Six Stress-Busting Strategies to Keep You Sane
Smart tips to keep stress under control
We can all relate to those times when the demands of life make it feel like the walls are closing in and the only way out is through a pint of ice cream. Although a tub of mint chocolate chip may offer temporary relief, when the wave of feel-good emotions crashes, the problems that sent you to the freezer in the first place will still be there. Repeat this often enough and stress can become chronic.
When stress is constant, the sympathetic nervous system can’t catch a break, which can lead to poor insulin resistance, sleep deprivation, cognitive decline, mood swings, anxiety, a compromised immune system, altered hormone activity, muscle loss, high blood pressure, an increased risk of heart attack, intense cravings, inflammation, and other health-damaging side effects. On top of all that, stress can inhibit the biological functions responsible for recovery, digestion, reproduction, immunity, and cell growth repair, and, in the worst cases, it can shut them down completely.
Here, Sun Basket’s registered dietitian Lindsey Kane shares some tips to keep stress under control.
1. Reduce inflammation
Stress can lead to a constant state of inflammation. Eating foods that fight inflammation, while avoiding those that promote it, can be an effective way to keep stress under control.
- Eat nutrient-rich whole foods: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are your best bet to speed up recovery from a surge of the stress hormone cortisol and boost immunity.
- Load up on omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds all contain these essential fats that have powerful inflammation-reducing capabilities.
- Avoid processed foods: Foods with highly refined oils and sugars, artificial colorings, flavorings, additives, sweeteners, and preservatives can increase inflammation.
2. Elevate your mood
Serotonin, the hormone responsible for positive vibes, can counter the anxiety associated with the stress hormone cortisol. Reach for these foods to give you a happiness boost.
- B vitamins: For a feel-good source of serotonin, turn to foods rich in B vitamins. B9 (folate), consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans; for B6: whole grains, beans, poultry, fish, and dark, leafy greens; and for B12: fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. (Herbivores can get their B12 via supplements, nutritional yeast, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens.)
- Fermented foods: A healthy gut translates to better emotional and cognitive health. Eat plenty of probiotic-rich fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha, and don’t forget to feed your microbiota fiber, too, to keep your gut bacteria happy and healthy.
- Smart carbs: Slow-digesting complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, and root vegetables can increase serotonin levels. Refined carbohydrates and simple sugars can cause a spike and a drop in blood sugar and insulin levels and elevate stress.
- Sunshine: Serotonin increases with exposure to the sun. Also, sunlight supports the production of vitamin D, which is associated with better mental health.
- Tryptophan: This amino acid converts to serotonin. Proteins, both plant based and animal derived, are great sources of tryptophan.
3. Reduce blood pressure
Potassium, magnesium, and natural nitrates can help lower blood pressure levels.
- Potassium-rich foods: avocado, bananas, and sweet potatoes.
- Magnesium-rich foods: dark, leafy greens, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and avocado. Magnesium also supports the synthesis of the happy-hormone serotonin for a stress-busting double victory.
- Nitrate-rich foods: dark leafy green vegetables, beets, fennel, berries, melons, prunes, figs, dates. (Avoid artificial nitrates or nitrites found in processed meats, which tend to create a harmful compound called nitrosamine.)
4. Tea up
Tea contains a compound called L-theanine that both inhibits the stress hormone cortisol ad aids in the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that increases serotonin and dopamine. Together, the two produce a sense of happiness and relaxation. Green, chamomile, lavender, peppermint, and ginger tea are all great soul-soothing options.
5. Crunch down
Research shows that the mechanical nature of chomping and chewing can help release tension. Let crunchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds, rather than potato chips, serve as an edible stress ball to relieve a clenched jaw.
6. Cut back on caffeine
Caffeine can increase the stress hormone cortisol and heighten the activation of the fight or flight system. There’s no need to ditch your caffeine fix altogether, but reducing your daily intake could be helpful. Read more about how caffeine can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
Artwork by Ekström Design