Stress comes at us in so many ways every single day – work, family life, pollution, worrying, sugar intake, sleep deprivation, toxic relationships, the list goes on. Although various factors affect us differently from one to the other, each of our bodies reacts in the exact same way. A stress response is triggered, sending the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, through the body. Sounds like quite the battle right?
The good news is, the body is designed to cope with short-term stress. Unfortunately, chronic, long-term stress is way more common nowadays. Usually, the symptoms of stress like fatigue, skin issues, digestive problems, blood pressure or infections are warning signs that your body can’t cope and is sending you these clear messages – something's got to give!
Foods that combat stress
Before we dive into the list of ingredients you should be adding to your kitchen, here's a list of foods to avoid to help further relieve stress:
• Processed foods: white rice, white pasta, boxed cereals, cakes, alcohol, refined sugar and caffeine. These foods are causing spikes and drops in energy levels as they are raising cortisol levels and insulin levels rapidly, and therefore produce not sustainable energy for the body. They are foods that literally cause the body stress, as they tax the adrenals and cause cortisol to rise.
Here's a list of healthy foods to eat to help get rid of stress naturally:
• Fresh fruit and vegetables will boost your antioxidant levels combating the free radicals released through stress. Make a rainbow of different coloured vegetables at every plate to make sure you cover all vitamins and minerals needed by the body, like avocados, carrots, sweet potato, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot, berries, mango and grapes.
• Green leafy vegetables full of folate help the body create dopamine and serotonin – the body’s natural mood enhancer.
• Try to include protein with every meal, like eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, lean meats, fish, tofu, and tempeh to balance blood sugar levels and produce hormones.
• Turkey and pumpkin seeds are great sources of tryptophan, an amino acid that the body converts to serotonin.
• Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kefir, live yoghurt, kimchi, pickled vegetables all promote gut health. Health and mood start with healthy gut bacteria!
• Omega 3 fats, like wild Alaskan salmon, or mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring (SMASH), and (crushed) flaxseeds are all great for boosting emotional wellbeing and overall brain and hormonal health and are also highly anti-inflammatory.
• Fiber has a positive effect on digestion as it can't be digested by the body and helps to excrete toxins. Goods bacteria in the gut feed on fiber and have a positive effect on other health aspects like cholesterol.
• Green tea contains a component (L-Theanine) that helps reduce stress and promote relaxation naturally.
• Vitamin D, or serotonin (mood enhancer), is boosted when the body is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is best sourced from sunlight, but a diet that includes salmon, egg yolk and mushrooms will help boost the amount.
• Magnesium acts as a precursor to serotonin and helps regulate emotion and wellbeing. Low magnesium levels can trigger anxiety and panic attacks. Sources of magnesium-rich foods include kale, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds, spinach, Swiss chard and avocados.
How to reduce stress naturally
How do you help your body deal with stress in a healthy manner? There are a few key lifestyle tweaks you can adopt and foods you can include in your diet to help reduce stress levels and replenish your body and mind:
Research has shown that exercise can seriously impact the way a person feels during stressful times. Exercise produces endorphins, or chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers, and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress – win, win.
2. Diaphragmatic breathing
A Harvard study has shown that mindful, deep breathing exercises help manage and prevent stress, and create more energy. It does this by invoking the opposite of your body’s stress response, or the relaxation response. Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm's range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn't get a full share of oxygenated air. This, in turn, can make you feel short of breath and anxious.
Deep abdominal breathing, on the other hand, encourages full oxygen exchange – that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. It can even slow your heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
Here's one of the best, quick and practical breathing exercises to help with stress at home:
• Rest one hand near your belly button and the other on your chest.
• Breathe in through the nose for 4 and out for 4 (increase to 6-7 with more practice).
• Be aware of your hands rising and falling.
• Do not hold tension in your shoulders.
Now that you know the small changes and the foods to eat and the ones to avoid, we're sure you'll be well on your way to feeling stress-free in no time!
Read next: How to Avoid Work Stress While on Vacation
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