Stress Busting Foods
Stress is a major part of modern life. You may even find that certain amount of stress helps you keep focused and is stimulating rather than draining. But in many cases, chronic stress can lead to a variety of problems. So what can we do about it? The good news is 'quite alot'. You may not be able to lead a completely stress-free life – very few of us can – but you can learn how to support your body to minimise the harmful effects of long-term stress.
Chronic or prolonged stress can lead to a variety of symptoms incuding:
- Tiredness, fatigue and constantly low energy levels
- Sleep problems and insomnia
- Marked energy fluctuations throughout the day, especially noticeable afternoon dips
- Irritability, anxiety and panic attacks
- Lowered sex drive
- Difficulty in loosing weight
- High or low blood pressure
- Digestive problems, including frequent bloating, IBS and constipation
Sources of stress can be both physiological and psychological. We often associate stress with external pressures such as work, family, social and financial worries. However, poor food choices, nicotine, caffeine, environmental pollutants, excessive exercise or on-going chronic health complaints can also elicit a stress response. Our response to these stressors depends to some degree on our unique genetic make-up. We all have different thresholds for stress and it is these thresholds that determine whether the stress is beneficial or harmful.
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The duration of the stress is also important – as human beings we seem to have evolved to only sustained short-term stress. Think of the simplistic caveman scenario - coming across a sabre tooth tiger in the jungle – it would have been a highly stressful life or death situation, but over relatively quickly one way or the other. Modern stressors are less often of the life and death magnitude, but tend to go on for prolonged periods of time.
So what can we do about it? Quite a lot actually! You may not be able to lead a completely stress-free life – very few of us can – but you can learn how to support your body to minimise the harmful effects of long-term stress.
Top Stress-busting Tips
Reduce caffeine - It is easy to perk yourself up with a cappuccino or chocolate bar when you're anxious and tired. But while the odd treat is fine, a regular coffee, tea or chocolate habit is a real stress on the body. Caffeine and sugar are all stimulants which cause our blood sugar levels to fluctuate leading to anxiety, mood swings and energy slumps. They also deplete key nutrients such as B vitamins and zinc which we need to remain calm and focused in times of stress.
Watch out for too much alcohol - Excess alcohol consumption releases stress hormones, and can block the transport of tryptophan to the brain. Tryptophan is an important hormone that converts into the calming and relaxing feel-good hormone serotonin.
Have a little protein at each meal - Protein helps maintain blood sugar levels keeping us energized and calm. It also provides important nutrients including magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and calcium, which we require for nerve function and our body's stress response. Try to include a little protein such as eggs, meat, poultry, fish, pulses, nuts and seeds at each meal.
Eat foods rich in tryptophan - Tryptophan is one of the raw ingredients for making serotonin, our feel good hormone. It can be found in chicken, turkey, fish, yoghurt, oats, eggs and beans. For a mega dose of tryptophan, try a chicken and bean casserole or smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.
Relax with magnesium and calcium rich foods - Calcium and magnesium are both important for nerve function and relaxation. Nuts, seeds, green vegetables, sardines and salmon are good sources of calcium. Nuts and greens also provide good levels of magnesium as does brown rice, oats, rye, buckwheat and quinoa.
Be calm with B vitamins - The B vitamins are vital for combating stress and anxiety. Vitamin B5, the 'anti-stress' vitamin, is particularly important as it plays a central role in adrenal function and our stress response. Increase your B vitamin intake with nuts, seeds, eggs, lamb, chicken, rye, oats, lentils and quinoa.
Get your oats - Oats are a complex carbohydrate which means they are great for stabilising energy levels. Oats contain a substance called gramine which is said to have calming properties and herbalists often recommend oat tincture to combat anxiety. Get your day off to a relaxing start with a bowl of warming porridge - sprinkle with nuts and seeds for added protein and nutrients.
Calm yourself with herbs - Chamomile, hops, valerian, and passionflower can all promote relaxation. Valerian is useful as a sleeping aid and has been used since Roman times for relaxation. These herbs can be taken as a tea, tincture or in tablet form.
Don’t forget also the non-dietary ways of combating stress. Take time for yourself, and don’t feel guilty about it. Book yourself a regular massage, or take time out to read a good book. Learn to delegate. Let other people take some of your workload, and let go of trying to be a perfectionist. Laughter is one of the better antidotes to stress. Studies indicate that if you can smile or laugh even when you don’t feel like it, your body releases feel-good chemicals that can have a positive effect on mood. It can increase the supply of oxygen to the brain making you feel happier.
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