Stress is something we all have to deal with at certain points in our lives. It can be from external pressures, such as work or family issues, or internal influences, what we are eating and how our digestive, immune and nervous system are functioning.
Fortunately, there are many lifestyle changes we can make to manage stress levels.
How Stress Affects the Body
Stress produces a number of physiological responses in the body:
- The release of stress hormones from your adrenal glands – adrenaline and cortisol
- An increase in blood sugar
- Rising blood pressure
- Rapid heart beat
All these responses are known as “fight or flight” and go back to our more animalistic instincts, think being chased by a lion. The problem is, in today’s high stress work-driven society, many people’s stress response remains on full alert and the body doesn’t have time to recover.
How Diet Can Help
The first most important response to stress is identifying and reducing the causes of stress. However, eating a balanced diet is key to ensuring our bodies manage the physiological changes caused by stress.
The production of adrenaline is heavily influenced by blood sugar levels, so much of the advice is aiming to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet and balance blood sugar levels.
- Start with a balanced breakfast: avoid sugary cereals, pastries and too much caffeine.
- A sugary start to your day will cause a spike in your blood sugar levels and then, unsurprisingly, a subsequent fall – causing your mood to fluctuate too. Sounds a bit stressful doesn’t it?
- Try not to skip meals: Ensure you eat regularly, taking healthy snacks as necessary. Small, regular meals will lead to you feeling less tired and irritable and experience an overall improvement in your mood.
- Why not try 5 meals a day? It leads to increased stabilisation of your blood sugar levels, more energy and an increased mood.
- Prioritise Protein: When chronically stressed the body has an increased demand for protein. Protein is great at slowing the release of sugar into the blood stream – so there will be less of that sugar-induced yoyo-ing of mood levels!
- A meal replacement shake that is high in protein can be an easy on-the-go option if you can’t find the time to prepare a nutritious meal.
Nutrients That Specifically Support the Adrenal Glands
- Vitamin C: Found in fresh fruit and vegetables
- Magnesium is considerably reduced in times of stress, and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and a general predisposition to stress. You can find magnesium in dark leafy greens, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
- B Vitamins: Wholegrains, nuts and seeds (sounds familiar, right)
- Omega-3s: Mackerel, salmon and sardines. A supplement is a great idea for those that aren’t oily-fish-lovers.
The Many Other Ways to Reduce Stress
- Time spent outdoors
- Good quality sleep
- Regular, gentle exercise