Holiday Survival Guide: 15 tips to avoid Stress, Fatigue, and Bloating

Dr Will ColeToday, we have another excellent guest post from our friend and resident health-expert, Dr. Will Cole., Dr. Cole is a progressive Functional Medicine doctor, and has been helping people achieve better health through a Paleo-template combined with various forms of alternative medicine. 

Although his practice is located in Pittsburgh (just a few miles from us), he offers remote consultations with clients all over the world via Skype. He has his post doctorate education and training in Functional Medicine and Clinical Nutrition. Dr. Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors and customizing health programs for chronic conditions such as thyroid issues, autoimmune, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders, diabetes, heart disease and fibromyalgia.

Today, we invited him to share his expertise on all-things Adrenal Fatigue. Thanks Dr. Cole!



The holidays are a special time of year. Quality time with family and friends is priceless. In our modern culture though, the holiday spirit can be lost in the high paced stress that now permeates this season. This time can leave you feeling more exhausted than ever.

Out of all the health issues my patients come to me with, fatigue is by far the most common and it is worse during the holidays.

According to a American Psychological Association (APA) survey, 80% of Americans anticipate stress during the holiday season. It’s no secret that stress is associated with a greater risk of depressionanxietyheart diseasegastrointestinal problems, and autoimmune conditions. In fact, a recent Harvard and Stanford study found that stress is as detrimental to your health as secondhand smoke.

Why? Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests one way that stress can hurt our health. Inflammation is regulated by the hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands. The researchers found that chronic stress affects the brain-adrenal connection and inflammation can get out of control.

This is commonly referred to as “adrenal fatigue,” which decreases your body’s ability to regulate inflammation and can promote the development of chronic and autoimmune diseases. When you are stressed and tired, you are also are more apt to crave the holiday treats that are all around us during this time of year. This can leave you feeling bloated and even more fatigued.

So let’s reclaim the holidays for your health. Let’s use festive meals as good medicine. Let’s navigate through times of celebration so that you can feel better because they happened. Let the days of post-holiday regret be a thing of the past. Every meal is an opportunity to create more health or destroy it. This holiday season and beyond, choose to give yourself and your loved ones the gift of health.

Holiday Survival Guide

My Holiday Tips:

Whether you’re going out to a party or having one of your own, here are some of my favorite tips to avoid holiday fatigue, stress and bloating:

  1. Have a healthy snack before parties.

If you’re going to a holiday party where you don’t exactly know what the hosts will be serving, have a healthy snack before you go. Taking the edge off hunger will help you to make more rational, healthier choices at the holiday party. Then, if you decide to eat that cookie, you’ll choose to do so rationally instead of compulsively, and move on.

  1. Avoid the snack dishes.

Bowls of pretzels, peanuts and other snack foods are common at holiday parties. While it may be instinctive for you to grab a handful of these, I would avoid it. These snacks typically contain inflammatory oils, like canola or soybean, and inflammatory grains, like wheat. Inflammation is not festive, believe me.

  1. Make simple choices at parties.

There’s usually a somewhat healthy option at holiday parties. I find myself standing in front of the vegetable tray, and that’s all right! When people see you making healthy choices, they may pick up the broccoli just because you did. Since most holiday gatherings offer vegetables and meats, keeping it simple by filling up on these nutrient-dense and delicious foods is a great idea.

  1. Share a healthy treat you enjoy.

What better way to share this holiday season than by showing your friends that eating healthy can be delicious. Sharing a healthy treat that you love is a great idea for a holiday party. Making a yummy recipe you found online and bringing it to the party will also give you at least one thing you can have!

  1. Opt for grain-free alcohol.

I’m not suggesting that drinking alcohol is the healthiest option, but I want you to have better alternatives so that you can go through the holidays with more ease. Avoiding grain alcohols, specifically ones made from gluten-containing grains, is a good goal. Instead of beer, opt for hard ciders. Wine, tequila, brandy, cognac and rum are also all grain-free alcohol options. There are even spirits made exclusively from grapes or potatoes!
In moderation, these are the smarter choices for you. See, you didn’t know you could have this much fun when talking about health, now did you?

  1. Avoid sugary holiday drinks.

Going for sugary holiday lattes that are sold at large chains are absolutely loaded with sugar. Opt for making your own holiday lattes at home.

  1. Avoid sauces.

When you’re out at a holiday party and don’t know what ingredients were used in sauces, try and avoid them when you can. Wheat flour is commonly used in gravy recipes, and sauces typically have refined sugars both contributing to bloating and fatigue.

  1. Avoid getting glutened.

If you know you may end up eating something that doesn’t agree with you, try taking digestive enzymes, probiotics and anti-inflammatory nutrients like turmeric before the party. While these are not a license to eat everything in sight, they may help soften the blow if you have a run-in with a sugar or gluten bomb.

  1. Don’t be afraid to say, “No thank you.”

If you’re at a holiday party and are offered something you know isn’t a good option for you, it’s OK to say no politely. Sometimes we’re afraid we may offend, but in reality, has anyone’s day been ruined because someone turned down a cookie or a drink?

  1. Try calming natural medicines.

Balance out the holiday stress with some plant medicine for the brain-adrenal connection. What works for one person may not work for you, so it’s important to discuss this with a qualified practitioner. Here are some general natural medicines that can help:

  • Adaptogenic herbs: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Holy Basil, and Eleuthero Ginseng can have a regulating effect on cortisol rhythm.
  • Adrenal support: Glandulars like the ones found in Primal Boost (See below) can have a therapeutic effect for Adrenal dysfunctions.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is the original chill pill. It helps support the adrenal glands, relaxes stressed muscles and nerves, and promotes quality sleep.
  • Methylation support: Activated forms of B12 and folate are effective ways to support healthy methylation pathways which help balance the melatonin- cortisol rhythm. I personally use Primal Balance (See below) for this.
  • GABA support: Your calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter is GABA. Herbs like passion flower and amino acids such as theanine, glycine, and taurine can help calm you down by acting on the gabaminergic pathways in your brain.
  1. Eat calming foods.

The foods we eat will either perpetuate stress in our body or calm it down. Oysters and avocado are two of my favorite foods to help de-stress the brain and hormonal system.

  1. Practice breathing exercises.

Breathing is a major factor in reducing stress. Take time throughout the day to become aware of your breath — it’s a great way to diffuse stress levels and calm your brain-adrenal axis. I recommend mindfulness meditation or present moment awareness to my patients struggling with adrenal fatigue.

  1. Get enough sleep.

Make sure you’re not staying up too late — you need to allow your brain and adrenals to recuperate overnight. Promote quality sleep by turning off the TV and smartphone a few hours before bed and reading a book instead. Research published in JAMA showed that optimal sleep for most people is around seven hours per night.

  1. Bring stillness into the holidays.

Quiet down the holiday busyness with some zen. Bring practices of intense alertness and stillness into your life. Yoga and tai chi are two of my favorite ways for people to start balancing out the stress in their lives.

  1. Relax and enjoy good times.

Stress isn’t good for your health either. Don’t make healthy food a source of anxiety. Make a conscious effort, logical choices, then relax and enjoy your time with family and friends. Being a nervous health zealot is not necessary to make healthy decisions in a sustainable and realistic way.


What Now?

Once you’ve brought these simple tools into your life to create calm during the holidays, then it’s time to look into healing your hormones. Functional medicine can help uncover underlying problems like adrenal fatigue and hidden thyroid dysfunctions that can decrease body’s ability to handle stress.

Consider taking advantage of a free webcam or phone evaluation to talk about your individual case. Visit my website if you’d like to connect or learn more.

-Dr. Will Cole


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