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April 2, 2018

Food for Stress Relief: How what you eat can help or hinder your stress levels…and what to do about it!

Does it ever bug you when people tell you not to stress out over something?

“Don’t stress yourself out about it.”

“Just don’t let the stress get to you.”

“Relax. Why are you letting this stress you out?”

This not only doesn’t help you let go of stress, it can make you feel worse for “letting” the stress bother you so much. You may even feel guilty when other people are dealing with bigger problems. But that’s not how stress works. It doesn’t go away in light of other people’s obstacles. And your stress is real and important regardless of anyone else’s problems.

Since we know that you can’t just “let go” of stress, what can you do? Many people find that regular exercise and meditation can help but eating mood-supporting foods can also be extremely beneficial.

First, we need to understand how stress impacts our health. When we are under stress, especially for extended periods of time, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode and certain body functions, like digestion, immune response and reproduction, are put on the back burner. Cortisol, a major stress hormone, can lead to inflammation when it remains elevated. Many vitamins and minerals are depleted by stress and they may need to be resupplied to the body, including calcium, potassium, zinc and the B vitamins.

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for healthy brain function and are found in fish like salmon, mackerel and barramundi, as well as seeds, such as chia, flax and hemp. Although not as high in omega-3s as seeds, nuts like walnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews are also good sources. These healthy fats are also anti-inflammatory.

Antioxidants battle stress like nobody’s business and can be easy to find thanks to the bright colors they add to fruits and vegetables. Vitamins A (orange foods like apricots, sweet potatoes and carrots), C (yellow and red foods like papaya, pineapple, strawberries and peppers) and E (dark leafy greens like spinach, chard and turnip and beet greens) are all powerful antioxidants.

Just as important as what foods can help in times of stress, it’s also valuable to know what foods can make stress worse.

Blood sugar spikes, caused by foods high in sugar and low in fiber, can cause a stress reaction in the body, just as the resulting insulin-induced blood sugar dip can lead to depression-like emotions. Processed and packaged foods are especially likely to lead to this result.

Eating whole foods, those that contain fat, protein and fiber, keep blood sugar more steady and prevent those sugar crashes.

Eating meats that were raised given hormones means you are ingesting those hormones and these can directly impact the hormones that affect our stress levels, like adrenaline and cortisol. To avoid these, aim to purchase organic meats, preferably grassfed and those marked as hormone-free.

But relieving or even preventing stress isn’t just about what you eat but how you eat. If cooking adds to your stress, then what you eat won’t have as big of an impact. Maybe the idea of shopping and cooking your dinner fills you with dread.

Are there ways to make it more enjoyable?

Maybe pick one new recipe a week that is something you’ve always loved to eat but never made. Consider foods that inspire warming childhood memories. Or invite some friends over to cook dinner together, knowing that at the end you will share the meal and be proud of what you made. Even something as small as putting on music you love and dancing around the kitchen can make the experience more enjoyable.

The way you eat a meal has an impact on how you feel and how well your body processes it. Too often, you may find yourself standing at the kitchen sink or sitting in your car and wolfing down your food. If you can, take the extra time to sit down, close your eyes and smell the delicious aroma of what you are about to eat. Take in the beautiful colors of the ingredients and consider who grew or raised them. Aim to let go of the stressors that were getting to you before you sat down. Be in the moment (as cheesy as that sounds) and enjoy the flavors of your meal, and you might find it just a little easier to say goodbye to that stress.

You may not always have control over the things in your life that cause stress. But if you make conscious choices about how and what you eat, you may find that you are able to take them on with more ease.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how food and stress are related. Please join Katie and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Heather O’Neil for a Women’s Wellness Wednesday, Finding Your Calm. We’ll discuss practical tips for stress management and Katie will dive into the food/nutrition component of stress even further. Seats are limited and going fast! For more info and to grab your spot click HERE


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