How to Control Stress and Anxiety with Food
How stress mounts up when you are busy.
Stress-related illnesses such as insomnia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are rapidly reaching epidemic proportions. Stress can build up in a busy lifestyle when you are not prepared for a looming deadline, have a never-ending-to-do list, have anxious feelings that there is something you have forgotten to do, or perhaps feel that you are falling behind in your work. (And not being able to sleep at night is not helping!)
When it gets a bit too much for you to handle, you are tempted to throw in the towel and find something decadent, but comforting, to eat. Ransacking the vending machine for the last snickers bar, fries and cakes will probably be your first choice, but filling up on these foods will more than likely leave you feeling more anxious than ever.
Depending on the severity of the stress, which in some cases will definitely need medical intervention and possible medication, research has shown that anxiety and stress can be controlled with food.
Not just any food!
Studies have shown that there are certain foods which have been proved to reduce stress levels and favour sleep. Most of the foods do not take hours to prepare, and for busy folk, will be easy, quick-to-make snacks or meals.
Here are some of most common foods to use when anxious to diffuse stress and help you sleep better at the same time:
- Asparagus is high in folic acid which is a mood-enhancer of note, and a perfect snack to keep on hand for tense situations.
- Oranges are rich in vitamin C which is known to reduce blood pressure and return the stress hormone cortisol, which causes you to crave bad foods, to normal levels. I wouldn’t recommending them in the evening though because the fructose can create a short term spike in blood sugar.
- Whole grains if you are gluten tolerant, like whole-grain bread and pasta, are rich in magnesium, which is needed to prevent anxiety. Whole grains also create healthy energy and reduces hunger, both important in controlling stress and anxiety.
- Dark chocolate may help if you are craving something sweet. Research has shown that a 40 gram chocolate per day can help cope with stress. It releases endorphins in the brain, a substance which has a relaxing effect on the body.
- If you are not lactose intolerant, a glass of warm milk is a great, time tested remedy for both insomnia and restlessness. Milk is high in calcium and potassium, both of which have a calming effect, and help relieve muscle spasms caused by tension.
- Berries are more than just a delicious fruit. Blueberries and strawberries in particular are considered by some nutritionists to be a superfood. Berries are loaded with phytochemicals (plant nutrients) folic acid, vitamins B and D, and omega 3. Research has clearly shown that berries will help you to cope with the trials and anxieties of daily life.
- Mixed nuts such as peanuts, cashews, and almonds, have been proved to be true, potent mood boosters. Almonds are sometimes underrated as they contain an impressive amount of zinc, which is an important mineral for maintaining a balanced mood. Other nuts, including almonds, also have good amounts of selenium, a mineral which studies have revealed to be effective in reducing anxiety, and helping to elevate the mood.
All the above foods, as well as others like avocados, and dark green veggies such as spinach, broccoli and lettuce, are beneficial for helping you cope with anxiety. They contain vitamins and minerals that are known to calm the mind and body. At the same time your energy levels get a boost, motivating you to get some exercise, which will also stabilise your mood.
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Foods that should be avoided when you are stressed.
Just as important as it is to eat the right foods to help ease anxiety, it is even more important to make sure you do not eat food that will aggravate your stress.
Here are some critical foods to stay away from:
- All refined foods like cakes, pastas, rolls, cookies, and breads. These foods do not have any fibre to slow down digestion of all the flour and sugar. Glucose levels go through the roof and spike the release of cortisol, which makes you crave even more of the same bad stuff.
- Don’t go for a so-called healthy granola bar. It is just a sugar-rich candy bar with a few seeds added. Avoid other sweets as well.
- Skip the deadly, delicious ice cream, a universally favourite comfort food of the masses. The high sugar content will raise the cortisol levels, and lead to raised anxiety and more stress.
- Avoid fried foods as much as possible, as even the ever-popular French fries is a big no-no! This comfort food is little more than unhealthy saturated fats, and greasy carbs.
Finally, something to remember.
Overcoming anxiety without medication, or even with reduced medication, involves making permanent lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to your diet, and getting some exercise.
Healthy eating and exercise is one of the best ways to control stress. Always make sure that you drink enough water, as studies have found that many folk who have persistent stress, are also somewhat dehydrated, which is known to cause more anxiety.
If you are taking medication for stress, do not stop taking it, or even reducing medication, without discussing it with your doctor.
Getting in a better state of mind by choosing the right foods, is not a call to toss your meds!