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Thanksgiving is a holiday that tends to get lost in the buffet table. Many of us actually plan ahead to overeat, overindulge and actually gorge ourselves until we are literally uncomfortable in our own skin. As a result, we not only lose sight of the thankfulness aspect, we feel awful and depressed due to the overindulgence. When we shift our focus to gratitude over food, we actually feed our minds in ways that continue to energize us long after the feast is over.

To create and maintain a sense of gratitude is inspiring and humbling. Physiologically we are innately positive beings, “wired” for optimism. Most of us want to experience the holiday season with grace, openness and love. Yet even with our sincerest intentions the holidays can challenge our vision to express the spirit of the season; too much to do and not enough time, money or help. Stress and seemingly countless errands become thieves that steal our goodwill and gratitude.

So what can we do to stay positive and thankful at a time when we may be tempted by pessimism?

One key component for mood mending involves a neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin, often referred to as the “good mood hormone.” When our bodies produce sufficient serotonin we can feel better balanced and happier because this chemical helps to promote relaxation, restful sleep and a feeling of well-being.

Some of the holiday’s harsher habits—too much sugar and alcohol, excess protein, too many offending fats disguised in beckoning dessert buffets of cakes, pastries, and candy—can lead to blood sugar imbalances, lack of motivation to exercise, and increased stress, resulting in reduced serotonin levels and the potential for a variety of health challenges, including depression.

Building and maintaining optimum serotonin levels can be achieved by adding many delicious and nutritious foods like turkey, cottage cheese, salmon, oatmeal, cheese, whole wheat, yogurt, eggs, and even chocolate (in moderation) to your diet.

Another way to uplift the holiday spirit is through consistent exercise. Motion builds positive emotion and exercise may be the most powerful of all our natural antidepressants.

In our hurried holiday pace it is all too easy to let go of our exercise routines—and no—dashing from store to store does not count as mindful movement. So please don’t believe that a Black Friday shopping extravaganza can replace a real workout! Over 100 clinical studies confirm the effectiveness of exercise in the prevention and treatment of depression. As little as 10 minutes three times daily (we often spend more time in buffet lines) can have a powerful and positive impact on both emotional and physical well-being.

Gratitude is an elixir for life. We need not isolate one day a year to think about what we are grateful for. Create time each day to reflect and be present for the blessings unfolding all around. Gratitude opens the heart to receive and be in the true essence of Thanksgiving.

IMG_7034e-5About: Dr. James Rouse is a naturopathic doctor and expert in functional and lifestyle medicine. An author of nine books, host and founder of Optimum Wellness Media, and Ironman triathlete, James has coached Fortune 50 and 500 companies, MLB and NFL teams, several branches of US Government and consults for companies including BackJoy, SKOOP and Kroger Grocery. He has shared his message to audiences in the US, Europe and Asia.