By Ashley Koff, RD, Calmful Living Nutrition Editor
The holidays, they happen every year and are usually a mixed bag of fun celebration and stress. There’s no way I would tell you “Try not to stress; it’s bad for you.” Stress is actually not bad for you; it’s the not recovering from stress— not relaxing to return things to balance—that is the issue. And telling someone not to stress is, well, just mean. So I want to share my holiday goal with you: Stress Less; Recover More.
When we stress, the whole body tightens. That means headaches and body aches, cramps, constipation, anxiety, and often shortness of breath as well as increased blood pressure. Guess what? There’s a mineral that plays a key role in regulating the body’s response to stress— magnesium. Its relationship with its sister mineral, calcium, is a key to a healthy stress response.
The role of magnesium and calcium for muscle and bone health is well known, but they have another relationship and that is with your body’s stress response. At a cellular level, the body’s resting state has magnesium inside cells and calcium outside. When the body feels “stress” (good or bad), calcium enters the cells and magnesium exits; this is how we get a “stressed” (i.e., fight-or-flight) action response triggered in the cells. With enough magnesium in your body, the magnesium recognizes what is going on and pushes the calcium back out to turn down the stress response and restore calm. This is very much like breathing in (calcium) and breathing out (magnesium). So if there is not enough magnesium compared to calcium, then the cells continue to be stressed.
Think of magnesium as a superhero—the Calm Enabler—as its presence in the cells pushes that calcium back where it belongs and begins a cascade of reactions that relax the body.
Magnesium re-engages digestion to start the digestive tract moving again. Magnesium ends muscle tension and ushers in muscle relaxation.
So, how can you stress less and relax more before and during the holidays? Magnesium! Since more than half the population don’t get the recommended daily amount of magnesium, consider taking a supplement and eating foods rich in magnesium. Here are some tips:
1. Consider taking a quality magnesium supplement. Know that all types of supplemental magnesium aren’t created equal. I take Natural Calm nightly because the powdered form is easy, delicious and well absorbed. Remember, digestion loses priority when the body is stressing; so a tablet, which is a less easily absorbed form, is likely not your best choice.
2. If you take a calcium supplement, you almost always need magnesium. Many supplements have a ratio of 2, 4, or 6:1 of calcium to magnesium; thus additional magnesium is needed to balance them for a proper stress response.
3. I always pack magnesium when I travel. I drink Natural Calm in water or tea on planes, trains, and especially on family car rides.
4. Eat cacao—yup, we are talking real chocolate. I like to add cacao nibs to my oatmeal or pancakes.
5. Top organic berries or poached pear with hemp hearts and cacao.
6. Choose whole grains versus flour more often. A lot of our food is highly processed, but even minimal processing—turning grains into flour—reduces magnesium.
7. Opt for buckwheat groats; make dishes with quinoa or wild rice, especially if you have any gluten-free guests.
Before the holiday season begins, assess how much magnesium you get each day and amend it if necessary. You just might find yourself enjoying the joys, and stresses, of the season a bit more.
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