Most of us have experienced stress and anxiety at some point during our lives. Maybe you’ve woken up an hour before your alarm in a panic over the presentation you’re set to give at work that morning. Or you’ve sat at your desk, feeling crippled and unable to rally yourself to tackle that to-do list. Today, with our fast paced environment and demanding schedules, stress and anxiety seem to play an increasingly prominent role in our lives.
Our bodies cant seem to differentiate between an incoming email or text and a bear approaching you in the woods. Fight? Or flight? Our bodies are wired to prepare for the worst even when we know physical harm isn’t necessarily eminent. Since we can’t opt for either flight or flight options in our everyday corporate lives, the levels of cortisol and norepinephrine (our stress hormones) elevate and become difficult to flush from our bodies once the perceived threat has passed. This takes quite a toll on our immune systems and overall wellbeing.
While we may already know that a relaxing bath or sweaty yoga session is a good way to temper those anxious feelings, what about the foods you eat? Are there some that aggravate stress and anxiety and others that soothe them? There sure are.
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Dried Apricots: Dried apricots are rich in the magnesium that gets depleted in our bodies when we’re stressed. Magnesium acts as a natural muscle relaxant and helps reduce heart palpitations. They’re also high in Vitamin C and fiber to keep your immune system strong when you’re feeling stretched thin. Make yourself a healthy dried apricot trail mix and keep it at your desk.
Asparagus: Low levels of folic acid can leave you feeling anxious. A cup of asparagus contains two-thirds of your daily value of folic acid. Asparagus is delicious and easy to incorporate into your diet. Roast, steam, or grill them and include them as a side dish or eat them alone with some balsamic vinaigrette.
Avocados: In addition to providing numerous health benefits, avocados are a great source of B vitamins. We need B vitamins for healthy brain and nerve cells. They’re also a good source of potassium, a mineral that gets depleted in times of stress.
Banana: Speaking of potassium, bananas are full of it and can help reduce your blood pressure. They also act as natural beta-adrenergic blockers, which is a kind of drug that is prescribed to people suffering from anxiety. These prevent your adrenaline from skyrocketing, which happens all too often when we’re feeling stressed out. To take the bananas-for-stress argument one step further, they contain B vitamins and tryptophan, a special protein that converts into serotonin. Serotonin = happiness. If you’ve got a big presentation coming up, try eating a banana 30 minutes beforehand and see how you feel.
Broccoli: Broccoli is chock full of vitamin C, the vitamin we all grew up knowing helped keep us healthy. Vitamin C lowers cortisol levels and is a bona fide stress buster.
Blueberries: Blueberries are also full of Vitamin C and can help you feel calmer throughout the day. They are rich in antioxidants that help us repair and protect our cells.
Fermented foods: When you’re feeling down, the first place to start is your gut. 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut so keeping that in balance may be the true secret to happiness. Beneficial bacteria have a direct effect on your brain chemistry and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickles, kimchee, kombucha, and yogurt can help keep your gut bacteria healthy. When stress is high, try having some kind of fermented food with every meal. For me, keeping my gut healthy is as simple as having a spoonful of kraut after I eat.
Fish (especially salmon): A diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids helps keep cortisol and adrenaline from spiking when you’re feeling anxious. Eating fish a few times a week also strengthens and protects your heart, which can take a beating (pun intended) during times of high stress.
Garlic: Garlic is a restorative herb and can play a crucial role in balancing a stressful life. It protects against many ailments and diseases and acts as a powerful tonic that reduces fatigue. Our adrenal glands can go into overdrive during times of high stress, and garlic can help reduce the amount of stress hormones produced and increase your energy levels.
Green Leafy Vegetables: In addition to broccoli, kale and spinach are great sources of Vitamin C. Leafy greens also contain plenty of magnesium which can get very depleted when we’re stressed. A magnesium deficit in your body can lead to irritability, indigestion, and fatigue so make sure you’re getting your greens in with every meal. They’re also high in folate, which helps your body produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
Yogurt: In addition to being a wonderful, probiotic rich food that improves our digestive health, studies have recently shown that eating yogurt may relieve stress and anxiety by reducing activity in the emotional region in our brain. Try having some yogurt with blueberries, almonds, and chia seeds as an afternoon snack when you feel your energy levels dipping, and your stress levels increasing.
With all this goodness to work with, when you’re feeling anxious you should also consider what foods to avoid. Refined sugar and simple carbohydrates will cause your energy levels to spike and crash, so try to limit your intake. Alcohol and caffeine can aggravate stress; so pay attention to how it feels in your body. If you’re feeling anxious, reaching for that cup of coffee may do more harm than good. You may also want to experiment with decreasing the amount of animal protein you eat during stressful times as it can increase your cortisol levels.
You are what you eat, so if you’re feeling a little stressed out take a step back and look around you. Take a deep breath, stretch, and remind yourself that the weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders and sometimes just doing the best you can is enough.
Now, go make yourself some lunch!
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