
  • Persistent infection
  • Fever
  • Multiple allergies
  • Asthma
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fatigue or lack of appetite associated with chemotherapy
  • Anemia
  • Wounds
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Stomach ulcers

Astragalus Tea

Astragalus tea is used to gently stimulate the immune system, it is brewed using the roots of the Astragalus plant and it is very highly valued as a part of ancient Chinese medicine. In China, both the roots and leaves of the Astragalus plant are used as a remedy for many common ailments and often taken in tea form. Herbal Astragalus tea is particularly well known for its pleasant taste, cleansing properties, and calming effect, making it similar to many other mild herbal supplements designed to combat fatigue and chronic stress.

Jiaogulan

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), is a plant that grows wild in China, as well as many other countries throughout Asia. In China, it has been used for many years as a medicinal and energizing tea in the local regions where it grows. Jiaogulan is sometimes called “Southern Ginseng”, since it grows in south central China and because of its similarity to ginseng in chemical composition and function. It is also praised as Xiancao, “Immortality” Herb, because it grows wild and has many health-giving qualities and anti-aging effects.

Research

In the late 1970s, Japanese scientists began discovering Jiaogulan’s illness-prevention and therapeutic qualities. What they uncovered was an herb very similar in quality to Ginseng, yet in some ways superior. They found Jiaogulan could function as both an adaptogenic herb and an antioxidant herb, containing many health-giving saponins (chemical compounds having a soapy characteristic), as well as trace minerals, amino acids, proteins, and vitamins. Jiaogulan contains a large quantity of these saponins, known also as gypenosides.

The structure of the gypenosides is very similar to the ginsenosides found in Ginseng. However, there are four times as many saponins in Jiaogulan as there is in Ginseng.  This may translate into a more powerful regulatory effect on a number of bodily systems; like blood pressure, the reproductive system, the digestive system, the immune system, mental health and more.

Adaptogenic functions of Jiaogulan are demonstrated in its biphasic effects on brain functions, which energize or calm the nervous system depending upon the body’s need. Jiaogulan also aids in the regulation of hormonal functions in both men and women. The healthy maintenance of these physiological systems plays a major role in the body’s ability to cope with stress.

Jiaogulan has also shown its effectiveness, in clinical research studies, in helping the body resist depression of the immune system and other stress-related symptoms. It increases the production of Lymphocytes, Phagocytes and serum IgG, but not to an excess.

In China Jiaogulan is praised as the “Herb of Immortality,” due to its many health giving qualities and anti-aging effects.

Schisandra

For centuries the berries of a shrub found in the far east (China, Siberia, North Korea, Japan) have been valued as a tonic that invigorates the Qi (vital energy) of five key organs—the liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidneys. Schisandra chinensis (magnolia vine) is the woody vine that produces these wonderful berries. Schisandra (also spelled Schizandra) berries are an adaptogen. They protect the body and help it to adapt to stress and achieve internal balance (or homeostasis). In traditional Chinese medicine it is revered for its ability to prolong youth, increase stamina, and prevent fatigue. Indeed there is documented research indicating that Schisandra increased endurance and mental performance in patients with mild fatigue and weakness.

At the same time Schisandra can also function as a sedative, calming the nervous system in the face of stress. This is where it reveals itself as a true adaptogen—it restores internal balance (homeostasis) depending on what is needed at the time. Researchers find that this dual action of schisandra stems from its favorable effect on our body’s stress system. “The beneficial stress-protective effect of adaptogens is related to regulation of homeostasis via several mechanisms of action associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.”  Researchers subjected rats to chronic psychological stress and strenuous exercise giving one groups of rats Schisandra and the other group nothing. After several days the Schizandra supplemented rats had lowered levels of corticosterone (a stress hormone) and blood glucose.

Another group of researchers gave mice a combination of three adaptogenic herbs (Eleutherococcus senticocus, Schisandra chinensis and Rhodiola rosea) before forcing them to swim “to exhaustion”.  They concluded that the “adaptogens …increase tolerance to stress (in our model combination of physical and emotional stresses).”

In healthy subjects, Schizandra increases endurance, mental performance and working capacity, and generates alterations in the basal levels of nitric oxide and cortisol in blood and saliva with subsequent effects on the blood cells, vessels and central nervous system.

Hope you enjoyed this series on adaptogens.

Stay tuned!

Jen

Using yoga as a form of stress relief has been popular for thousands of years, some say up to 5,000 years!  As a result, I thought talking a little about yoga and its ability to relieve stress would be a great complement to the (also very old) herbal remedies we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks.  After all, April is Stress Awareness Month and what better way to commemorate it than with a series of posts about some tried and true stress remedies.

Yoga Poses for Stress Relief

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

This pose takes its original name from the Sanskrit word for snake ‘bhujanga’.

  1. Lie on your stomach on the floor. Stretch your legs back, tops of the feet on the floor. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders, keeping the palms on the floor below the shoulder blades and the elbows touching the middle part of the body. Bend the head and neck backward.
  2. Press the tops of the feet and thighs and the pubic bone firmly into the floor.
  3. Inhale, begin to straighten the arms to lift the chest off the floor, keep your legs and pubic bone/naval area on the mat. Firm but don’t harden the buttocks. Tighten the legs all over from the waist down to the toes.
  4. Hold the pose anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, breathing easily. Release back to the floor with an exhalation.

Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)

This pose takes its original name from the Sanskrit word for cat ‘Marjari’.

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a “tabletop” position.  Bring the hands shoulder width apart and the knees hip width apart. Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor.
  2. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position. Let  your head drop towards the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.
  3. Inhale, coming back to the neutral “tabletop” position.

Salutation Seal (Anjali Mudra)

‘Anjali’ means salutation or reverence in Sanskrit and ‘Mudra’ means seal.

  1. Sit comfortably on the mat in a Siddhasana pose.  This pose is a basic yoga pose and can be achieved by sitting upright with legs crossed at the shins and your feet under your knees or thighs. Inhale and bring your palms together. Rest the thumbs lightly on your sternum.
  2. Press the hands firmly but evenly against each other. Make sure that one hand doesn’t dominate the other. If you find an imbalance, release the dominant hand slightly but don’t increase the pressure of the non-dominant hand.
  3. Bow your head slightly, drawing the neck  towards the center of your head. Rest in this position for a while.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

This pose takes its name from the Sanskrit for dam or bridge, ’setu’, and the word ‘bandha’ which means to lock.

  1. Lie on your back on the floor, and if necessary, place a thickly folded blanket under your shoulders to protect your neck. Bend your knees and rest your feet on the floor hip distance apart, make sure your feet are pointing straight ahead.
  2. Exhale and, pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your tailbone upward toward the pubic bone, firming (but not hardening) the buttocks, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and inner feet parallel.  You can clasp your hands below your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders, if you like.
  3. Lift your buttocks until the thighs are about parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels, but push them forward, away from the hips, and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees.
  4. Lift your chin slightly away from the sternum and, firming the shoulder blades against your back. Externally rotate your shoulders lifting your chest toward your face (keep the back of your neck in neutral rather than trying to tuck the chin into the chest)
  5. Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds or up to 1 minute, if that is comfortable. Release with an exhalation, rolling the spine slowly down onto the floor.

Balasana (child’s pose)

‘Bala’ means child in Sanskrit.

  1. Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips.
  2. Exhale and move your torso down between your thighs. Bring your belly to rest between your thighs and bring the forehead down to the floor.
  3. There are two possible arm variations: Either stretch the arms in front of you with the palms toward the floor or bring the arms back alongside the thighs with the palms facing upwards. Do whichever feels the most comfortable for you.
  4. Balasana is a resting pose. Stay anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. To come up, first lengthen the front torso, and then with an inhalation lift from the tailbone as it presses down and into the pelvis.

Savasana (corpse pose)

‘Sava’ means corpse in Sanskrit.

  1. Lie down on your back and let your feet fall out to either side.  Try to make sure that the feet are turned out evenly.
  2. Bring the arms alongside the body, but slightly separated from the body, and turn the palms to face upwards.  Stretch the arms away from the space between the shoulder blades. Rest the backs of the hands on the floor as close as you comfortably can to the index finger knuckles. Make sure the shoulder blades are resting evenly on the floor.
  3. Make sure the shoulder blades are resting evenly on the floor. Imagine the lower tips of the shoulder blades are lifting diagonally into your back toward the top of the sternum. From here, spread the collarbones.
  4. Relax the whole body, including the face. Let the body feel heavy.  Let breathing occur naturally.
  5. Stay in this pose for 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of practice. To exit this pose, exhale and bring the knees into the chest and roll over to one side, keeping the eyes closed. Take 2 or 3 breaths. With another exhalation press your hands against the floor and lift your torso, dragging your head slowly after. The head should always come up last.

Health Benefits of Yoga

October 12, 2019

Take a look at this excerpted article from the Mayo Clinic talking about the health benefits of yoga. If you don’t already have a yoga practice, this could provide the motivation you’re looking for!

“Chronic stress can lead to a variety of health and emotional problems. Yoga can be an effective method to reduce stress and anxiety.

Your kids are demanding the latest video game, your boss wants that report done yesterday, and your partner wants to know what’s for dinner. Stress and anxiety are everywhere. If they’re getting the best of you, you might want to make like a cobra or a mountain and try yoga.

Yoga’s series of postures — some with names from nature — and controlled breathing exercises are a popular means of stress management and relaxation. Today, yoga classes teaching the art of breathing, meditation and posing are offered nearly everywhere — from trendy health clubs in big cities to community education classes in small towns to hospitals and clinics.

Yoga is considered a mind-body type of complementary and alternative medicine practice. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind, helping you relax and manage stress and anxiety. Traditional yoga philosophy requires that students adhere to this mission through behavior, diet and meditation. But if you’re just looking for better stress management — whether because of life’s daily hassles or a health problem you’re facing — and not an entire lifestyle change or way of life, yoga can still help.

Yoga has many styles, forms and intensities. Hatha yoga, in particular, may be a good choice for stress management. Hatha is one of the most common styles of yoga, and some beginners find it easier to practice because of its slower pace and easier movements. But most people can benefit from any style of yoga — it’s all about your personal preferences.

The Core Components of Hatha Yoga and most Yoga classes are:

* Poses. Yoga poses, also called postures, are a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility. Poses range from lying on the floor while completely relaxed to difficult postures that may have you stretching your physical limits.

* Breathing. Controlling your breathing is an important part of yoga. In yoga, breath signifies your vital energy. Yoga teaches that controlling your breathing can help you control your body and quiet your mind.

The Health Benefits of Yoga

The potential health benefits of yoga are numerous and may include:

* Stress reduction. With its quiet, precise movements, yoga draws your focus away from your busy, chaotic day and toward calm as you move your body through poses that require balance and concentration.

* Increased fitness. As you learn and refine new poses, you may enjoy improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. And this means you’re less likely to injure yourself in other physical endeavors or in your daily activities.

* Management of chronic health conditions. Yoga might help with a variety of health conditions, such as cancer, depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia, by helping with sleep problems, fatigue and mood. Yoga also can help reduce heart rate and blood pressure.

* Weight loss. If you’re overweight or have binge-eating disorder, yoga may help you make the healthy lifestyle changes necessary to gain control of your eating and drop those extra pounds.

While you shouldn’t expect yoga to cure you or offer 100 percent relief, it can help some health conditions when combined with standard treatment. And if you already enjoy good health, yoga can be an enjoyable supplement to your regular fitness routine.

Taking Precautions before Starting Yoga

Yoga is generally considered safe for people of all abilities, even if you use a wheelchair or you’re severely overweight. But there are some situations in which yoga might pose a risk. You may need to find an alternative to yoga or scale back your yoga poses.

See your health care provider before you begin yoga if you have any of the following conditions or situations, since complications can arise:

  • Balance problems
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Certain eye conditions, including glaucoma
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Pregnancy
  • Artificial joints

You may be able to practice yoga in these situations if you take certain precautions, such as avoiding certain poses or stretches. Regardless of your health status, start slowly and gently. If you develop symptoms or concerns, see your doctor to make sure you’re getting benefit and not harm from yoga.

Finding a Yoga Class

If you’ve decided to try yoga, whether for stress management or other health benefits, look for classes in your area. Although you can learn yoga from books and videos, beginners usually find it helpful to learn with an instructor. Classes also offer camaraderie and friendship, which are also important to overall well-being.

When you find a class that sounds interesting, talk with the instructor so that you know what to expect. Questions to ask include:

  • What are the instructor’s qualifications? Where did he or she learn yoga, and how long has he or she been teaching?
  • Does the instructor have experience working with students with your needs or health concerns? If you have a sore knee or an aching shoulder, can the instructor help you find poses that won’t aggravate your condition?
  • Is the class suitable for beginners? Will it be easy enough to follow along if it’s your first time? Can you observe a class before signing up?
  • What is the focus of the class? Is it aimed at your needs, such as stress management or relaxation, or is it geared for people who want to reap other benefits?
  • What do you need to take along to class? Some classes require you to bring a mat or towel to sit or stand on while doing poses. Other classes will provide a mat.

Remember, regardless of which type of yoga you practice, you don’t have to do every pose your instructor demonstrates. If a pose is uncomfortable or you can’t hold it as long as the instructor requests, don’t do it. Good instructors will understand and encourage you not to exceed your personal limits. Spend time sitting quietly, breathing deeply until your instructor moves the class on to another pose that’s more comfortable for you.

At the end of a yoga session, you should feel invigorated, yet relaxed and calm. If this isn’t the case, talk to your instructor. He or she might have suggestions for you. Otherwise there may be another yoga class better suited to your needs for stress management and relaxation.”

Signs of Stress

October 12, 2019

© copyright Mental Health America

If any of these symptoms seem familiar to you it’s important not to ignore the problem but to take action.

If you or a loved one have any of the above symptoms, see a doctor to get yourself checked out.

Once other conditions have been ruled out, work on reducing the stress levels in your life and keep track of your progress.

Keep a short daily journal of what you’re doing to combat stress, how often and for how long, and also make note of your symptoms.

Are they improving the longer you practice stress relief techniques?

If so, by how much have they improved?

This can be as simple as using a scale of 1-10, with 1 meaning almost symptom free and 10 meaning severe symptoms.

If you practice a combination of stress relief techniques, you should see a significant improvement in symptoms over time (give it at least a couple of months, some symptoms may take longer to disappear).

I’ll be giving you useful tips and tricks in this blog to help you deal with stress relief and symptom reduction, but remember always consult your doctor before undertaking any lifestyle changes and always get your symptoms checked by a health care provider first.

Be good to yourself and stress less!

Jennifer

No doubt about it, marriage can be an incredibly stressful thing and it almost always requires a great deal of patience and compromise to make it work long term.  But, if you and your partner are willing to put in the work, it can prove to be the most rewarding relationship in your life!

Here are some pointers to get you started on a long, happy and (relatively) stress -free marriage.

Communicate

This is a biggie.  I know it’s easier said than done, maybe you feel like you just can’t open up to your partner anymore, that the intimacy has gone, well that may be so, but you can get it back if you’re both willing to try, here are a few strategies to help:

First off, let go of any past resentments or feelings of anger that you may have. You can’t even begin to work on the present if you’re still stuck in the past, and raising old issues and arguments will likely make your partner more defensive and closed to communication from the get-go.  If your partner is having trouble letting go of past issues, choose a time when you think he/she is most receptive and gently raise the topic, it may not go smoothly at first but letting go of the past is key to making a future together.

Address any current hurt feelings and anger from the perspective of how it has affected you, not from how you think it reflects on your partner’s character.  For example, you can say something like, ‘that thing you said really hurt my feelings and made me sad’, instead of, ‘you’re a hurtful, cruel b*st*rd!’ You’ll be surprised at just how effective this strategy is at keeping the lid on potential conflict.  Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

Set aside a regular time to talk each week about whatever is bothering you both, be it money troubles, the kids, or work issues.  Try to solve the issues together and listen to your partner’s perspective on things even if you don’t agree. Most importantly try not to blame each other for any problems you may be facing.  realize that facing your problems as a team is so much more effective than playing the blame game.

This time is not to be confused with date time.

Have a time out rule

I know this is supposed to be for kids but we adults can use it to great effect too.  If you and your partner fight frequently pre-arranged time outs are a great way to get things under control.  Raise the idea during your regular talk time (see above) and pre-arrange verbal cues for a time out the next time either of you feel like an argument is getting out of hand.   For example: Either one of you can say ‘I need a break’ or, ‘I’m too upset right now. Let’s talk about this later’ and be allowed to walk away from the conflict until things become calmer.  As long as you have an agreement upfront, you can legitimately remind your partner should he or she forget in the heat of the moment.

Eat dinner together

This is a big one for me.  It is a really simple thing that any couple can do to help bring them closer together.  I know it isn’t always easy but try to plan at least 3 dinners a week together. If you have kids, cook for them first a couple of times a week and have dinner later when they are playing in their rooms or asleep.  It helps if you can prepare dinner together too, but if you’re both frazzled and the only option is take-out, so be it.

Schedule date time

Dinner together at home does count but if you can swing it, it’s often better to go out of the house for a date, particularly if you have young kids.  Try to make a date with each other at least once a month, more if possible, and take turns deciding what to do.

Schedule time apart

Just as spending time together is crucial to help a relationship stay intimate, so ironically, is spending time apart.  We all get fed up of seeing the same person day in, day out, but if we arrange to spend time with friends, alone, or doing a hobby at least once every couple of weeks, we can give each other some breathing space and prevent possible feelings of being trapped in a marriage.

Seek counseling, if necessary

If you feel like your marriage has reached a point where the two of you can’t fix it without outside help, there is nothing wrong with seeking counseling, either alone or as a couple.  I would suggest individual counseling for one or both partners as the first option. Quite often that is all that’s needed. Ask at community centers, churches, non-profit medical centers or community groups if your health insurance doesn’t provide coverage.

I hope this helps.

Jennifer

This is the first of two special Valentine’s Week Posts.

For those of you with partners, hey you can still do this, or maybe it will be done for you; and for those without partners, treating yourself is a particularly effective way to fend off the Valentine’s Day Blues.

Depending on what you like, and what matters to you, there are almost endless ways to spoil yourself (and avoid feeling blue).

Here are 9 ideas to get you started:

  1. It’s nasty winter weather for many of us right now, so how abut doing something to warm yourself up and ‘cozify’ your life?  Buy yourself your favorite indulgent hot chocolate, or other hot drink, and break out the marshmallows, chocolate, whipped cream, whatever sumptuous toppings your heart desires.  Then snuggle up on the sofa with your favorite book or movie and sip, sip, sip. Drink and repeat for added effectiveness!
  2. Take a spa break.  Men, this is for you too!  Choose a service that fits your budget and make the appointment this week!  It can be something as small as getting a pedicure, or you can step it up to a massage or facial.  You could even book a half or full day package if you’re feeling really flush. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what service you choose, it’s the fact that you are spoiling yourself that matters!  And, deflect any Valentine’s talk with a joke or a smile. – who cares, right?
  3. Been abandoning your gym routine because of the cold?  Get back over there! Set aside some time to have a leisurely workout — don’t overdo it if you have been AWOL for a while — and concentrate on all the good you’re doing your body.  Exercise, as I’m sure most of you know already, is a huge stress and depression buster, so the more you sweat, the better you feel! Treat yourself when you get home to that decadent hot chocolate from tip #1, without the guilt!
  4. Buy your favorite food.  If you like to cook, set aside an evening when you really take the time to make your favorite food exactly as you like it, then savor each bite.  You can also wash it down with your favorite wine and light a couple of candles while you’re eating, just to set the mood. Don’t cook? No problem.  order your favorite take-out instead, or pick something up pre-prepared from a gourmet food store.
  5. Get your favorite movies!  We all have a couple of movies that just make us warm and fuzzy all over, at least for the couple of hours we spend in their company.  If you don’t already own your favorites, go buy them or rent them from Netflix. Plan a special movie night for yourself, shut off the phone, dim the lights, maybe make your favorite food, or buy your favorite wine, put in those DVDs and sit back and relax — the hot chocolate could also come in handy here too, especially if you have more than a couple of favorite movies!
  6. Take a bath!  I mean a long, relaxing, bubble-filled, smells-wonderful-bath, not the quick, utilitarian kind.  If you don’t have some great bubble bath or aromatherapy oils, go find some. There are so many out there with such varied prices that there’s bound to be something for everyone’s budget.  If you’re short on ideas, take a look at my Stress Relief Store, I have some of my favorites listed! Once you’ve picked out your bath oils, if you have some spare cash left, why not pick up an aromatherapy candle?  These work wonders for soothing the soul and putting you into a deep state of relaxation. Still not relaxed enough? Do you have any of that wine left over from that fabulous dinner you cooked the other night?
  7. Splurge on a completely unnecessary but cute accessory.  It could be anything from a fun pair of mittens, to a pretty bracelet or pair of earrings.  You don’t have to break the bank – in fact, picking something small is sort of the point – you want to feel like you’re treating yourself, but not buying something that you’ll regret later.
  8. Download some new music.  Some people I know do this all of the time, but I bet most of you out there don’t.  If that’s the case, taking some time to explore some new music could be just the thing that you need to stave off the blues this Valentine’s Week.  Just try to stay away from the romantic ballads!
  9. Buy yourself some flowers!  So, what if other women are getting flowers from their partners this V Day?!  It doesn’t mean you can’t too. If this is not something you usually do, head to a florist and spent some time breathing in the heavenly scents and admiring the pretty colors.  When you’re ready, snap up a bunch of your favorites and stick your nose in them immediately, then inhale deeply! If you don’t have a nice vase to put them in, treat yourself to one of those too!

Chocolate for Stress Relief

October 12, 2019

I was rummaging through my Google Alerts earlier trying to come up with a post idea that I could somehow tie in with the holidays – I’m usually better at this kind of brainstorming but I have a heavy cold at the moment and thinking is a bit like making my way through a thick fog, so I’m taking any help I can get!

Lucky for me, and you, I came across an interesting article on WebMD about chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, and its effects on stress levels.  The news is good!

According a study done in of all places Switzerland,  eating dark chocolate may reduce levels of stress hormones in people who are already stressed out.

With the holiday season upon us and a surplus of both stress AND chocolate, this is good news indeed.

Now, it remains to be seen whether this study will be proven anywhere other than Switzerland, which seems to be a pretty low-stress place to live in general — I actually have a good friend living there right now and he has been on Christmas vacation since the end of November, and isn’t going to head on back to work until the first week of January — but it’s potentially good news for the chocoholics among us.

The study measured the effects of eating 1.4oz (about the size of a regular Hershey Bar) of dark chocolate every day for two weeks.  Half of the chocolate was eaten mid-morning and half of the chocolate was eaten in the afternoon. The participants’ blood and urine were collected at the beginning and the end of the study to measure any changes in anxiety levels.

At the end of two weeks the researchers showed that those who had high stress levels at the beginning of the study, had lower levels of stress hormones after two weeks of eating dark chocolate.

Obviously, there could be many other factors involved in that reduction in stress levels and it is important to point out two things, (1) the study was only conducted on a small number of people, thirty in all, and (2) the study was commissioned by Nestle, yes, that’s right, the chocolate company!

Nevertheless, I’m taking comfort in the findings of this study and I fully intend to be eating healthy amounts of dark chocolate over the holiday season.  In fact, I’m thinking of a nice big bar of Green & Black’s 85% Dark as I write this! Mmmmm…

Now all I have to do is wait for this cold to clear up so that I can actually taste the chocolate!

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas

October 12, 2019

I Thought I’d write a quick post to wish you all a very Merry Christmas this year, whatever you’re doing and wherever you are!

Just in case you’re feeling a little of that old holiday stress, here’s some last minute advice on how to keep your day virtually stress-free.

Relax and don’t sweat the small stuff.  If you’re hosting, don’t worry no-one expects perfection, relax and go with the flow of the day, whatever that may be.  If you’re visiting, same advice, go with the flow, relax, enjoy what you can about the day and let go of anything negative that may happen.

Cut yourself and others a break.  Sure tempers may get a little frayed at some point, particularly if guests are staying for a few days.  Just accept that as a natural part of the holiday and move on. If you find yourself becoming irritated with someone, take a short break from them — maybe a couple of minutes outside, or in another room, just enough to put space between yourself and any negative feelings you may be experiencing.  Remember, others will likely be feeling some stress too, so try not to take anything they say or do personally.

Try not to overeat, or drink too much.  I know it’s tempting but it’s worth exercising a little self control.  You’ll be glad you did!

Don’t lose your routine.  I know you’re going to have to adjust your life for a day or two, but try to to do at least one thing each day, including Christmas Day, that is part of your regular routine.  Exercise is the best example of this, there’s nothing wrong with stealing an hour to go to the gym or go for a run. It will help you slough away stress, and make you feel better when it comes time for dessert.

Take a few minutes for yourself every day, including Christmas Day.  You might want to be by yourself and meditate, read a chapter of a book or a magazine, or even just get out in the fresh air for a couple of minutes.  Whatever you choose to do with your time is fine, just make sure you take it. You will need this time to ensure that tempers don’t fray and your stress levels remain low.

Have fun and enjoy the holidays!

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