February 6, 2024

Eating your way to lower stress levels

There are many factors and lifestyle changes which can be instrumental in helping to lower (or at least not exacerbate) our levels of stress, such as exercise, and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake. One which is frequently forgotten is the choices we make around food and our diet.

When we’re stressed sometimes it just seems easier to settle for a quick and easy fix at mealtimes. Whether that be a pre-prepared meal or a takeaway, chances are we are more likely to choose sweeter foods or those higher in fat during periods of high stress. These choices can not only make us feel sluggish, but comfort foods or guilty pleasures in general could be negatively impacting your levels of stress. At the other end of the spectrum sometimes stress can cause us to skip meals altogether, particularly if we are very focussed on goals and deadlines. None of these choices are helpful in terms of getting on top of our stress.

High cortisol levels which are usually present during times of elevated stress can cause blood sugar content to rise. By staying away from foods high in sugar, you can help to stabilise your blood sugar levels, which can help to normalise your hormonal output. Try reaching for blueberries instead of sugary snacks next time you find yourself craving something sweet when stressed. In addition to this, blueberries are packed full of vitamin C and antioxidants, both of which have been linked to prevention and reduction in stress and anxiety.

Whilst we may tend to crave comfort foods higher in fat when stressed, it is important that we are getting enough of the right kind of fats. Fatty acids like Omega-3 (usually found in oily fish) can help stabilize adrenal hormones, particularly over-activation caused by stress. If you tend to eat a lot of meat which is high in fat, try switching your usual protein of choice for salmon or fresh tuna.

The effect of eating regular meals should not be underestimated. It may seem like no big deal to skip lunch every so often, especially when you cannot miss that 5pm deadline. When you skip meals it causes your body to release adrenaline and other hormones to provide you with the energy you need to keep going. If you’re already stressed, the chances are that this further increase in stress hormone is only going to make you feel worse. Skipping meals in this manner will only add to your exhaustion and can also influence your mood leading you to feel more irritable. The best course of action is to ensure you make enough time to eat regular meals, with a healthy selection of snacks to curb any between meal cravings.

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