While there is no magic bullet for stress, there are a lot of things you can do to prevent it. Obviously, the goal isn’t to get rid of stress completely (that’s impossible) but to find ways to minimize and manage it.
Your immune system is the first to suffer when you’re stressed about work, family, finance, or current life events. It’s also the first to fight viruses unless stress hits. Its ability to fight off infection gets weakened by psychological stress, especially if it’s chronic. In this post, we’ll explore the effects of stress, highlighting the important line between stress and diet and how nutrition can help us better deal with it.
Stress: Why do we get it?
There are a lot of causes of stress. We might feel stressed because of one situation or one big vent in our life. Or it might be an amalgam of lots of smaller things. More often than not, we may experience stress if we:
- Face significant changes in life
- Feel under lots of pressure
- Are worried about something or someone
- Don’t have much or any control over the outcome of a situation
- Life responsibilities are simply too overwhelming
- Don’t get enough satisfaction from work or other activities in life
- Experience a period of uncertainty
No matter the cause, it’s essential to remember that stress is a natural feeling of not being able to cope with particular events and demands. But if you don’t take steps to manage it, stress can become a chronic condition. And because our body’s stress response system shouldn’t constantly be in fight or flight mode, the impact of this on well-being and health can be detrimental.
Our immune system is often the most affected by stress. Whenever we feel under pressure, the immune system’s ability reduces to fight off stress. That makes us more susceptible to infections or, in most cases, more likely to adopt unhealthy behavioral coping strategies, such as smoking or drinking, just to fight off stress.
Luckily there are many healthier ways you can fight off stress, and you probably already know how to start with the basics: sleep, self-care, management, and sport. But did you know there are some foods that reduce stress levels, too?
Dietitians explain how certain nutrients can help lower your levels of cortisol – the hormone responsible for stress. What you eat, therefore, may help stabilize blood sugar or, better yet, your emotional response.
Stress and digestion are two distinct things that often go hand in hand. Stress can affect your appetite (you’re either too hungry or not at all) and cause digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome.
A growing body of research shows that our brain and gut communicate via body chemicals, which is why stress can exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms. A UCLA study found that consuming probiotics in yogurt can reduce brain activity in areas that manage emotions, including stress.
While more research is required to confirm the results – knowing that yogurt is full of protein and calcium in addition to probiotics, you really can’t go wrong by adding it to your daily meals.
Stress causes our anxiety hormones to spikes, such as cortisol and adrenaline. You may counteract the negative effects of these hormones by simply adding more salmon to your diet. One study found that people who consumed omega-3 fatty acids in fish or supplements had a 20% reduction in anxiety.
For example, a 3-ounce slice of cooked wild salmon can have up to 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s, double the dosage recommended by nutritionists for people with heart disease.
Green leafy vegetables
It’s tempting to choose tacos instead of greens when fed up with work. But going green can help you face and fend off day-to-day challenges much easier.
Leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, cabbage, and microgreens contain folate, which produces the pleasure-inducing chemical known as dopamine. One study found that those who often included green leafy vegetables in their meals had a lower risk of depression symptoms than those who took in the least amount of folate.
Another study found that college students tended to be happier, more energetic, and calmer on days when they consumed more veggies and fruits.
What’s more, adding to your diet certain supplements may help keep your immune system strong when faced with life uncertainties that play havoc with your health both in the short and long term.
The levels of magnesium in the blood can work wonders for our immune system’s ability to fight off stress and tackle pathogens. A growing body of research suggests magnesium could play an important role in regulating the body’s response to stress.
Chronic mental or physical stress depletes our body of magnesium, and reduced magnesium levels intensify stress – creating a vicious cycle. Magnesium can help regulate our body’s stress-response system, and studies point out that increasing magnesium intake may ease stress, reduce anxiety, and minimize the response to fear.
This mushroom species began gaining attention over the last few decades due to its health benefits. Some early lab studies on Chaga mushrooms found that they can strengthen our immune system and fight cancer, among others.
Chaga contains naturally occurring beta-glucan, a carbohydrate that can improve your immune system. Early research in mice found that Chaga extract may also regulate cytokine production, strengthening the immune system’s means of communication by simulating blood cells.
B vitamins, such as B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12, can help maintain a healthy nervous system. That’s partly where anxiety relief comes in, which is why you need a strong nervous system to combat the symptoms of stress.
Research shows that there’s a link between vitamin B and stress levels. For example, one study found that including a B complex in our diet (a supplement containing a combination of B vitamins) can significantly reduce self-perceived stress.
The bottom line
Although we can’t avoid stress entirely, there are a lot of things we can do, like paying more attention to what we eat, exercising, and meditating.
More often than not, the best approach to stress is a combination of different proven stress-relieving strategies.
Who is the author?
Mashum Mollah is an entrepreneur, founder, and CEO at BloggerOutreach.io, a blogger outreach agency that drives visibility, engagement, and proven results. He blogs at Blogstellar.