I met a friend for coffee this week and we were talking about the level of stress and anxiety we and others are feeling when things are out of our control.
Increasing living costs, the news and trying to navigate our way through an increasingly busy world are contributing to high levels of stress in our society, but there are ways we can help ourselves.
Stress is a normal part of life. It is a natural response that helps us get out of danger and help us survive, but when we have a build up and high stress levels are sustained over a long period of time, it can have serious consequences for our health and wellbeing.
Chronic stress is so commonplace that we have come to think of this as the normal way of being. It is not. We need balance in our lives.
Prolonged stress depletes our immune systems, brings increased risk of cardiovascular disease, affects our mental health and is bad news for our health.
The impact that diet and nutrition has on stress is often overlooked, but it can have a huge impact, and little changes in what you choose to eat and drink can help to take the edge off stress levels.
When your body perceives a threat or danger, it triggers your adrenal glands to release adrenalin and cortisol to trigger the fight-or-flight response. This in turn triggers a release of glucose into the bloodstream to enable you to get out of danger's way and make a run for it.
If we constantly trigger this stress response, we end up with higher than normal levels of blood sugar.
The foods and drinks that can contribute to increased stress levels include:
- Refined carbohydrates
So take a load off and cut back on the ingredients in your diet. Do this for a couple of weeks and see if you notice a difference.
We can also use nutrition to help support and nourish our adrenal glands when we are under pressure.
- Eat in a way that helps maintain and sustain a well balanced blood glucose level. Cutting back on sugar and white or refined carbs is the first step here, but also think about how you can increase fibre, protein and fat as these nutrients help balance blood sugar. Eating wholegrains, pulses, vegetables, nuts and seeds and making sure you have a palm-size portion of protein with each meal will help.
- Don't skip meals. If we go too long between meals, our body will compensate for falling blood glucose levels by triggering adrenalin.
- Start your day with a balanced breakfast. Our cortisol levels are naturally higher in the morning - that's what gets out of bed and energises us to start our day. This means we need a decent amount of protein at breakfast time. Replace sugar-laden breakfast cereals with jumbo porridge oats, nuts and seeds and berries, or have eggs for breakfast.
- Pack in the protein. When we are under stress our body's need for protein increases. Choose lean meat, fish, nuts and seeds, natural yoghurt, eggs, beans or lentils with each meal.
- Eat your greens. Dark green leafy vegetables are an important source of magnesium in our diet. This is a key nutrient to help support and balance stress levels. Other sources include nuts, seeds and dark chocolate - the higher the cocoa content the better, so aim for 70 per cent cocoa or higher.
- Eat some tryptophan-rich foods. This amino acid is the pre-cursor to serotonin, with its calming effects. Oats, bananas, pulses, chicken and almonds are good sources.
Think about other ways that can help you to reduce stress:
- Mindfulness - check out the Headspace or Calm apps.
- Being outside in nature every day - especially in the early part of the day
- Daily exercise - don't overdo it, but regular, gentle exercise can help you let off some steam. Think walking, yoga, cycling, swimming.
- Take time out - have a bath, read a book or listen to music.
- Do things that make you happy.