Calming foods, drinks and supplements to boost your well-being.
For many people, reaching for snacks when feeling stressed is a knee-jerk reaction. “Eating—in particular, sugary or highly processed foods—feels good in the moment and can be a great distraction for stress,” says Margaret Schwenke, a Buckhead-based Nutrition and Eating Psychology Counselor. “Physiologically, sugar provides a dopamine hit to the brain, which illuminates the pleasure center. This offers immediate and immense pleasure, and relief at a subconscious (and sometimes conscious!) level.”
But many types of snacks do not do a body good and can be highly inflammatory. “We all know the feeling of being stressed. Muscles are tense, breathing gets shallow and everything constricts. Processed foods and sugar have the same constricting effect and can cause further stress and inflammation in the body,” Schwenke says.
Instead, focus on choosing healthful foods, drinks and supplements that may help reduce stress. Schwenke offers the following ideas.
In general, eating whole, nutrient dense foods at regular intervals throughout the day supports your body and mind. More specifically, the National Institutes of Health recommends foods containing selenium, magnesium and/or vitamin D, such as Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate (just a square or two!), for stress reduction. “Research suggests that magnesium in particular promotes a relaxation response in the brain and might be useful for individuals dealing with high stress and anxiety,” says Schwenke. For some people, incorporating fatty fish, such as salmon, into a weekly diet can be helpful. “High in omega-3, fatty fish has a strong relationship with mental health and cognitive function,” Schwenke says.
Helpful Herbs & Spices
Feeling anxious? The NIH says sipping green tea that contains an amino acid called L-theanine may offer anti-anxiety and calming effects. Look for the caffeine-free kind since caffeine can exacerbate anxious feelings. Chamomile is another gentle, soothing herbal tea widely known for its calming properties. Schwenke also notes studies about turmeric root indicate that it could be helpful to incorporate, as the spice contains curcumin, a chemical compound known to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Ashwagandha, available in supplement form, is another herb to try. Known as an adaptogen, it has been shown to help regulate the nervous system, she says.
Supplements for Side Effects
Headaches and sleeplessness are common side effects of stress and burnout. Schwenke suggests talking to your doctor about taking complex B vitamins to ease stress headaches and melatonin to possibly help with sleep, but she notes that getting to the root of your stress issue should be the long-term goal.
Eating well and taking supplements for stress are a great start, but ultimately, will only get you so far for so long. “It’s important to evaluate your lifestyle habits such as getting enough sleep, proper hydration and movement, and also your emotional and spiritual well-being. Ask yourself, ‘Am I prioritizing my health…mind, body and heart?’” Schwenke suggests adding a meditation or breathing practice to help manage the ongoing stressors of daily life.
If you’re chronically stressed and can’t seem to pinpoint its cause or get out of its grasp, consider reaching out to your doctor, a psychologist and/or a nutrition professional for help.
Managing Editor and Wellness Columnist at Simply Buckhead. Blogger at Badass + Healthy.