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  • Writer's pictureJulia Katcher-Persike

Alleviate Stress Through the Foods and Lifestyle Choices You Choose

When you are stressed out or emotional, the foods and lifestyle choices that you are turning to are most likely going to be for comfort – think heavier meals or large portions, fast food, fatty or greasy, or sweets. At some point we’ve all found some comfort in a tasty meal, a sweet treat, and a bottle of beer or glass of wine when we have been over stressed or emotionally distraught about something. However, this is momentary satisfaction and not a long-term fix for calming the mind and body.

When you’re turning to unhealthy foods you can feel better temporarily, but in the long run, you will start to feel worse. When your body is not getting the proper nutrition, you can begin to feel less energetic, more lethargic, and in some cases less able to concentrate and focus. All of this can lead to even more stress. Food effects the mind and the body.

Foods that Fight Stress

If you’ve been feeling more stressed out than usual lately, it’s important to know which foods are best to choose and which to avoid when it comes to combating stress and helping you to deal with feelings of stress and anxiety. The best way to fight stress is to have a healthy, balanced diet which includes a moderate amount of each of the different macro nutrients including a source of lean protein, a carbohydrate, fat, and fiber. The gut is a key guide to mental help as well. If the gut is off the mind is off and if the mind is off, the gut will also be off.

Filling up on foods such as whole grains, leafy vegetables, and lean proteins as the basic staples of the diet is the best way to ensure that your body gets the optimum amounts of nutrients to fight both physical and mental health problems. It is also beneficial to eat what the earth provides in each season. If it is a summer food and you are eating it in the winter, this can throw off the balance from the macrocosm to the microcosm. When it comes to choosing which foods to eat, some have a range of great properties which can help the body to combat stress. Choosing these stress-busting foods will help to heal and calm your mind permanently, rather than providing a temporary fix.

Some of the best stress-fighting foods include:

Avocado – Avocados are a creamy and versatile fruit which can be eaten in a range of different ways whether you enjoy it raw, made into sauces, dressings, and dips, or in a smoothie. These nutrient-dense fruits have the properties to stress-proof your body, thanks to their high glutathione content which specifically blocks the intestinal absorption of certain fats which cause oxidative damage. Avocados also contain higher levels of vitamin E, folate, and beta-carotene than any other fruit, which boosts their stress-busting properties. However, be careful with portion control when eating avocado, as it is high in fat, good fat but still high.

Blueberries – If you’re feeling stressed out and reaching for the snacks, swapping chocolate or chips for one of the best superfoods is a great way to help you deal with your stress levels and achieve a higher level of calm. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants, especially antho-cyanin, which means that this berry has been linked to a wide range of health benefits including sharper cognition, better focus, and a clearer mind – all of which can help you to better deal with stress.

Chamomile Tea – Of course, it’s not all about what you are eating when it comes to managing stress; what you are drinking can also alleviate or worsen the stress you're feeling. Drinking liquids which are high in sugars and caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks or soda, can actually increase your stress levels if consumed regularly. Chamomile tea has long been used as a natural bedtime soother, and it has also been used in clinical trials, which determined that chamomile tea is effective in reducing the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

Chocolate – Although it’s usually seen as an unhealthy treat, there is an undeniable link between chocolate and our mood. Studies have shown that eating chocolate can actually make you happier. However, that does not mean that you can start munching on chocolate bars every time you're stressed out – chocolate works best as a de-stressor when eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Dark chocolate in particular is best for you, as it contains more flavonols and polyphenols, two hugely important antioxidants which can help combat stress, more than many fruit juices. Cacao can also aid in the complete upliftment of the mind.

Oatmeal – Oatmeal is great in that it can be a filling comfort food, but also has a large number of healthy properties to actually make you feel better from the inside out. A complex carbohydrate, eating oatmeal causes your brain to produce higher levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin, helping you to feel calmer and less stressed. Studies have shown that kids who choose oatmeal for breakfast tend to be much sharper throughout the morning in school compared to kids who had alternative morning meals.

Walnuts – If you’re looking for a healthy snacking option which will help you to stay better in control of your stress levels, walnuts are a great choice. There is no denying the sweet, pleasant flavor of walnuts and they can be a tasty snack for in-between meals. A versatile nut, walnuts are great for salads, or add them to a sweet treat such as coffee and yogurt. Nuts are also high in fat, good fats but sticking within limitation of consumption is more beneficial than excess.

Pistachios – another food which is great for snacking on and can also help to combat stress and anxiety in the long term is pistachios. Studies have found that simply eating two small, snack-size portions of pistachios per day can lower vascular constriction when you are stressed, putting less pressure on your heart by further dilating your arteries. Along with this, the rhythmic, repetitive act of shelling pistachios can actually be quite therapeutic.

Green Leafy Vegetables – leafy, green vegetables should be a pivotal part of anyone’s diet. Along with helping to combat stress, leafy greens are full of nutrients and antioxidants which help to fight off disease and leave your body feeling healthier and more energized. Dark leafy greens, for example spinach, are especially good for you since they are rich in folate, which helps your body to produce more mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is a ‘feel-good’ chemical. Making leafy greens a part of your diet will help you to feel happier and less stressed out overall.

Fermented foods – last but not least, eating fermented foods such as yogurt can help to keep your gut healthy, which actually in turn will help to improve your mental health and reduce stress levels. The beneficial bacteria which are found in fermented foods such as yogurt actually have a direct effect on your brain chemistry and transmit positive mood and behavior regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.

Fasting – Another great way to reduce stress and release stress on the body is through fasting. Whether it be through intermittent fasting or through a full day of water, liquid, or kitchari fasting, fasting can clear the channels of the body and also completely alleviate and calm the mind and give intense focus and discipline.

Lifestyle choices that can aid in stress reduction:

§ Breath work or Pranayama: Sitting in silence and focusing on the breath even if it is just for 5 to 10 minutes can ultimately calm the entire system and reset the focus.

§ Meditation: Whether it be guided, with music, or in complete silence, depending on where you are in your spiritual journey. Meditation brings you to the center of your being and aids in knowing yourself on a deeper level so that outside stressors do not bother you any longer. Out of any lifestyle choice or change in the lifestyle, meditation has the highest reward of benefit.

§ Yogasana or Stretching: Connecting the breath and mind to the body through movement can be a self-loving practice that can elevate the entire mood of a person. Focusing internally while also moving stress from the nervous system is highly beneficial.

§ Exercise: Lifting weights or doing some form of cardiovascular training increases both serotonin and dopamine in the system and can heighten the mood almost immediately.

§ Journaling: Writing out what ails you ultimately gets it out of your head and helps to understand the issues at hand better. Learning to let it go and releasing it as the only person you have control over is yourself is important. Every thought in your head is created by you, you can change your thoughts. See the positive or the lesson in every situation and help yourself grow.

Putting Together Your Diet Plan

Planning your meals wisely is key to not only staying physically fit and healthy, but also to staying mentally strong and being able to best manage your levels of stress. Knowing which foods to avoid and which are the best to reach for to snack on when you’re feeling worried and anxious is important to helping you get control over your emotions and fears.

When you’re feeling stressed, you may be tempted to reach for classic ‘comfort foods’ – usually foods which are laden with sugar, very starchy, or greasy. However, although these foods can make you feel momentarily better, they will actually make you feel worse in the long run.

Having stress-busting snacks such as fresh berries, dark chocolate, yogurt, walnuts, or pistachios, or even a fruit smoothie with avocado and leafy greens in it can help you to feel better in both the short and long term when it comes to stress. When it comes to combating and dealing with stress in the long run, it’s important to make sure that for the most part, you are eating a diet which is healthy and balanced.

In order to stay on track, it’s a good idea to make a meal plan for your week and plan ahead to make sure that you have a good selection of these stress-busting foods in your kitchen to make meals and snacks from when you’re feeling like stress-eating. Making sure that the majority of your meals include foods such as lean proteins and leafy green vegetables will not only make you feel healthier overall, but can improve your mental health and stress levels, too.

A good example of a healthy, stress-busting menu would be:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with dried berries or a fruit smoothie with avocado and berries

Mid-morning snack: Fruit or a handful of pistachio nuts

Lunch: A whole-grain pasta salad filled with plenty of leafy greens

Afternoon snack: Dark chocolate

Dinner: Lean protein (Chicken, Fish, Bison, or Turkey) with vegetables

Before bed: Chamomile tea

Of course, you don’t need to stick to this menu – but it gives you a good idea! Remember to exercise good portion control when eating foods such as nuts, chocolate, yogurt, or avocado! As the saying goes, you are what you eat – so make sure that first and foremost, you’re filling yourself up with foods which are good for your mental health.

Ayurveda recommends herbs such as Ashwagandha, Brahmi, Shankapushpi, or Tulsi to calm the mind, calm the nervous system, and increase focus.

Connecting the body and mind through food is essential. Take care of the entire being on a daily basis and watch your life change.

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