If you asked 100 people if they’re stressed, I would not doubt that 98 of them would say yes. Stress has become a factor in several areas of our lives and opportunities for emotional chaos are everywhere. Although the stress response can be a useful and motivating mechanism, exposure to chronic stress can have seriously damaging effects to the brain and body.
What is stress?
The stress response also known as the flight-or-fight response, triggers the body for action to protect you from danger. The brain sends messages to the adrenals which stimulate hormones like cortisol to raise blood pressure and blood sugar. This may be useful to motivate or challenge us to complete tasks, or as a survival tactic to provide us with the energy and adrenaline to escape dangerous situations. However, when our stress response is followed by sitting on an office chair for 9 hours, we are left with an excess of unused glucose circulating in our body which can contribute to weight gain and other health imbalances.
There are three types of 'stressors' that cause a stress reaction in the body:
Chemical - caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar, drug use, high fat diet, household and environmental poisons
Physical - physical inactivity or over activity, noise pollution, accidents, lack of sleep, weather changes
Emotional - fear, anger, guilt, sorrow, jealousy, hurt, anxiety
When stress becomes prolonged, the body is forced to maintain higher levels of these natural chemicals. This leads to burn out, or ‘adrenal fatigue’ from having to function in overdrive for long periods of time. Each person has a stress threshold. While some people can handle stress well, others don't. When we reach our threshold, physical and/or emotional breakdown can occur.
Other serious side effects of stress can include neurotransmitter imbalances or hormone imbalance. These can lead to numerous symptoms or conditions like depression, anxiety, difficulty losing weight, weakened immune system, hyperactivity, cognitive disorders, insomnia, chronic pain, excessive fatigue, allergies, addiction, dysglycemia, type 2 diabetes, and more.
Since our diet plays an important role in how we can cope with stress as well as the damaging effects it may have, here are the best & worst foods for beating stress.
1. Nuts & Seeds – contain valuable stress busting nutrients like vitamins E, B, magnesium, essential fatty acids and fiber. They are also rich in zinc which is important because low levels of zinc have been linked to anxiety and depression.
2. Avocado – Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins as well as vitamin E and fiber to boost the immune system in times of stress.
3. Dark chocolate – Contains magnesium and supports healthy mood, alertness, and may help to reduce anxiety (and tastes delicious to give you that ‘sweet fix’ you seek when under stress)
4. Oatmeal – A complex carbohydrate that causes your brain to produce serotonin (our feel-good chemical) which also creates a soothing feeling. It’s magnesium, fiber, chromium, and B vitamin content also aid in combating stress.
5. Berries – contain antioxidant vitamins and phytonutrients and are rich in vitamin C, which has been shown to be helpful in combating stress.
6. Green Tea – Has smaller amounts of caffeine and an amino acid called Theanine which has been shown to be a brain booster and enhance mental performance. This would be a great replacement to coffee and energy drinks!
7. Salmon/wild fish – One of the best sources of Omega 3. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids helps to prevent cortisol and adrenaline from spiking when you're feeling tense.
2. Coffee and 'energy' drinks
Combining caffeine and sugar is basically a recipe for disaster. It can raise levels of cortisol and put enormous stress on the adrenal glands. It also gives you the ‘jitters’ and rapidly spikes our blood sugar which will lead to a huge crash soon after. This causes us to require MORE stimulants and repeats the cycle.
3. Alcoholic beverages
Many people drink a glass of wine or pop open a beer to help them unwind. However, alcohol does not calm you—it actually stimulates the body’s natural stress response. It also disrupts sleep (critical for stress management), and increases your risk of cancer, stroke and heart attack.
4. Processed foods – candy, packaged cookies, donuts, crackers, cakes, muffins, brownies
5. Fried foods – fries, chips, poutine, fried chicken
These foods have little to no nutritional value but are high in refined sugar salt, calories, and artificial ingredients which only increase stress hormones and send blood sugar levels sky rocketing causing an intense sugar crash soon after.
This puts stress on the immune system, digestive tract, adrenal glands, pancreas, liver, and cardiovascular system to figure out what to do with all the excess.
These foods can actually increase anxiety and uneasiness, because without fiber to slow digestion of sugar, glucose levels spike, and so do stress hormones.