When I first started looking at ways to reduce my stress levels, I mainly focused on how
much work I was doing, what my daily responsibilities were, and whether or not I
practiced good self-care. These are all very important, but I forgot about the simplest
choices that I make every day that could be impacting my stress.
A common one has to do with your diet, where some foods can increase stress, while others help to reduce it. In fact, your diet has a much larger impact on your stress levels than you might expect, and your stress can determine what your food choices end up being. This is a vicious cycle that starts with focusing on proper nutrition to fuel your body.
The first thing that can happen if you have a poor diet is that you have nutritional
deficiencies. These deficiencies can affect not just your physical health, but your
emotional health as well.
For example, did you know that folate can affect your mood and lead to more depression? You get folate from foods like eggs, asparagus, spinach, and avocado.
Some other nutrients you need to help balance your mood and fight stress naturally are:
Omega 3 fatty acids – Healthy fats are still important! Some Omega-3's have been shown to have a potential benefit in people in mood disorders. You can get your fatty acids from healthy sources of fats like salmon, tuna, walnuts, avocado and olive oil.
Vitamin D – Do you know why you feel more energized and happier during sunny days? It is the vitamin D from the sun’s UV rays. If you live somewhere that is cloudy and rainy a lot, or it is the winter where there isn’t much sun, you will need to supplement vitamin D through your food or supplements. You can also get it from foods like fatty fish, eggs, dairy, and fortified cereal. People with dark complexion skin are more prone to Vitamin D deficiencies.
Fiber – It has been shown that high fiber foods can increase your mood. For more fiber, eating more fruit, avocados, and whole grains is usually a good place to start.
Calcium – Calcium supplementation has been shown to be effective for reducing mood swings and anxiety. While many people get their calcium from dairy and yogurt, you might not be someone who can eat a lot of dairy. In this case, you can get it from foods like almonds, sesame seeds, tofu, and kale.
Iron – You also want to make sure you have enough iron. Iron can help with your mental health, as well as balancing your energy levels. Get iron from red meat, turkey, some nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds and almonds, broccoli, and dark chocolate.
Protein – The feel good hormone, Seratonin, is made from the break down of protein, none as amino acids. You get protein from many of these same foods, including meat, poultry and fish, dairy, cheese, eggs, and nuts. Many vegetables and beans also have small amounts of protein.
Feeding Emotions with Unhealthy Foods
Another link between stress and nutrition is that you can often “help” the stress and emotions with food. The problem here is that you probably go for the more unhealthy foods. Emotional eating isn’t really bad for you if it is only occasionally, but it may be wise to find something that helps you to deal with stressful situations besides food. ex. yoga, mediation, etc.
However, if you deal with chronic stress or you get into the habit of only using food as a way to comfort yourself, it can become a problem. You might over eat, have too much unhealthy foods, and even be malnourished because you aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals.
Unhealthy Habits from Stress
Having too much stress in your life can further encourage you to have other unhealthy habits. Not just having vitamin deficiencies and emotional eating, but generally overeating the wrong foods, not getting enough exercise and sleeping too much, drinking alcohol, smoking, or doing drugs. These can all turn on you and not only not help with your stress, but actually make it worse.
The Cycle Continues
This is a vicious cycle that is very heard to get out of. Once you start going to unhealthy habits to deal with your stress, you feel that temporarily it is helping, but it is hurting your mental health in the long-term. The best thing you can do is stop this cycle now, start eating right, and look for healthier ways to manage your stress.
Keep in mind that emotional eating will happen some time, just don’t rely only on that. Try to find healthier habits, such as visiting with friends, playing with a pet or getting in a little more exercise.