When you’re stressed out, the foods that you’re turning to are most likely going to be traditional ‘comfort’ foods – think big meals, take-out, fatty foods, sweet foods, and alcohol. Let’s face it – we’ve all found some comfort in a tasty meal and a bottle of beer or glass of wine when we’ve been stressed out or upset about something. However, this isn’t a good permanent solution.
When you’re turning to unhealthy foods you can feel better temporarily, but in the long run, you will feel worse. When your body isn’t getting the right nutrition, you can begin to feel less energetic, more lethargic, and in some cases less able to concentrate and focus. All of this can lead to even more stress.
Foods that Fight Stress
If you’ve been feeling more stressed out than usual lately, it’s important to know which foods are best to choose and which to avoid when it comes to combating stress and helping you to deal with feelings of stress and anxiety. The best way to fight stress is to have a healthy, balanced diet that is high in nutrients.
Filling up on foods such as whole grains, leafy vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and lean proteins as the basic staples of the diet is the best way to ensure that your body gets the optimum amounts of nutrients to fight both physical and mental health problems. When it comes to choosing the foods to eat, some have a range of great properties which help the body to combat stress. Choosing these stress-busting foods will help to heal and calm your mind permanently, rather than providing a temporary fix.
Some of the best stress-fighting foods include:
Blueberries – If you’re feeling stressed out and reaching for the snacks, swapping chocolate or chips for one of the best superfoods is a great way to help you deal with your stress levels and achieve a higher level of calm. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants, especially antho-cyanin, which means that this berry has been linked to a wide range of health benefits including sharper cognition, better focus, and a clearer mind – all of which can help you to better deal with stress.
Chamomile Tea – Of course, it’s not all about what you’re eating when it comes to managing stress; what you’re drinking can also alleviate or worsen the stress you're feeling. Drinking liquids which are high in sugars and caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks or soda, can actually increase your stress levels if consumed regularly. Chamomile tea has long been used as a natural bedtime soother, and it has also been used in clinical trials, which determined that chamomile tea is effective in reducing the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Avocado – Avocados are a creamy and versatile fruit which can be eaten in a range of different ways whether you enjoy it raw, made into sauces, dressings and dips, or in a smoothie. These nutrient-dense fruits have the properties to stress-proof your body, thanks to their high glutathione content which specifically blocks the intestinal absorption of certain fats which cause oxidative damage. Avocados also contain higher levels of vitamin E, folate, and beta-carotene than any other fruit, which boosts their stress-busting properties.
Grass-fed beef – Though I don't recommend eating beef more than 1-2 times per week, grass-fed beef is not only kinder to the planet and to animals, it’s also good for people, too. Grass-fed beef has a huge range of antioxidants, including beta-carotene and Vitamins C and E, which can help your body to fight stress and anxiety. If you’re looking for more reasons to spend a little more money on organic, grass-fed beef, it’s also lower in fat than grain-fed beef while being higher in omega-3.
Oatmeal – Oatmeal is great in that it can be a filling comfort food, but also has a large number of healthy properties to actually make you feel better from the inside out. A complex carbohydrate, eating oatmeal causes your brain to produce higher levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin, helping you to feel calmer and less stressed. Studies have shown that kids who choose oatmeal for breakfast tend to be much sharper throughout the morning in school compared to kids who had alternative morning meals.
Chocolate – Although it’s usually seen as an unhealthy treat, there is an undeniable link between chocolate and our mood. Studies have shown that eating chocolate can actually make you happier. However, that doesn’t mean that you can start munching on chocolate bars every time you're stressed out – chocolate works best as a de-stressor when eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Dark chocolate in particular is best for you, as it contains more flavonols and polyphenols, two hugely important antioxidants which can help combat stress, more than many fruit juices.
Walnuts – If you’re looking for a healthy snacking option which will help you to stay better in control of your stress levels, walnuts are a great choice. There is no denying the sweet, pleasant flavor of walnuts and they can be a tasty snack for in-between meals or as part of a desert. A versatile nut, walnuts are great for salads, or add them to a sweet treat such as coffee and walnut cake.
Green Leafy Vegetables – leafy, green vegetables should be a pivotal part of anyone’s diet. Along with helping to combat stress, leafy greens are full of nutrients and antioxidants which help to fight off disease and leave your body feeling healthier and more energized. Dark leafy greens, for example spinach, are especially good for you since they are rich in folate, which helps your body to produce more mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is a ‘feel-good’ chemical. Making leafy greens a part of your diet will help you to feel happier and less stressed out overall.
Fermented foods – last but not least, eating fermented foods such as yogurt can help to keep your gut healthy, which actually in turn will help to improve your mental health and reduce stress levels. The beneficial bacteria which are found in fermented foods such as yogurt actually have a direct effect on your brain chemistry and transmit positive mood and behavior regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.
Putting Together Your Diet Plan
Planning your meals wisely is key to not only staying physically fit and healthy, but also staying mentally strong and being able to best manage your levels of stress. Knowing which foods to avoid and which are the best to reach for to snack on when you’re feeling worried and anxious is important to helping you get control over your emotions and fears.
When you’re feeling stressed, you may be tempted to reach for classic ‘comfort foods’ – usually foods which are laden with sugar, very starchy, or greasy. However, although these foods can make you feel momentarily better, they will actually make you feel worse in the long run.
Having stress-busting snacks such as fresh berries, dark chocolate, yogurt, walnuts or pistachios, or even a fruit smoothie with avocado and leafy greens in it can help you to feel better in both the short and long term when it comes to stress. When it comes to combating and dealing with stress in the long run, it’s important to make sure that for the most part, you are eating a diet which is healthy and balanced.
In order to stay on track, it’s a good idea to make a meal plan for your week and plan ahead to make sure that you have a good selection of these stress-busting foods in your kitchen to make meals and snacks from when you’re feeling like stress-eating. Making sure that the majority of your meals include foods such as lean proteins and leafy green vegetables will not only make you feel healthier overall, but can improve your mental health and stress levels, too.
A good example of a healthy, stress-busting menu would be:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries or a fruit smoothie with avocado and berries
Mid-morning snack: Natural yogurt with fruit or a handful of pistachio nuts
Lunch: A whole-grain pasta salad filled with plenty of leafy greens
Afternoon snack: Dark chocolate
Dinner: Grass-fed beef with vegetables
Before bed: Chamomile tea
Of course, you don’t need to stick to this menu – but it gives you a good idea! Remember to exercise good portion control when eating foods such as nuts, chocolate, yogurt or avocado! As the saying goes, you are what you eat – so make sure that first and foremost, you’re filling yourself up with foods which are good for your mental health.
If you missed my previous blog post about how stress affects your health and how Reflexology can help to mitigate or interrupt the stress response please CLICK HERE to read.
CAM Modalities for Stress
The popularity of holistic health modalities - also known as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) - continues to rise as more people are seeking alternatives to the symptoms-based approach of standard Western medicine. The holistic or CAM approach to health focuses on finding the root causes of disease and illness; with a particular focus on mitigation of stress since it is now known that stress is responsible for causing 90% of disease and illness (NASD, n.d.). Our stress levels are an important factor in every facet of our health as stress can lead to hormonal imbalances which affect our endocrine system (literally our hormonal control center), cardiovascular, reproductive and digestive issues (being in a state of “Fight or Flight”), and many other issues including those that affect our mental and emotional health. In the holistic health field, Reflexology is one of the top modalities for both reducing and interrupting stress levels. Following is how Reflexology can help to reduce your stress levels and improve your health.
In today’s world we are exposed to daily stressors from concerns about living a meaningful life and making ends meet, to getting the kids to and from school on time and having enough hours in the day to get everything done. Additionally there are environmental stressors such as dealing with heavy traffic while trying to be somewhere on time as well as increasing levels of exposure to toxic pollutants and hormone disruptors on a daily basis. All of these impact our Central Nervous System (CNS, more about this in the "Geek Section" below) and create hormonal feedback loops that not only perpetuate, but accumulate, unless steps are taken to disrupt these “loops.” This is where Reflexology comes in and truly shines as it helps to interrupt these stress feedback loops, gives the body and mind much-needed reprieve, and also helps to prevent the many diseases and illnesses that have root causes in stress.
Reflexology & Stress
One of the main health benefits of receiving a Reflexology session (hand or foot) is stress reduction which in turn affects the health of the entire body system. This is because Reflexology helps to interrupt the stress feedback loop that keeps the body in a “sympathetic state.” This sympathetic state, also known as “Fight or Flight,” directs vital energy to the extremities of the body in order to react or respond to perceived threats or dangers. Reflexology redirects vital energies back to the central body parts and organs by increasing circulation to these areas through stimulating nerve endings that connect with other parts of the body and systems. The effect is an immediate disruption of stress feedback loops and stimulation of the parasympathetic mode also known as “Rest and Relax.” This feedback loop disruption results in balanced hormones, improved cardiovascular health, as well as improved function of the reproductive and digestive systems.
Geeking Out On The Central Nervous System (CNS)
The nervous system consists of the CNS (brain and spinal cord) that connects to the peripheral nervous system (nerves running out to the periphery of the body) and has the appearance of wires that run from the spinal cord out to the extremities. These nerves send out impulses through an estimated “100 billion neurons” (Newman, 2022) and coordinate the functions of the entire body system. The CNS is the hub that controls our thoughts, emotions, movements, and responses, as well as the autonomic nervous system (controls unconscious activities such as our heartbeat and breathing; Newman, 2022) and the somatic nervous system (regulates voluntary activities such as muscle movement; Khan Academy, n.d.). It is literally the control center for the entire body that is informed by hormonal messengers and responds through nerve impulses throughout the body. When the body is in a heightened state of Fight or Flight long term, the CNS becomes taxed and “frayed” and results in heightened anxiety, cardiovascular issues, as well as the other issues associated with being in the Fight of Flight state.
Reflexology to the Rescue
Reflexology directly calms the central nervous system by stimulating the nerve pathways which are connected to the skin and then are connected through the spinal cord to the various internal organs. This mechanism of a neurological connection was found by Sir Henry Head and Sir Charles Sherrington, both of whom were Neurologists of the early 20th century and played a role in what modern Reflexology is today (How does reflexology work?, n.d.). What they found was that using gentle pressure on the reflex points of the hands and feet sends calming impulses to the CNS which in turn tells the body to reduce its level of stress. Further, receiving a Reflexology session is extremely calming and comforting which helps to stimulate the release of “happy hormones” or endorphins. This not only results in stress reduction, but also in the reduction of pain as well. On top of that, the release of endorphins promotes a sense of well-being which can have an impact on both your mental and emotional health.
Additional Info & Benefits of Reflexology
Beyond stress-reduction, Reflexology has additional benefits that help to promote the health of all of the body systems. These benefits will come in later blog posts, but to read more about Reflexology and what it can do for you, please visit my FAQ’s Page.
How does reflexology work? Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/reflexology/how-does-reflexology-work
Khan Academy. (n.d.). The nervous and Endocrine Systems Review (article). Khan Academy. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.khanacademy.org/science/high-school-biology/hs-human-body-systems/hs-the-nervous-and-endocrine-systems/a/hs-the-nervous-and-endocrine-systems-review
Newman, T. (2022, February 3). Central nervous system: Structure, function, and diseases. Medical News Today. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/307076#what-is-the-cns
Stress management for the health of it. NASD. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://nasdonline.org/1445/d001245/stress-management-for-the-health-of-it.html#:~:text=In%20addition%2C%20medical%20research%20estimates,been%20linked%20to%20stress%20factors.
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