April is National Stress Awareness Month and April 16th Stress Awareness Day.
What causes you stress? Do you know the signs?
When you feel overly or negatively stressed there are subtle changes to your health, behavior and state of mind that can have long term consequences. Have you ever noticed any of these?
• Physical Changes (Headaches, aching muscles, back pain, fatigue, etc…)
• Behavioral Changes (Abusing alcohol, overeating, smoking, anger, etc…)
• Emotional Changes (Anxiety, frustration, moodiness, depression, etc…)
• Mental Changes (Confusion, difficulty concentrating, bad thoughts etc…)
Not everyone responds to stress in the same way. However, stress can impact your personal and professional life as well as your health. So, the best defense is a good offense when it comes to stress. Some proactive ways to abate stress include:
• Diaphragmatic Breathing – slow controlled breathing from belly not chest
• Mental Imagery – imagine yourself in a peaceful, restful place
• Creativity – expressing yourself through writing, art or making music
• Active Skills – dance, yoga, tai chi, quigong or desk exercises
• Social Skills – reaching out or spending time with others
• Healthy Living Skills – eating right, regular exercise and adequate sleep
All of these skills can help give your mind and body a much-needed break. As a Registered Dietitian, I know that what you eat may actually help relieve your tension. Some foods may help stabilize blood sugar or, better yet, your emotional response.
10 foods and nutrients to reach for when you’ve just about had enough:
Green Leafy Vegetables – The University of Otago in 2013 found that college students tended to feel calmer, happier, and more energetic on days they ate more fruits and veggies. It can be hard to tell which came first—upbeat thoughts or healthy eating—but the researchers found that healthy eating seemed to predict a positive mood the next day.
Turkey Breast, Nuts, Seeds, Tofu, Fish, Lentils, Oats, Beans and Eggs – You’ve probably heard that the tryptophan in turkey is to blame for that food coma on Thanksgiving. The amino acid, found in protein-containing foods, helps produce serotonin a chemical that helps regulate hunger and feelings of happiness and well-being. On its own, tryptophan may have a calming effect.
Whole Grain Breads, Cereals and Grains – Stress can cause your blood sugar to rise but instead of reaching for that candy bar or soda, go for complex carbs found in whole grains like oatmeal or whole wheat bread. Complex carbs won’t contribute to your already potential spike in blood glucose. But provide a brain calming chemical called Serotonin.
Yogurt – With all the buzz about the microbiome, new research indicates the bacteria in your gut might be contributing to stress. Research has shown that the brain signals to the gut, which is why stress can inflame gastrointestinal symptoms; communication may flow the other way too, from gut to brain. A 2013 UCLA study among 36 healthy women revealed that consuming probiotics found in cultured dairy products (yogurt in the study) reduced brain activity in areas that handle emotion, including stress.
Salmon, Nuts and Seeds – Research has shown that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon also have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones.
Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries and Cranberries – The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries fight in your defense, helping improve your body’s response to stress and fight stress-related free radicals that can cause damage to your cells ultimately impacting your health.
Chocolate – Antioxidants in cocoa used to make chocolate (and higher in dark chocolate) trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. In fact, dark chocolate contains unique natural substances that create a sense of euphoria.
Fortified Milk – Milk fortified with vitamin D provides a good source of this nutrient. People who had sufficient vitamin D levels had a reduced risk of panic disorders compared to subjects with the lowest levels of vitamin D. Other foods high in vitamin D include salmon, egg yolks, and fortified cereal.
Seeds – Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium (as are leafy greens, yogurt, nuts, and fish). Loading up on the mineral may help regulate emotions. Magnesium can help alleviate depression, fatigue, and irritability especially for women feeling irritable during that time of the month. The mineral also helps to fight PMS symptoms, including cramps and water retention.
Nuts – As well as good fats, cashews are an especially good source of zinc. Low levels of zinc have been linked to both anxiety and depression. Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid, and other polyphenols that have been shown to help prevent memory loss. Pistachios have been shown to lower vascular constriction during stress, which means your blood pressure may not get as high and the load on your heart is reduced.
Choosing healthy foods from the list above can impact your mood on a positive note, helping to relieve tension, stabilize blood sugar, and send your stress packing. If you look at the list, it basically reflects a well-balanced diet such as recommended by MyPlate. So, manage your food and manage your mood to have a less stressful 2017.