Thoughtful Thursday: Diet and Stress
The end of the semester is coming up, and you’re stressing about your next due date for your dissertation work, you’ve got work deadlines, and you’re juggling the daily responsibilities of family, too – no wonder you’re feeling the stress! We can help with editing, formatting, or statistics assistance, and are always happy to set up coaching or consultation sessions – but what about all the other stress?
In times like these, many of us turn to the tried and true comfort foods, like pizza, mac n’cheese, ice cream, and chocolate; when we pull all-nighters or are working against the clock, it’s easiest to grab a bag of chips or pop something into the microwave – we get it; we’ve all been there. Though these things do the trick in the moment, did you know that diet can actually help modulate stress?
When people are stressed, hormones are released, and high-fat, sugary foods can actually shut these stress hormones off for a bit, which is a reason people crave them. But these foods can also cause a “crash” later on, making you more fatigued and more stressed. It’s completely fine to eat these things in moderation; total deprivation isn’t necessary. The trick is feeding your body in healthy ways during stress, so that your body and mind are nourished, and even lower your stress levels – so you can enjoy that treat later on!
Here are some tips on healthy eating during stressful times:
Carbs aren’t all bad. It’s hypothesized that carbohydrates trigger the body to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel less stressed, more relaxed, and happier. Instead of choosing carbs with little nutritional value, like cake or cookies, choose high-fiber carbs like baked sweet potatoes (you can add brown sugar for sweetness!), or minestrone soup, for that comfort food feeling.
Don’t forget fruits and veggies! Stress, especially chronic stress, can weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to colds or illness. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, which can help boost the immune system. Try making a veggie stir-fry over brown rice for dinner, or grab a handful of grapes or an orange for a snack. (Vitamin C is not only good for your immune system, but it helps with stress, too!) Blueberries can increase white blood cells called natural killer cells, which help with immunity.
Stay hydrated. Your brain and body need water to function, and when we’re swamped with work, we naturally grab a soda or coffee to give us a boost, or keep us awake while on deadline. Caffeine, however, dehydrates us, and the stress response itself further dehydrates us. Don’t forget to drink water throughout the day, and if you down a coffee, down another glass of water, as well. If you find plain water too bland, try flavored seltzer or flavored water (like Propel), or infuse your water with fresh fruit.
Go nuts! Stress can decrease levels of B vitamins, which help the body handle the effects of stress. Nuts are a great source of B vitamins, calcium, folate, magnesium, and more. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews – snack on! Mix with some dried fruit or banana chips for an impromptu trail mix.
Venture to the dark side. Small amounts of chocolate can be a good thing – especially if it’s dark chocolate. Antioxidants in cocoa can help lower blood pressure – just make sure the chocolate is at least 70% cocoa.
What are your tips for healthy eating during stressful times?
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