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THE lead-up to Christmas and the day itself is one of the busiest times of the year, not to mention one of the most stressful.

If you're an already busy mum or dad with a couple of over-excited children and a never-ending wish list for Father Christmas, then the chances are you're feeling even greater pressure.

Stress occurs when our pressures exceed our ability to cope.

When left to spiral out of control, stress can lead to a number of health complaints, such as muscle tension, sleeping disorders, nervous anxiety and mild depression, so it's important you keep it in check.

Believe it or not a few simple steps can make a huge difference: Step back and take a deep breath. If you keep thinking about the mountain of jobs you have to do, you'll soon feel overwhelmed. Break them down into to small, manageable tasks; Control your breathing. By taking fewer but deeper breaths you will optimise your oxygen intake, helping you to relax and remain calm; Exercise is also a great way of beating stress. It enables you to vent your frustration and causes the brain to produce more of the happy hormones - endorphins - so try to work up a sweat for at least 20 minutes a day. Even a short walk can help to combat stress and increase your energy, and fitness levels; Watch your diet. In times of stress certain nutrients are used in larger quantities than normal so increase supply where necessary.

Vital vitamins include the B vitamins, which help to support the nervous system, and vitamin C, which supports the adrenal glands.

The B vitamins are found naturally in potatoes, bananas, lentils, peppers, tempeh, beans and brewer's yeast (Marmite and Vegemite are excellent sources) and vitamin C is of course found in most fresh fruit and vegetables, including broccoli, kale, peppers, oranges and strawberries.

Other essential nutrients include magnesium (found naturally in pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts and spinach) for the nervous system and iron for energy.

Liver is an obvious food source of iron but sardines, figs and apricots are also rich in iron.

Stimulants, such as caffeine - contained in tea, coffee, chocolate and cola - can aggravate stress, so try to avoid these.

Chamomile or lemon verbena tea and fruit juice are good alternatives and bamboo, caro and barley cup are good coffee substitutes; Herbal remedies can also be effective.

Passiflora has been used for centuries as a mild sedative and is particularly beneficial when mixed with other restorative herbs such as Avena sativa.

A traditional nerve tonic Avena sativa is recognised for its restorative action on the nervous system and mild sedative properties.

Passiflora and Avena sativa are often taken together to help to combat both the physical and mental symptoms of stress, helping to prolong sleep time, relieve muscle tension and alleviate mild anxiety.

For further advice, ask at your local health shop. Vicky Perks is a qualified nutritionist with an MA in Complementary Health Studies and over 14 years' experience in the health industry. She is director of the Beanfreaks chain of health shops and has opened her own clinic New Life Nutrition. For your nearest Beanfreaks shop or to contact Vicky, call 029 2025 1071, or e-mail
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 30, 2009
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