We all experience some level of stress almost daily. It's an unavoidable part of modern life. And while some stress is good (it keeps us focused and motivated!), too much of it can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing.
Practicing meditation, getting fresh air, exercising, and listening to music are all great ways to help manage anxiety, but did you know that what we eat also plays a key role in how our bodies react to stress?
By consuming certain foods, we can help our bodies naturally relax and balance out those pesky stress hormones. Here are ten foods to reach for when deadlines are looming or your kids have back to back soccer tournaments:
Ever noticed how you easily get sick when you're stressed? Almonds are packed with vitamin E, which helps boost your immune system and fight free radical damage. They're also rich in B vitamins and magnesium. Deficiencies in both have been linked to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Almonds provide the crunch factor a lot of us crave when we're stressed. Try a handful of lightly salted roasted almonds the next time you're craving chips for a similar fix. Just be mindful of the portion size!
Avocados are loaded with vitamin B6, potassium, and healthy fats. B vitamins help our nerves and brain cells function properly. The healthy fats and potassium both work to lower blood pressure, which we all know elevates when we're stressed and on edge!
Add avocado to your salad or schmear it on a piece of whole grain toast for breakfast.
When our bodies are stressed, it's down to the cellular level. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C. These nutrients help repair our cells and protect the immune system - keeping nasty colds and viruses at bay.
Try adding a handful of blueberries to your morning yogurt or smoothie. I also love popping them as an afternoon snack with a handful of almonds for a double dose of stress fighting super food.
Who doesn't feel better after having having a piece of chocolate? Dark chocolate, we're talking 70% or higher, is especially great at elevating our moods and reducing cortisol levels (a stress hormone). Plus, certain compounds in cocoa have been proven to help us think more clearly.
Treat yourself to really good quality chocolate. Break off a square or two and try to let each piece melt completely in your mouth without chewing. You'll be surprised how satisfied you are with just a few bites!
Eggs contain B vitamins (which support the nervous system) and tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps the body balance it's hormones. It works to produce a calming effect and helps induce sleep.
Another great source of tryptophan is legumes. Add chickpeas to your salad or meal prep lentil soup to have on hand throughout the week.
There's no denying a warm cup of tea makes you feel more relaxed and at peace with the world. Try a calming herbal blend in the afternoon or before bed. My favorites are peppermint, chamomile, ginger, and lemon balm.
Ginger and peppermint are especially helpful if stress causes stomach discomfort.
Kefir does double duty for fighting off anxiety. Dairy increases serotonin levels in our brains, a chemical that promotes relaxation and a sense of calm. Try having a small glass before bed to calm your nerves.
The fact that it's fermented is even better. When we're stressed, our digestive system tends to seize up. Adding probiotics to our diet can help alleviate indigestion. In addition to kefir, try adding a small amount of sauerkraut to one of your meals.
What can't leafy greens do? These powerhouses are loaded with folate, a B vitamin which helps ensure our nervous system is firing properly. Greens are also rich in magnesium (as are almonds, avocados, dark chocolate, and kefir). Surprisingly, most of us are actually deficient in this mineral, which helps fight irritability and fatigue, and promotes muscle relaxation.
Try adding a handful or spinach to your smoothie or incorporating sautéed kale to your dinner a few nights a week.
Eating whole grains when we're stressed increases levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. It makes us feel happy and satisfied - promoting a feeling a calm and well-being. Plus, combining whole grains with protein and healthy fats will keep you fuller for longer (i.e. You won't be stressed AND hangry).
Try starting your day with a warm bowl of oatmeal or having a stir-fry loaded with brown rice and veggies for dinner.
Salmon / Flaxseeds & Walnuts
Omega-3 fatty acids help keep our cortisol and adrenaline levels (aka: the stress hormones) in check. They are shown to prevent signs of depression and keep our brains functioning at full capacity.
If you don't eat fish, try adding ground flaxseeds to your yogurt or have a handful of walnuts as your afternoon snack. Be sure your seafood is wild caught or organic.
How do I add these foods "in real life"?
I hear ya. It's one thing to know the facts and another to actually put them to practice.
Here are a few ideas with links to easily incorporate these foods throughout your day.
A handful walnuts, sliced apple
Whole grain crackers with almond butter
2 hard boiled eggs
Herbal tea + 2 squares 85% dark chocolate
Small serving granola with almond milk
2 dates stuffed with almond butter and cacao nibs