In today's world, stress is to be expected. At times you experience good stress, for example, when you're planning your daughter's wedding. Other times you may suffer from negative stress, such as from sitting in traffic or dealing with a difficult time in your life. There is also chronic stress, which is ongoing and can cause harm to your health.
Stress affects every aspect of your body. While it can affect everyone differently, prolonged stress can impact every part of your life, so it is important to do what you can to keep your stress levels in check.
Here is a quick glance at how stress can negatively impact your health:
- Muscle tension
- Overproduction of cortisol
- Rapid heart rate
- Digestive issues
- Labored breathing
- Panic attacks
- Decreased sex drive
- Hair loss
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
The truth is, you will never be able to completely escape stress, whether it is physical, mental or emotional. But the good news is that you can help prevent and control stress through many techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise, and sound sleep.
Chronic stress can affect the body’s use of calories and nutrients in various ways. Stress places a greater demand on the body for oxygen, energy, and nutrients. It raises the body’s metabolic needs and increases the use and excretion of many nutrients. A nutritious eating plan can support a healthy immune system and the repair of damaged cells. It provides the extra energy needed to cope with stressful events. If you are not eating healthy, meaning lots of sugar and processed and fast foods, a nutrient deficiency may occur. Stress also creates a chain reaction of behaviors that can negatively affect eating habits, leading to other health problems down the road. People feeling stress may lack motivation and not make the time to prepare nutritious, balanced meals, or may skip or forget to eat meals (1)
Here are a few ways you can combat stress naturally through nutrition:
- Increase your magnesium intake. Stress depletes magnesium, and on the flip side, magnesium helps fight stress. When the body has low magnesium levels, it will tense up, which can cause you to feel stressed. Magnesium is an essential element involved in reactions regulating the body’s stress response at several levels. A chronic magnesium deficiency appears to be common among the general population and even more so among those suffering from a number of chronic diseases or stress.(2) Some examples of foods that are magnesium-rich are spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, cashews, pumpkin and chia seeds, avocados, bananas, and almonds. Increase your magnesium levels to 800-1,000 mg daily to help your body remain calm and your muscles relaxed during stressful situations. Additionally, magnesium can help you sleep better, so be sure to take magnesium at bedtime to help you catch a few extra ZZZ's.
- Eat to reduce stress. Instead of stress eating, eat to control your stress. While it may be tempting to drown your anxiety in a bowl of ice cream or calm your nerves with a box of cookies, stress eating is not only bad for your health, but it can make stressful situations even worse. Grab your fork and dig into the following stress-busting superfoods: spinach, organic turkey, blueberries, seeds and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as avocados, fish and fish oil supplements, flax seeds and walnuts. Research shows that eating fruits and vegetables is linked to less stress.(3) Each of these foods have stress-relieving properties that will help you burn off a little steam while still keeping you on a clean healthy eating program. Chamomile tea and green tea can also help.
- Indulge in a little dark chocolate. Yes, consider this permission to eat chocolate (preferably organic)! Dark chocolate contains magnesium. Dark chocolate has long been recognized by psychologists for its mood-altering properties, which include increasing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. Cocoa products such as dark chocolate contain a number of nutritional compounds that have the potential to affect mood. The health benefits of dark chocolate consumption, particularly the effects of polyphenols on mood, have been reported in several studies. These results suggest that dark chocolate has prebiotic effects by restructuring the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome, which may in turn improve mood via the gut-brain axis.(4) Go ahead. Indulge a little!
- Never miss a meal. High-stress situations can cause you to forget or skip a meal. Missing meals can cause you to stress eat or resort to junk food when you finally sit down to eat. Take some time to enjoy each of your meals, and a couple of healthy snacks, too.
- Limit your caffeine. Stress and anxiety can cause you to burn the candle at both ends. Too much caffeine not only depletes your magnesium levels, but it also causes a dependency and can cause negative side effects on the brain and nervous system when consumed in large quantities. Instead, opt for water with a squeeze of lemon or even a cup of green or chamomile tea.