Regular exercise is one great way to deal with the symptoms of stress. Combining a proper diet with that makes for a terrific, positive addition.
Nutrition studies are always difficult to interpret and any conclusions drawn should often be tentative. Later ones often appear to contradict earlier ones. But overall the research suggests what is consistent with ‘common sense’: a balanced diet, with adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables, and some proteins is an aid to reducing stress.
Supplements can be helpful if your diet doesn’t contain a large enough amount of chemicals that help reduce stress. Serotonin, for example, is a brain chemical that helps induce calm. A diet that already contains it, or that contains compounds that help the brain produce it, assists the body in combating stress.
But since the effects are slightly delayed (it takes about 30 minutes for serotonin’s effect to kick in) and lasts for several hours (about three hours), timing is also important.
Serotonin levels are often naturally higher in the morning, but decrease in the late afternoon. You can help your body by tailoring your diet accordingly. A late afternoon snack is a good idea. Baked, rather than fried, potato chips help stimulate serotonin production. Pretzels, too, are low in fat but healthy.
Stress is related to diet in other ways. It doesn’t merely reduce helpful neuro-transmitters but encourages counter-productive habits, as well. Some people take to eating excessive amounts, particularly of high fat foods, in order to compensate for the symptoms of stress. Some studies suggest, however, that high fat foods tend to slow down or inhibit serotonin levels.
Moderation in intake is wise for other reasons, too. Just as inadequate exercise leads to poor fitness, excessive caloric intake amplifies the damage. As you become flabby and overweight, body image can suffer, leading to a downward spiral in self-image. The result is increased stress and often depression.
Breaking that vicious cycle requires effort, but it carries double rewards. As you become more fit, you reduce the physical effects of stress-induced biochemicals. You also improve your body, helping create a body image that elevates your mood. That kind of investment in your well-being is well worth the effort required to break the cycle.
Eating at regular times is helpful. When people are stressed, they’ll often skip meals because of the depressive effect stress has on appetite. Often, too, stress is work related and less time is available for meals at scheduled times. That behavior has a compounding effect. Here again, you need to break the cycle by making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
During meals, focus on positive things in your life and environment. Make a conscious decision to set aside whatever internal or external factors are contributing to stress. Give yourself a parole from ‘stress jail’ and the freedom to enjoy a healthy meal.