The Best Foods for Stress Relief
What is stress?
We all know the feeling: increased heart rate, nervous sweating, heavier breathing…feeling stressed is just as physical as it is psychological. And a couple thousand years ago, stress was a much-needed primal response to real dangers in our environment: our nervous system preparing our body for a “fight for flight” reaction. These days, it’s more likely to be brought on by bad traffic, work problems or a slow internet connection. And the more exposure we have to these stressors, the more frequent our physiological reactions become…making us feel on edge, all the time.
Too much stress can lead to a laundry list of negative effects, including mood swings, trouble concentrating, muscle tension and increased blood pressure – and can eventually be a factor in long-term illnesses such as depression, diabetes and heart problems.
One of the biggest effects of stress? It can really mess up your digestion and eating habits, as your body essentially steals energy meant for digestion and uses it to prepare for a perceived attack. Then, after the worst of the stress subsides, you’ll find yourself craving rich comfort foods. The only problem? Your metabolic rates are way down, meaning your body is more likely to store fat, particularly around the middle. Fun, right?
So, now that you see just how dangerous stress can be…what can you do to help your body deal with this fact of everyday life?
Stress and diet
Another day, another reason to try and eat a healthy, balanced diet. Studies show that eating healthy can reduce the negative effects of stress on the body – and give you a better foundation to deal with stressful situations. How does it work? Stress has negative effects on blood flow and blood pressure, which nutrient-rich foods can help reverse, by improving your blood pressure, strengthening your immune system and all kinds of other great stuff.
Sound good? Here are some foods to seek out if you want to help reduce stress and its effects:
All carbohydrates help our brains create more feel-good serotonin. To keep that happy feeling longer – and avoid a “crash” – look for complex carbs, which take longer to digest. Brown rice, whole grain bread, sweet potatoes and steel cut oats are all great options.
Not only are citrus fruits juicy and delicious, they’re also high in vitamin C, which several studies have linked to lowering stress hormones such as cortisol. And a little squeeze of lemon, lime or orange tastes amazing on pretty much anything.
Okay, you probably already know spinach is really good for you. But did you know it’s high in magnesium, which can help stave off headaches and fatigue? So say it with us: a cup of spinach a day keeps the stress away. And like all leafy greens, spinach is high in B vitamins, which gives your body energy to recover from stressful situations.
Yeah, we’re crazy about nuts. They’re high in healthy fats, which can help lower cholesterol and protect you against the effects of stress. And who could feel stressed while munching on such a tasty snack?
Oh avocados, is there anything you can’t do? Not only are they delicious and high in heart healthy fats, avocados are also packed with potassium – which helps lower blood pressure and fight the effects of stress.
When it comes to feeling good, fatty fish like salmon or mackerel is a great place to start, thanks to essential fatty acids (EFAs) like Omega 3 and 6. Not only do EFAs help your brain function properly, they also help manage stress by lowering the release of certain hormones. Following a plant-based diet? Get your EFAs from pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.
Okay, you can’t eat exercise…but it’s still worth mentioning. A little regular physical activity is one of the best ways to manage stress. Just 30 minutes of cardio will boost circulation and give you a healthy dose of endorphins. And staying in shape helps keep your body strong enough to recover from even the most stressful day.
So now we have a pretty good idea of which foods can help our bodies deal with stress – now for the less fun part. If you’re trying to keep your day-to-day stress in check, there are also some foods to avoid – or at least reduce.
This is a tough one, but caffeine creates a similar physical response to a “fight or flight” situation, causing our adrenal glands to release stress hormones like cortisol. Plus it can deplete nutrients you need to fight the effects of stress, like magnesium and B vitamins. We’re not asking you to go cold turkey – but swapping out coffee for green tea might be a good place to start.
Many of us reach for fatty comfort foods when we’re feeling low, but sadly this is one of the worst things you can eat. A recent study found that eating too much processed fat can increase the risk of depression by 58%. And that’s on top of the other negative effects on your health. Not so comforting now, is it?
And of course, as with most other health concerns, it’s a good idea to moderate your intake of sugar, alcohol and simple carbs like white bread. Hey, we didn’t say it was going to be easy…but it’s so worth it.
What are your favourite ways to manage stress? Let us know in the comments, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.