We’ve all been there – a work deadline is approaching faster than you’d like, there’s so much on your plate that you feel on the verge of a mental breakdown, or you sit in an hour’s worth of traffic on the way home. Bring on the increased heart rate, sweaty palms, tense muscles, and a big ol’ dose of cortisol, am I right?
Our body is beautifully designed with the fight or flight response (aka – all of those aforementioned stress effects) to help us deal with stressors that come our way. Back in the day, these physical reactions in the body helped our ancestors fight off predators that threatened their survival. In today's fast-paced, time-is-money world, stress is almost inevitable. Admittedly, we’re not exactly wrestling with the same circumstances as our primitive friends (in most cases), but we still have to deal with the consequences of these fight-or-flight effects.
Repeatedly, studies have shown just how detrimental chronic stress can be on nearly every system in the body. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to learn safe and effective stress-fighting techniques. Next time you feel overwhelmed and stressed out (cue Twenty One Pilots), think about implementing a few of these tactics to support your body through it.
First things first, let’s talk about things you may be doing to combat your stress that are actually making it worse...
Basically – caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. While it may feel intuitive, and even comforting, to reach for an extra large coffee, a donut, or the booze, these things could be exacerbating your feelings of stress.
Caffeinated diuretics, like coffee, promote mineral excretion. Minerals are important to keep our bodies functioning properly – especially during times of stress when we are ramped up more than usual. Research has also shown that caffeine can increase blood pressure and the production of adrenaline (a stress hormone), so people report feeling more stressed out than they are in reality. Try skipping the coffee next time – herbal tea or turmeric milk are great, body-friendly options if you’re craving that hot drink!
Consumption of both sugar and alcohol can lead to mineral wasting as well – specifically the magnificent stress-fighting mineral magnesium. Magnesium plays a huge role in calming our body during periods of stress, but, believe it or not, most Americans are deficient in it. No wonder we’re all on edge! For every one molecule of glucose that a person consumes, it takes nearly 28 molecules of magnesium for our body to metabolize it.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid sugar and alcohol at all costs (moderation is a beautiful thing)…but if you’re feeling stressed, whole, nutrient-dense foods will be your body’s biggest ally in promoting calm and relaxation.
Are there any foods that are more supportive of fighting off stress?
Of course! Specifically, we’re going to focus on magnesium (duh!), B vitamins, and antioxidants.
Magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzymatic processes within the body including the production of cellular energy. It promotes muscle relaxation, produces melatonin, and helps engage our parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of fight or flight; commonly called the rest or digest state).
Foods rich in magnesium include:
· Sea vegetables
· Pumpkin seeds
· Dark, leafy greens
As an added bonus, magnesium can actually be absorbed through the skin! Taking an Epsom salt bath is another way to boost your magnesium stores. Light candles and play some music to take the stress-reducing factor up a notch!
There are a lot of B vitamins out in the world, and many of them depend on the presence of other B vitamins to function properly in the body. This is why you'll commonly see "B complex" vitamins on store shelves. B vitamins play a big role in mood modulation and mental capability. Specifically, B6, B9, and B12 aid in the formation of neurotransmitters like serotonin. B12 also helps in energy production.
Food sources of B vitamins include:
· Mushrooms (shiitake and portabello)
Antioxidants, specifically vitamins C and E, are found in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. The beautiful colors are due in part to phytochemicals called anthocyanins. These are large influencers in how our body responds to stress – specifically playing a role in the production of dopamine. The intake of antioxidant-rich foods also boosts our body’s white cell count which helps it combat stress more effectively. A good rule of thumb – eat the rainbow!
· Bell peppers
· Dark leafy greens
That’s just a fact of life.
Thankfully, supporting your body through these stressful periods doesn’t have to be complicated. Next time that work deadline comes around, skip the coffee, incorporate whole, nutrient-dense foods, throw in the occasional Epsom salt bath and find a stress-relieving technique that zens you out - exercise, deep breathing techniques or adult coloring books are all great places to start. Your body will thank you for it!
Guest Post by Chelsea Brinegar
Chelsea is a currently working towards her Masters in Clinincal Nutrition at NCNM and is interning with Sprout Wellness. Stay tuned for more awesome info from Chelsea!