Stress, in and of itself, isn’t healthy or unhealthy. Generally speaking, there are two factors that determine the health implications of stress: the appropriateness and magnitude of the stress response and the duration of the stressful state. For instance, feeling momentarily stressed during a job interview or while visiting a dangerous part of town is arguably reasonable. On the other hand, experiencing chronic tension in everyday circumstances such as attending school or work, going to a party or running errands is often indicative of a stress-related disorder.
There are many mind-body remedies that can minimize the ill effects and intensity of stress. Among them, acupressure, massage, Tai Chi, warm foot baths and yoga have been scientifically shown to ease tension by lowering heart rate and stress hormone levels. Select nutritional practices can make a difference as well. Here are three, evidence-based tips that can get you started.
The Right Way to Begin the Day
As far as stress management is concerned, the latest research suggests that weshould eat a low-glycemic, nutrient-dense, protein-rich breakfast daily. Why so? Skipping breakfast tends to cause stress hormone (cortisol) disruption.
Making sure that your breakfast contains healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates that minimally affect blood sugar supports cognitive functioning and moderates cortisol output. Chronically stressed individuals may also want to limit coffee intake. Drinking coffee has been linked to higher stress hormone concentrations.
Tip: Decaffeinated coffee only has a trivial effect on cortisol. This is a good option for all the stressed-out coffee lovers. However, it should be noted that decaf and "regular" coffee affect the body and mind in different ways. While caffeine isn't appropriate for everyone, it does impart certain health benefits to those who tolerate it well.
Other Coffee Alternatives
If you decide to cut back on coffee, consider black tea instead. One study discovered that replacing coffee and other caffeinated drinks with black tea promoted relaxation and lowered post-stress cortisol. Non-caffeinated, “herbal teas" may, likewise, help take the edge off.
Tip: If you decide to try lavender tea, breathe in the aroma while you enjoy the beverage itself. Multiple studies reveal that lavender aromatherapy soothes anxiety, physical pain and psychological stress.
Lunch, Dinner and Snacks
Current publications in the scientific literature indicate that any stress-proof diet should include several specific components. To begin with, add more pre- and probiotic foods to your daily routine for greater digestive and mental health.
Fermented milk, kefir, yogurt and "functional foods" containing galactooligosaccharides (a prebiotic ingredient) are a good place to begin. Non-dairy alternatives are now widely available to those with casein and/or lactose intolerance.
Additionally, be sure to include plenty of wild black cod, salmon, sardines and other “clean” and sustainable fish in your diet. Numerous trials reveal that the omega-3 fats found in fish decrease blood pressure, cortisol and perceived stress. The final element of a stress-less diet is antioxidants. 100% tart cherry juice, dark chocolate, green coffee extract and pure pomegranate juice rank very high in terms of antioxidant content. All of these foods and ingredients have also been linked to enhanced mood, reduced stress effects and a variety of physiological health benefits.
As the new year unfolds, I urge you all to upgrade your diets in order to feel more peaceful. Try to establish and maintain these and other positive changes on an on-going basis. And, in times of severe stress, double-down and be extra mindful of your nutritional choices. If you choose food thoughtfully, I think you’ll be surprised by just how well you'll navigate the stressful times that we all must face.
John Paul Fanton, based in Los Angeles, California, is a consultant, researcher and writer with over 20 years of experience in the field of natural medicine. He designs unique nutritional plans, mind-body (meditation, mindfulness, etc.) and vitamin/supplement programs for individual clients who are interested in improving overall health, weight and wellness. You can find his weekly column on the Healthy Fellow.
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