Nutrition has a profound effect on how we cope with stress and anxiety, and better eating choices can help you cope in a healthier way.
Overcoming Stress And Anxiety With Better Dietary Choices
Everyone will invariably face some type of stress every day. Some stress is mild while other events can be acutely and traumatically stressful, and some people experience prolonged stress during difficult periods at work, unexpected family issues, and countless other possible problems. There is no one right way to overcome stress and anxiety. Everyone must develop their own coping techniques and stress relief strategies to overcome the negative effects of anxiety and stress. However, everyone can potentially ease the symptoms of these issues by making healthier dietary choices.
Finding The Right Diet To Fight Stress And Anxiety
There is no magical best diet for stress and anxiety, but some foods can actually increase the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety while others can calm them or help you manage them more effectively. Developing a good nutritional strategy for coping with stress is crucial for everyone; without it, a person’s eating habits may prolong the symptoms of stress and even contribute to medical complications from stress and anxiety. Unhealthy eating habits can be devastating for physical and mental health*, so if you are looking for a diet to reduce stress, you may only need to make a few alterations to your eating habits to start feeling positive effects.
Foods To Avoid
“Comfort food” may provide some instant gratification after a stressful day, but unhealthy eating choices can actually make your stress and anxiety symptoms worse.
- Fatty foods.
- Fried foods.
- Sugary foods.
- Sodas and carbonated beverages.
- Sweets, candies, and desserts.
While these foods may be fine in small doses, turning them into a crutch can have devastating health consequences and make it harder to overcome stress and anxiety. For example, unwinding after a long day at work with a mixed drink may seem harmless at first, but this pattern of treating stress with alcohol can eventually lead to high-functioning alcoholism without ever really addressing the root of your stress, and can also lead to other health problems.
Fatty and sugary foods increase fat retention in the body, and an excess of belly fat usually correlated to unmanaged or poorly managed stress. Many people find their biggest barrier to weight loss is actually stress. Instead of reaching for unhealthy comfort foods that offer instant gratification and little else, try looking for healthier stress-relieving foods.
Making Better Dietary Choices For Stress And Anxiety Management
Regardless of how much stress and anxiety you experience on a regular basis, everyone benefits from making healthier eating choices. Stress and diet have close links, so evaluating your regular diet and making a few changes or adding a few healthy foods can improve your overall stress levels and ease the tension of anxiety.
Consider adding some of the following foods to your daily routine. Naturally stress-relieving foods and foods that reduce anxiety are more accessible than you may realize.
- Dark chocolate, which offers stress relief in two ways. First, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants that help regulate blood pressure and reduce stress hormones in the body. Second, dark chocolate is delicious and indulgent, and the emotional effect of a small serving of dark chocolate can be incredibly therapeutic.
- Whole grains and unrefined carbohydrates like those found in whole grain breads and sweet potatoes naturally boost serotonin levels and help you feel full and energetic. Refined carbohydrates like white breads and pastas cause a quick burst of energy followed by a crash, whereas whole grain options generally offer longer-lasting and more robust energy.
- Avocados are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood. Avocados also contain phytochemicals, fiber, and many essential nutrients that bolster overall health and reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and obesity.
- Foods rich in zinc can help curb anxiety symptoms. Cashews, oysters, liver, beef, and eggs have high levels of zinc.
These are just a few additions you can make to your regular diet to start managing stress more easily. However, when it comes to stress and nutrition, how you eat is just as important as what you eat.
Form Better Eating Habits
Many people stick to the typical three square meals per day with minimal snacking in between meals while some others only eat one large meal per day. Some people struggle with appetite in the morning, but eating breakfast kick-starts the body’s metabolic processes and encourages higher energy levels throughout the day.
Some people fall into the trap of coping with stress with food. A giant meal of your favourite foods may make you feel a little better after a difficult day, but this is a generally unhealthy response to stress and could potentially create a pattern of binge eating in response to stress and anxiety.
During stressful days, eating little and often is a good way to keep your metabolism going and minimize the appearance of energy peaks and valleys throughout the day. If you do not have much of an appetite in the morning, a small piece of fruit or serving of whole grain cereal can be just what you need to jumpstart your metabolism and maintain energy levels throughout your day. When you opt for light snacks, try to find snacks rich in Vitamin B, Vitamin C, and magnesium.
B vitamins from bananas, nuts, leafy green vegetables, meat, and fish can help manage your energy levels after a stressful situation. Vitamin C helps regulate the adrenal glands and manage anxiety levels, and you find vitamin C in citrus fruits, apples, and tomatoes. Many people do not consume enough magnesium with their usual diets, and you can boost your magnesium levels with oats, brown rice, nuts, grapes, and beans.
Avoid Caffeine And Sugar
Most Americans start their day with a cup of coffee or tea, but caffeinated beverages can have negative effects on the body if you come to over-rely on caffeine to get through the day. Consider replacing coffee and tea with decaffeinated varieties and skip the sugary soft drinks. Sodas can not only cause an intense sugar crash, but overconsumption of soda is extremely bad for your overall health. Caffeine can also linger in your system for six or more hours, so limiting or restricting your caffeine intake after lunchtime can help you sleep better at night.
Sleep is extremely important for managing stress and anxiety. If you do not sleep enough or do not have restful sleep, you will have a much harder time coping with daily anxiety and stress. Caffeine, nicotine, and sugar may provide seemingly instant stress relief but in reality, they are causing you more health problems down the road and doing virtually nothing for your stress and anxiety levels.
Consider making a few adjustments to your daily eating routine and you may start seeing results faster than you expect. Stress and anxiety left unchecked for too long can be incredibly damaging, and poor eating habits will only exacerbate and prolong these negative effects. Making better choices now will make it easier for you to manage your stress and anxiety levels in the future.
Foundations Wellness offers a full range of addiction treatment services including nutritional therapy. Many people who deal with severe stress and anxiety turn to addictive substances to cope, but over time this causes addiction and serious health problems. Foundations Wellness can help you overcome addiction and cultivate better eating habits so you can manage stress and anxiety in positive, healthy ways.
About the Author:
Justin Baksh is the Chief Clinical Officer of Foundations Wellness, an addiction treatment center. Treatment plans offered include a robust Employee Assistance Program to employers who want to help struggling employees recover from their substance abuse and mental health disorders, allowing them to return to work happy and productive. Justin obtained his MS in Mental Health Counseling and has substantial clinical experience working as a Primary Therapist.