Which foods help reduce stress?

It is hard to recommend certain foods that can help reduce stress as it can vary from person to person.

To begin with try limiting refined carbohydrates in your daily diet as much as possible, as these can cause blood-sugar swings that can result in anxiety, irritability, headaches, confusion and other signs of stress.

Try adding foods that are high in calcium and magnesium, such as fresh dark-green, leafy vegetables, which can be calming as the two minerals help muscle fibers relax. Also use calcium and magnesium supplements, but be careful not to take calcium by itself.

Herbs or supplements that can provide a good source of stress-relief include valerian, which is available at good health food stores. Caffeine products such as chocolate, tea, coffee, soft drinks, should be obviously avoided, as being hyper is hardly helpful to handling stress.

Stress and Weight Increase

Scientists say stress can make you fat. Both of these factors are not only bad for your health, but they can also ruin morale and any feelings of well-being.

The answer to fighting off stress is something that has the extra bonus of being free and readily available - sleep and relaxation !

Sleep and relaxation can help you to feel more stress-free due to a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is needed and used by every single cell in the body. It consists of the adrenal glands, which are two little nut-shaped glands that are placed on top of your kidneys. Among other things, cortisol is an anti-inflammatory (the widely prescribed 'cortisone' is a derivative), but it’s most famous use is that of a stress hormone.

Cortisol helps the body release sugar into the bloodstream, which can be used for the immediate energy needed for either of the above actions, along with many more. During any stressful time, including when exercising, the body will release extra cortisol, which is why it’s given the nickname - 'fight or flight' hormone.

Why do we stress eat?

Most people think that cortisol is 'bad' hormone, but as with most things, the problem only arises when it's out of balance. According to leading experts, chronic unrelenting stress (the more common everyday stress) can have a dangerous effect on the body, as it makes you more vulnerable to colds, flu, fatigue, and infection. It can also give you a huge appetite which isn’t good news for anyone trying to diet. This is because one of its ‘purposes' is to help your body refuel for the next emergency, therefore when your body is on constant cortisone overload, you eat more.

This typical reaction is known as 'stress eating', and has a solid physiological reason:

The foods you crave when feeling stressed out (mainly carbohydrates and fatty foods) replenish the calories used up during the stress response. So activating the stress response on a constant basis can make you add on weight.

It is important to remember that stress is a factor in weight gain, so try and cut it out from your daily life.

Today's stress levels

Most people in the UK are currently living very stressful lives thanks to a number of factors such as; working overtime and too hard, worrying too much and sleeping too little.

Our adrenal glands, which are meant to act as an emergency system for occasional use, have been pushed into overdrive mode. The end result: most of us are lacking in sleep, overtired, depressed, frequently sick, and typically overweight.

Look after yourself

Stress levels need to be reduced. Ironically one of the biggest stress factors is continual dieting and worrying about weight and waist sizes!

Take time out everyday to do some deep breathing exercises for at least ten minutes and also eat well (don’t skip out on breakfast because of dieting or thinking you don’t have enough time in the mornings). Take care of yourself, not just in the obvious ways, but in the ways that only you would understand.

Make changes to your sleeping habits

Experts estimate that more than half of the entire UK population is walking around in some state of sleep deprivation and there is a growing concern over people taking time out for themselves.

There are a few easy steps that can be taken to help combat this:

  • Sleep at an earlier time
  • Stop watching TV from the bedroom
  • Take a warm bath every evening
  • Listen to soothing music

Remember that lowering stress is good for your health, your immune system and your psychological well-being!