Having a bit of trouble coping with the stress of daily life? Or even a major life crisis in the form of a spiritual kick-in-the-ass? Thank goodness for this guest post by Tim Eyre – I’ll definitely be taking some of his diet suggestions!
I used to think my stress was not a problem. In case you haven’t made it yet to my bio at the end of this post, let me just point out that I’m a guy. As such I have certain well-entrenched convictions (don’t laugh): I’m tough. I’m in control of myself. I don’t need any touchy-feely type soothing or mellowing. In other words, stress? Bring it on. I can handle it.
Well. I was handling it, all right, but — I recently realized that I’ve been handling my stress by taking it out on the people around me. I’m short and terse with people. I’ve been known to bark (I like dogs, but my wife doesn’t appreciate me barking like one). So, I’ve decided that I need a new method for handling my stress. I’m handling it, all right? But only because I want to!
Here’s what I decided to do. My wife (who is an angel of patience) pointed out that kids behave totally differently depending on what is going on with them physically. Our normally sweet and loving daughter can become demanding and rude if she is sick, or has not eaten recently, or didn’t get enough sleep. I researched the food angle and found some solutions that work for me like a dream.
Comfort food. Yes, I said it. According to WebMD (“Diet for Stress Management Slideshow: Stress-Reducing Foods“), comfort foods increase the levels of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a chemical that has a strong connection with emotional balance. Some people call serotonin the “nature’s feel-good chemical.” If your serotonin levels drop too much, you can become depressed. For most people, comfort foods means carbohydrates and/or simple sugars (I’m a huge fan of both). The complex carbohydrates in whole grain bread, pastas and cereals (like oatmeal) have the effect on the brain of causing it to release more serotonin. Simple sugars (even junk food such as a candy bar or can of soda) also cause the brain to release more serotonin. Complex carbohydrates are better as a long-term stress reduction strategy — but simple sugars, if you are not avoiding them because of blood sugar problems or concerns about your weight, can give you a quick and temporary serotonin spike when you are in the middle of a stress emergency. When I looked into this further, I found out that recent research shows that any enjoyable activity — including eating ANYTHING that tastes good to you — reduces stress and anxiety. (For details about the study, see “Pleasurable behaviors reduce stress via brain pathways, research shows,” Science Daily, Nov. 12, 2010.)
Vitamin C — is there anything it can’t do? You probably already know that vitamin C can help you fight off a cold or flu, and that it’s full of antioxidants to reduce the effects of aging. But it turns out that taking large doses of vitamin C prevents test animals from secreting cortisol (the “stress hormone” that is associated with higher rates of heart disease and abdominal obesity) in response to stress. Test animals that experience the same stresses without the high dose of vitamin C had three times the amount of cortisol in their blood as animals who did receive the C. I don’t like to take vitamins, so I stocked up on oranges, berries, asparagus, and even broccoli. I like the idea of using fruit to get my vitamin C — it gives me the benefit of sugar’s serotonin spike to go with the prevention of my cortisol release. Ahhh…
Magnesium has a reputation as a calming, soothing mineral. It’s the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, necessary for the nervous system (including the brain) to function properly, and necessary as well to help muscles to relax. Naturopaths often recommend magnesium to patients who are suffering from extreme anxiety. In addition, if you have a habit of medicating anxiety with alcohol, you are likely to be low in magnesium. It’s easy to add magnesium to your diet — try a spinach (or other dark green leafy vegetable) salad with almond slivers, with a slice of whole grain bread on the side. Or have some whole grain crackers with black bean dip (most beans are high in magnesium). Guess what other food is high in magnesium? Dark chocolate. Talk about comfort food…
Omega-3s not only protect your memory, they put you in a better mood. Some doctors are starting to treat depression with omega-3s — that’s how effective they are. The best source is deep, cold-water fish, but you can also take omega-3s as a supplement, which may be easier if you don’t live near the ocean. Not only do omega-3s improve your mood, they’ll also improve the appearance of your skin, reduce your risk of heart disease, and help you to feel less tired and more energetic.
B vitamins tend to be depleted by stress. If the levels of B vitamins in your body get low enough, you will start to feel anxious and depressed. Some B vitamins are most easily found in meat or dairy products, while others are concentrated in whole grains, beans and green leafy vegetables. Sweet potatoes are a good choice for vitamin B6, which should make you feel blessedly relaxed. It’s best to eat a varied diet, but you can also supplement with B vitamins if your doctor feels that you may not be getting enough B in your diet — or that you are so overwhelmed with stress that it’s burning the B vitamins right out of you. I found that my energy level went up when I made the switch from white to whole grain bread, which is a good source of B vitamins. (Energy drinks are also high in B vitamins, but don’t get yours that way — the sugar and caffeine in energy drinks will put you on a stress roller coaster in which you alternate between being wired with energy and feeling as though your energy levels had suddenly bottomed out. A balanced approach will keep you on more of an even keel.)
Potassium, like B vitamins, gets quickly used up by your body under stress. But you need plenty of potassium, because almost every organ in your body needs potassium in order to work properly. If your potassium levels are low, you will start to feel very tired. I increased my potassium intake very simply, by eating bananas and drinking lots of orange juice. But you can also get potassium from avocados (which are a good source of fatty acids, as well), cantaloupe, tomatoes, potatoes, lima beans and meat. You need magnesium to absorb potassium, though, so make sure that you are getting enough of both. My advice is, have a big glass of orange juice with that dark green leafy salad — the vitamin C in the orange juice will also help you to absorb the calcium in the greens (bonus!).
It sounds complicated to remember a bunch of different foods to eat — you might think, as I initially did, that keeping track of my diet would add more stress, not reduce it. But the low-stress diet turned out to be easier than I thought. My biggest change was having a big salad for lunch, with orange juice and whole grain bread. I starting keeping bananas and dark chocolate bars (with more than 70 percent cacao) at my desk for snacks. And I started to feel very calm and relaxed. I just wish I could get my kids to eat the same way — then I’d be Mr. Mellow!
About the Author
In his role in the self storage industry, Tim Eyre helps customers care for their cherished belongings that must be put in storage. Tim regularly visits his facilities including a San Jose self storage center. He was also recently meeting customers and staff at the Bonita Springs self storage center.
Thanks, Tim, for your guest contribution. This will help as stress is unavoidable. Actually, we need a certain amount of stress in our lives to motivate us into action. Do you have any food suggestions to handle stress?