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Nourish Your Stress This Holiday Season

Written by Carla Hampshire, Massage Therapist and Author of Healthy Body for Life

We are now entering the festive season – a season of joy, family gatherings, excellent food…and STRESS! With lots going on, including parties, an excess of food, family squabbles, trying to make everybody happy, shopping until you drop, playing Santa, stress mounts quickly during this time of year.

Stress can have a negative effect on your overall health and well-being. When you are stressed you may experience headaches, back and neck pain, frequent colds and flu, problems digesting your food, trouble sleeping, and depression and anxiety. Don’t let this happen to you this holiday season.

You may not be able to eliminate all the stress this season brings, but you can take better care of yourself. It all begins with putting the right food into your body. Yes, there will be treats to sample, but don’t make it a part of every meal.

Some simple rules to follow are:

  • Make sure you begin your day with a good protein-based breakfast such as an omelette, a protein smoothie, or Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts. A nutrient-dense breakfast will provide you with energy, keep you fuller longer, and hopefully help you make better food choices for the rest of the day.
  • Build the rest of your meals around fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, and lean cuts of meat.
  • By eating at regular intervals (every 3 to 4 hours) you will be giving your body a constant flow of nutrients which will nourish your stressed-out body, and will help keep you away from the Christmas cookies.
  • Don’t forget to drink water. When you are stressed, your heart rate is elevated and you breathe harder. This is dehydrating. Make sure you carry a water bottle around with you as a reminder to hydrate yourself. The recommended daily intake is 8 glasses of water.

Here is some additional advice to help nourish you in times of stress. The following foods actually help reduce stress.


Foods that help reduce stress

  • Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables (potatoes and yams), and beans and lentils help to stabilize blood sugar levels and prompt the release of serotonin, which has a calming effect.
  • Vitamin C: Fruits such as berries and citrus fruits help strengthen the immune system, which can be compromised by stress.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is depleted in response to stress. Eat more green leafy vegetables, which are especially high in magnesium. They are also high in the B vitamins to help support healthy mood.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: Fatty acids found in foods such as salmon, walnuts, and flax oil help prevent surges of the stress hormones.
  • Potassium: Foods high in potassium such as bananas, dark leafy greens, and squash help to balance the nervous system and calm anxiety.
  • Protein: Including protein at every meal will stabilize your blood sugar levels. This will help curb your hunger so you will not turn to traditional comfort foods, which can exacerbate stress. Good protein choices are chicken and fish, eggs, plain Greek yogurt, beans and lentils, and nuts and seeds.
  • Water: Once again I mention water because it’s that important. Dehydration can easily occur during stressful times. This state of dehydration can lead to an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone.

Now let’s examine foods that will actually raise your stress levels. Try to avoid over-consuming the following foods.

Foods that aggravate stress

  • Alcohol: The body’s response to alcohol is similar to the stress response. Most people reach for alcohol to help calm them down, but the opposite is true. Alcohol stimulates the production of cortisol, the same hormone produced in times of stress. Keep alcohol to a minimum during the festive season.
  • Caffeine: Whether it be coffee, caffeinated tea, or energy drinks, caffeine intensifies stress by stimulating the adrenal glands to release cortisol. In addition, many caffeinated drinks are loaded with sugar. This also raises cortisol levels.
  • Processed food: This type of food usually contains sugar, salt, fat, chemicals, and artificial ingredients with little nutritional value to help sustain you in times of stress. Processed foods are also high in calories, which can lead to weight gain. This increases psychological stress. Some examples of processed foods are frozen dinners, bagged salty snacks, store- bought baked goods, sugary cereals, and deli meats.
  • Sugary treats: With increased dietary sugar, blood glucose levels spike. This raises levels of cortisol. I know you will want to try Aunt Betty’s famous butter tarts, but learn to keep it at one tart.

By eating a nutritious and balanced diet, you will be better equipped to deal with stress this holiday season. This should be a time for family and friends to enjoy one another’s company and share good food and great times together. Focus on good nutrition to help you stay stress-free this Christmas and enjoy the season!


Apple Quinoa Salad

Quinoa contains many of the stress-reducing nutrients mentioned earlier in this article. This salad makes a very nutritious and colourful addition to your Christmas meal. Enjoy!

2 cups cooked quinoa - chilled (you can cook quinoa in vegetable broth for added flavour)

1 - 14 oz can of black beans drained and rinsed

1 apple diced

1 bell pepper diced (I use half red and half yellow - makes for a colourful salad)

2 spring onions thinly sliced

1/2 cup dried cranberries

2 tbsp. chopped cilantro or parsley

Mix all these ingredients into a large bowl.



In a small bowl combine the following ingredients:

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

Whisk until smooth then pour on top of salad.

Toss to combine and add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Chill for at least one hour then serve.



For more information and to book an appointment with Carla, please call

Momentum Health Creekside at 403-239-6773

The book is available at Momentum Health Creekside and

at (where there is a link to Amazon)


Carla Hampshire – Registered Massage Therapist

Carla Hampshire has been a registered massage therapist and reflexologist since 2002. She is a member of the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada Association (NHPCA) and is recognized as a 2200 hour practitioner, a qualification generally required by insurance providers. She offers therapeutic, relaxation, prenatal and sports massage. She helps relieve a variety of conditions such as: sciatica, whiplash, chronic muscle tension, and TMJ dysfunction. Carla enjoys working with clients of all ages. She is also a certified personal trainer, holistic nutritionist and a professional bodybuilder. She is married, has 6 children and 4 grandchildren. Carla is the author of "Healthy Body for Life - A Guide for Women Over Forty" which is available on Amazon and right here at the clinic.