In 2017/18, approximately 1.4 million workers in the UK reported to be suffering from work-related ill health, 44% of which was due to stress, depression or anxiety. Furthermore, according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS), in the same timeframe, 15.4 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
Whether good or bad, experiencing stress is unavoidable, so we need to come up with ways to help us manage stress and reduce the impact of it on our bodies. One way in which we can manage our stress is through our diets.
Dietary changes to help combat stress
Nutritional changes can have a two-fold impact on the way we cope with stress. The right foods can help us to manage stress more effectively as well as survive the impact more efficiently.
Balance you blood sugar
Peaks and troughs in our blood sugar levels increase our cortisol output. This especially occurs if our blood sugar levels drop. If this happens cortisol can mobilise stored glucose helping to elevate our blood sugar levels, but avoiding these drops can make our bodies less reliant on cortisol.
The best ways to manage your blood sugar are:
- Eat protein such as meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses or tofu at every meal.
- Add a little fat to meals. Foods high in calories are slow to absorb fats which can help to slow down our calorie absorption. This reduces the likelihood of blood sugar highs.
- Avoid processed and high sugar foods
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and nicotine.
Avoid using caffeine to pick up your energy
Caffeine has a direct impact on the hormones in your body. The following hormones are increased under the influence of caffeine.
- Adenosine – increases alertness but can cause sleep problems.
- Adrenaline – gives you an extra boost but will make you feel fatigued once the effects have worn off.
- Cortisol – the stress hormone. Makes you crave sugary, refined, calorie dense foods.
- Dopamine – initially makes the person feel good but once the effects have worn off, generates a ‘low’ and can cause possible dependence/addiction.
Rather than drinking liquids high in caffeine, switch to green, black, herbal or fruit tea; or even better, water. Doing this will prevent you from experiencing the negative physical symptoms described above.
Don’t skip meals
Although your body should be able to deal with missing a meal, during stressful periods, it is not ideal as it adds extra pressure on the body, which in turn, increases cortisol output.
Up your intake of foods rich in:
Magnesium – supporting the production of GABA magnesium helps us to relax, sleep and manage our anxiety. Foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses are great options.
Omega 3 – essential for optimal brain function; low levels are associated with depression and PMS which have an additive effect in times of stress. Include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout & pilchards at least 3 times per week and include nuts and seeds daily.
Antioxidant Vitamins A, B, C & E – these nutrients protect the brain, our cell membranes and support the utilisation of B vitamins.
Vitamin A – Liver, oily fish, yogurts and milk
B Vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 (folate) and B12 – needed for optimal nervous system function, energy production, absorption of nutrients from food and carbohydrate metabolism. Focus on building your diet around meat (including offal), fish, nuts, seeds and dark green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C – brightly coloured fruits and vegetables e.g. oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli and brussel sprouts
Vitamin E – nuts, seeds and wheatgerm
In Summary: Stress can manifest itself in a number of ways. These include feelings of anxiety, an inability to cope, as well as physical symptoms such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), migraines and low energy. To reduce these physical symptoms, make changes to your diet to help you manage stress more effectively.