Bouts of occasional stress are completely normal—it’s a part of life, and can even be a great motivator in small doses. Low stress, called eustress, is that tiny cheerleader on your shoulder urging you to check off your to-do list every day. But higher levels of stress are bad news for your body. Prolonged periods of stress push your brain into distress. When you’re distressed, you may notice sluggishness, confusion, changes in weight or sleep, difficulty managing emotions, or a multitude of other side effects. Yuck.
Luckily, you hold the power to build mental resilience in the face of occasional distress. The most common solutions are:
But the real unsung hero of stress relief is your stomach. Fine-tune your nutritional habits by trying the ideas below to tackle the stresses in your life.
(It should go without saying, but please consult a trusted mental health advisor if your emotions are too much to manage—no one has to go it alone.)
Find Calm Through Your Centre
Feeling a pit in your stomach when you’re nervous goes beyond metaphor. There’s a link between the digestive system and your mind in what’s known as the “gut-brain axis.” Recall a recent time you experienced nerves and, sure enough, you likely felt physical symptoms such as butterflies fluttering inside. This is due to the rainforest of bacteria in your body’s microbiome. To oversimplify the subject, they send signals to your brain to maintain your well-being.
The best way to nourish these microorganisms is with soluble and insoluble fibre. Fibre shows up as a carbohydrate on nutrition labels, but your body can’t digest it. Instead, fibre feeds your microflora to help you feel fuller, longer, among other whole-body benefits. Fibre-rich foods include whole fruits and vegetables like avocados, berries, apples, pears, carrots, and broccoli, along with other plant-based sources like oats, quinoa, chia seeds, and legumes.
You can get your fibre fix and shore up other deficiencies in your diet with supplements and nutritionals—there’s even mood-support supplements available, like Stress Relief, to help maintain a balanced emotional response and resilience.
Treat Yourself to Whole Foods
When stress rears its ugly head, throw an apple at it. Processed foods are often full of preservatives and extra sodium and sugar and strip away beneficial nutrients from the healthier ingredients. Whole foods contain more fibre (see the first tip), protein, and complex carbohydrates compared to packaged goods. These magnificent macronutrients nourish your body and brain—exactly what you need to avoid feeling overly stressed in the first place.
Instead of taking another trip to the drive-thru, elevate your eating with these healthier alternatives:
Some days you have to choose between eating fast food or no food—it happens. But it’s worth every second to spend time cooking your own meals using whole foods and packing low-glycaemic snacks to fuel your day. Meal prepping during the weekend helps you through the busiest weeks, and crafting your own delicious, home-cooked meals offers a chance to unwind and connect with family. Plus, it’s stimulating and rewarding to make new recipes. Talk about a win-win for reducing stress.
Switch Up Your Routine
If the thought of dieting makes you cringe: good! Extreme eating fads that promise fast weight loss or other miracle results are miserable at best and metabolically damaging at worst. Instead of seeking a quick fix, consider a long-term, sustainable change in your eating habits. Studies point to the proven benefits of a plant-based Mediterranean diet, for example, and intermittent fasting has shown to lower appetite and blood pressure.
To find the right balance for you, determine your body type to see which nutrients you should aim to eat more or less of, and learn your eating behaviours. Emotions and social environments may drive your dietary habits more than you realise.
Not every diet is right for every body type or schedule, but consider test-driving a new way to eat for two to three weeks. And keep a nutrition journal along the way—you will be surprised how much your daily life is affected by what you eat and drink.
Less Stress, Brighter Life
With the right mindset and a little know-how, you can utilise nutrition to lessen your worries and build a more mindful tomorrow. Just keep pelting down those stress monsters with whole fruits and, before you know it, you’ll be unstoppable.
This medicine may not be right for you. Read the label before purchase. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, worsen, or change unexpectedly, talk to your health professional.