We cannot deny the role our diet has to play in the way our body and mind handle stress. A lifestyle in today’s world is fraught with stressors all around, which are generated both internally and externally. Sometimes the source of our stress is the way we are perceiving things around us, and at other times it’s due to situations which are beyond our control. Either way, stress management can be a confusing experience. One of the best areas to bring about a change and manage your stress is with your diet, coupled with a healthy dose of exercise.
The American Institute of Stress defines stress as the response by your body to any demand for change. The response is considered nonspecific, and may not be proportional to the amount of stress experienced. High levels of stress for prolonged periods can be extremely damaging to your overall health and well-being. So, to prevent yourself from resorting to unhealthy and destructive means of coping with stress, it’s best to begin with the things that provide nourishment for your body. Keep your body in good shape and reduce the effects of stress with these tips:
Cut down on Caffeine
Caffeine is perhaps one of the most popular substances people consume in times of stress. Although small amounts of caffeine are fine, a dependence on it during times of stress can provide temporary relief, is ultimately extremely counter-productive. Energy drinks and coffee are not the best options when trying to deal with stress, because although caffeine helps relieve fatigue, it increases the levels of stress hormones in your body, which makes the effects of chronic stress even worse. Switch to decaffeinated drinks, such as fresh juices, sugar-free coolers or water and resist the urge to consume caffeine when stressed. This takes a while, especially if you have been dependent on it, but it is possible to achieve. In times of stress, hydrate your body with water. Keep a bottle of water wherever you go and keep sipping it throughout your day.
Have a proper meal plan
The lack of proper meal timing and imbalanced diet can affect the way your body deals with stress, and may be heightening your feelings of anxiety. Having three proper, big meals is often the norm, but having smaller meals at regular intervals of two to three hours is also good. Your meals should consist of whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits, with an emphasis on nutrient-rich and minimally processed foods. Lean meats, beans and low fat dairy products, coupled with fruits and veggies that provide enough Vitamin B and C are proven to reduce stress. A healthy, well-balanced diet is of utmost importance to reduce dependence on other substances such as caffeine.
Never skip breakfast
When they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it isn’t an exaggeration. Your first meal of the day sets the tone for the way your body is going to function and determines the level of energy you will have for the rest of the day. Focus on fresh fruits, fruit juice, lean proteins like egg whites or turkey bacon and whole grain products such as oatmeal or cornflakes. On a rushed morning, opt for a healthy, home-made smoothie by blending low-fat yoghurt with fresh fruit and add juice or milk to it.
The reason why breakfast is capable of determining your food choices for the day is that, being your first meal, it provides the body with the nourishment it needs to get started with daily activities. In the absence of breakfast, you tend to feel hungry at odd times and become ravenous with the tendency to overeat during lunch or later meals. If breakfast is not balanced, you may find yourself with intense cravings later on in your day. Eating a healthy breakfast can help reduce stress and also prevent you from eating unhealthy foods.
There are certain foods which have been known to reduce stress and help cope with the resultant fatigue. Food items rich in iron, such as lean meats, spinach, and apples are excellent choices to make during times of stress. These foods are rich in iron and folate, which helps decrease physical exhaustion caused by stress. Other foods with protein, vitamin B and C, and magnesium are all necessary to replenish your body’s resources. Having a diet rich in these nutrients keeps your physical and psychological balance in good condition.
A special mention needs to be given to calcium. Research has found that stress tends to deplete the calcium resources from your body making you weak and prone to fractures. Calcium works with other elements such as magnesium and is needed for healthy nerve and brain activity.
Food items that are specifically known to reduce stress levels are bananas, for the instant energy boost they provide, nuts, brown rice and pasta for their complex carbohydrate content and salads with a balance between veggies, fruits and boiled pasta.
To complement your healthy diet choices, it’s important to get regular amounts of exercise as well. At least 30 minutes of exercise everyday can keep you fit and help control the effects of stress. One can avoid anxiety, depression and mood swings associated with stress by exercising regularly because exercise also brings down the level of stress shormones in your body. The body’s stress response creates its own chemical byproducts, which tend to stay in your body even after the stressful situation has passed. Exercise can help flush out these byproducts faster too.
Exercise of any type is beneficial, from walking and jogging to swimming, biking or other sports. Before opting for any, be sure that it is something you will enjoy doing: your choice of physical activity should ideally help you take your mind off things and bring in positivity, not a dread of the activity itself because you have to do it.