Nutritional support for stress
With the run up to Christmas well and truly started, many of us are starting to find that there is not enough hours in the day or days in the week to get things done in time for Santa’s arrival.
Typically people find that although they look forward to Christmas; it being an opportunity to spend quality time with our family and friends, the weeks leading up to it are challenging and although we try to be organised and not get stressed, many of us find that stress is unavoidable.
What you may not know is that by taking a look at your diet, you may actually be able to support your body through times of stress, reducing its effect on your body and therefore helping you to cope with it better.
The first thing to consider is to look at your intake of carbohydrates, in particular sugar. We know that consumption of sugar can lead to a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. This is then followed by a sudden and sharp drop: leaving us tired, irritable and hungry for more sugar. If we give in to this craving, we see the cycle start all over again. This in essence is adding stress to your body, while it tries to maintain its blood glucose levels within the healthy range.
The best thing you can do is to make sure that the carbohydrates you eat are those which are complex carbohydrates, unrefined and as unprocessed as possible. These will release their sugar much more slowly than refined varieties. The slower rate means the body can respond in a more controlled way and not get stressed out. These types of carbohydrates are sometimes referred to as having a low glycaemic index (or low-GI).
Foods which are low-GI include:
- Most vegetables with the exception of the root vegetables, such as potatoes.
- Nuts and seeds - always choose raw, un-roasted varieties.
- Beans and lentils.
- Fruits - at least most, with the exception of bananas and dried fruits.
- Whole grains such as oats, rye, quinoa, brown rice and wholegrain pasta.
A lot of people find that they skip meals when they are stressed out, especially if they are stressed because they have a lot to do. However, skipping meals can actually make your body more stressed as your blood sugar levels becomes too low. Low blood sugars triggers a stress response and the release of stress hormones, so if you already have these floating around your body, you don’t really want to add to them if you can help it. Try to make sure that you have three meals a day and of course, make sure you have a good, balanced and nutritious breakfast to start your day of the best way you can.
What about stimulants?
It's common to reach for a stimulant like coffee to help us get through stressful times, but the effect will only be short lived and may actually contribute to higher stress levels. Generally, it is advisable to avoid caffeine as much as you can manage, so limit your intake of coffee, tea and energy drinks - even the decaffeinated versions can still contain other stimulating substances.
Another common substance to reach for when stressed is chocolate. Ordinary chocolate is high in sugar which will cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, which you want to avoid. Even if it is a low sugar variety, there are still stimulating substances in the cocoa itself, so it is best to limit yourself to a few squares a day.
What about alcohol?
Well alcohol may have a relaxing effect on you, but it is also a stimulant to your body and can play havoc with your blood sugars, so try and have at least three alcohol-free days a week.
Can supplements help?
There are some supplements that you may consider to help you.
In general, a good quality multivitamin and mineral complex as this can help to top up your levels of the vitamins and minerals that contribute to a healthy nervous system and healthy psychological functioning, such as vitamin C, B-vitamins, copper and magnesium.
Additionally there are some herbal remedies that may be of use, such as rhodiola and passionflower. Rhodiola is often a good choice if you feeling run-down or low in energy as a result of stress, while passionflower is used for general stress relief and mild anxiety.
Other things to consider to help cope with stress include practising relaxation techniques such as yoga, Tai chi, breathing exercises and meditation, as well as ensuring you are getting enough sleep.
In essence there is often not much that we can do to remove the stress from our lives, but as you can see there are many things that you can do to help manage stress. Good nutrition is the building blocks of health and well-being and choosing nutritious, healthy foods will help you body cope better with stress.
Always consult with you general practitioner, pharmacist or qualified nutritionist before taking any supplementation or herbal remedies, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition and/or are taking any regular medications.