How stress creeps up when you are busy.

Stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, are rapidly approaching epidemic proportions1.  Stress can escalate 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.

When life feels like too much to handle, you are tempted to throw in the towel, plop down on the couch,  and reach for something decadent, divine, and comforting to eat.  Yup, donuts, chips and salsa, and wine or cocktails will probably be your first choice (if you are anything like me)!  However, medicating with these foods will more than likely leave you feeling exhausted, bloated, and anxious more than ever.

Research has proven that anxiety and stress can be managed with nutritionally dense food.  We actually have the ability to turn on good or bad genes with what we put in our mouths2. Indeed, genes are not our destiny.  As it has been said before, our genetics are the gun, lifestyle choices pull the trigger. 

Not just any food!  Meet your best friends and kick stress to the curb!

Studies have shown that there are certain foods that can significantly reduce inflammation and stress levels3. Most of the foods below do not take hours to prepare, and for busy peeps, can be quick prep meals or snacks for busy families.  The key to eating healthy is planning ahead!

Here are some of the most common foods to fill up on when you are anxious and strung out:

  • Asparagus is high in folic acid, a fabulous mood-enhancer, 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.
  • Whole grains, like whole-grain bread and pasta, are rich in magnesium, which is needed to prevent anxiety. Whole grains also create healthy energy and reduce hunger, both important in abating stress and anxiety.
  • Dark chocolate (yes, I said CHOCOLATE!) may help if you are craving something sweet. Research has shown that a 40 gram chocolate per day can help a person cope with stress. It releases endorphins in the brain, a substance which has a relaxing effect on the body.
  • 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 but they contain an impressive amount of zinc, which is an important mineral for maintaining a balanced mood. Other nuts like Brazil nuts also have good amounts of selenium, a mineral which studies have revealed to be effective in reducing anxiety. These good guys help to elevate the mood and boost the thyroid.

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 stabilize your mood.

Foods that are not your friends 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, pasta, rolls, cookies, and bread. These foods do not have any fiber to slow down the 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 naughty things.
  • Say "no" to the so-called "healthy" granola bar. It is just a sugar-rich candy bar with a few seeds added. Unless the ingredients are raw without sugars added, avoid these food substances as I like to call them. Avoid other sweets as well.
  • Skip the pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, seriously. The high sugar content will raise your blood cortisol levels, hijack your insulin levels, and promote more anxiety and more stress.
  • Avoid fried foods as much as possible.  Yup, including the notorious French fry. This comfort food is a heap of unhealthy saturated fats, and greasy, fat-promoting carbs.

Finally, something to remember when assessing your stress.

In order to conquer anxiety without medication, or even with reduced medication, one must commit to permanent, health-promoting lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to your diet. 

Healthy eating and exercise are two ways to keep stress levels at a minimum. Make sure that you are drinking enough water, as studies have found that people who have persistent stress, are also dehydrated, which is known to cause more anxiety.  May I ask you what else are you addressing that is toxic in your life? Do you wake up every morning feeling refreshed? How are your relationships? Are you practicing mindfulness and meditation? Have you tried a gratitude journal?

If you are taking medication for stress, do not stop taking it or reduce medication, without the supervision of your primary care doctor or health care professional.