It's a familiar story. You come home feeling tired and anxious. It's been a long day. You walk in, dreary, wanting to crash on the couch. You put the TV on, and watch some late comedy show. But you're not laughing. Life feels bad, and your sick of your boss.
Suddenly, an idea pops into your head, and you go to the cupboard Inside you find some chocolate and some coke. You munch that chocolate down, and you feel a bit better, but the comedy on the TV still isn't there, so you go to the fridge and find that gorgeous tasty chocolate chip pudding.
You scoff that down, and now you feel great!
The world seems a better place. The tension in your shoulder are gone, and that headache from the meeting that you have just come from is now disappearing. And guess what, the guy on the TV isn't that bad. You find him mildly amusing, and start laughing at his jokes.
You know you have to go back to work tomorrow to finish the presentation, and you're dreading it, worried that it might turn into a disaster. But that is a long way off at the moment. That is for another day…
And you slump further into your couch, because you know that the world seems a safer place.
Screw the diet you are on, you're here on this planet to have fun…
This is a story that is played out in real life in some peoples homes, and while we could do with practicing meditation or doing some exercise, diet is equally an important ingredient in reducing our stress and anxiety skills. Or to put it another way, it is another cog in helping you cope better with your stress and anxiety symptoms, and should not be ignored.
But the reality is, there are still many of us who still use junk food as a coping mechanism to try to eliminate stress in our lives, and while we know it isn't good for us, we would rather have a short term gain, rather than a ling term solution.
Because it's easier, and doesn't involve much mental effort. And I've been there. There have been times when I've been involved in a job, where the stress starts to build up. What I should've done is to take a 5 min timeout, or hymn a nice loving tune to myself to relieve the symptoms by dissolving the anchor (or even go to my car/go to the toilets, and do some quick EFT. Please see this article about EFT and stress).
Instead, what I actually do is take the easy option, which does my body (and in turn, my mind) no good, and eat some chocolate…several in fact…to help me take my mind off something.
Emotional eating, as it's called, is the quick and easy way to reduce stress and anxiety, in the moment.
However, the problem with emotional eating, is that it stops the anxiety for a brief moment. The problem doesn't go away, and can lead you to keep on eating, just to feel better.
The differences of emotional hunger and normal hunger are shown below:
Normal hunger doesn't make you feel bad when you eat
Emotional eating can trigger the feelings of guilt, shame and feeling powerless to do anything about it
Being physically hunger gives you options. Most foods are appealing
When you are emotionally hungry, you want to eat specific types of food
Physical hunger will always come on slowly
Emotional hunger always comes quickly, and nearly always over a trigger
Physical hunger is stopped when you are full up
Emotional hunger isn't finished when your stomach is full
You can keep being physically hungry for a while. It can wait
Emotional hunger feels like it has to be instantly satisfied
This can sometimes be a recurring issues, but for some people, it's a big problem.
Diet and stress go hand in hand, just as much as meditation and stress, and exercise and stress. Diet is no different!
Yet, how do we make the switch between eating chocolate and sugars (which makes the body work hard, and as a result, induce more stress) to eating nuts and fruit?
One of the easiest ways of doing it is to find out what is triggering this emotional easting habit. How do we do that? By being conscious, to the best of our ability, on our emotional state, and adjust accordingly if the state starts to get bad. Just monitoring our emotional state will help increase our emotional intelligence, and will also alert us if we are feeling down or bad enough to result in emotional eating.
Another way we can do it is to stop for 5 mins before we rush off to the canteen, or to the fridge, or cupboard. Emotional eating tends to be a quick, sudden sensation. Putting it off, although requires at times high amounts of self discipline, is a great way of trying to distract yourself so you are made more conscious of what you are doing, and as a result try alternative therapies inside. Try squeezing a stress ball, or eating some healthy nuts (which can be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety).
Can't do 5 mins as it seems to much? Try a couple instead. That should be enough to get you to stop thinking about that chocolate bar and soda, and start thinking (boring though it may sound) on the water (which is great, strangely, for reducing stress in the body) and nuts.
Another way you can stop the quick rush to the dining room, is to create a quick relief schedule of tips and techniques you can do when the going gets tough. You can step outside and go into the privacy of your car if you wish to do a quick session of EFT, or you can meditate instead for a few minutes (and yes, you can do that!). Try and create a list of techniques that you know will work for you, and adhere to them on a daily basis. If you job allows you to, try and go for a brisk 5 min walk, or if you are at your desk, hymn your favorite tune. The trick here is to substitute that bit of junk food for a more healthier, favorable version. Try buying some Gogi berries, and slowly munch those. Whatever it takes to get rid of that sudden need to dash to the fridge.
Don't forget, get your sleep! In an article about sleep and stress reduction, I talked about the importance of sleep on allowing you to de-stress, think more clearly and have a sharper mental edge. When it comes to diet, sleep is also a vital ingredient. It is no accident that when we haven’t had much sleep or we are sleepy, we want to have a chocolate bar or some sweets to give us that extra energy, rather than having an apple or an orange.
Don't forget that your body has two hormones, which regulate the normal feelings of fullness and hunger. Leptin gives the brain signals when we are full, and Ghrelin tells the brain when we are hungry.
The thing is, when we have little sleep, your Ghrelin levels go up and your Leptin levels go down. This basically means you want to eat more, and you don't feel satisfied when you do.
Getting your quality sleep helps reduce your stress levels significantly, as well as allowing you to have more natural energy which can indirectly increase your will power to stop emotional eating.
You will feel more refreshed, more mentally focused, and rather than going for the chocolate bar in the canteen, will go for an apple at break time instead. And your body will thank you for it!
So you find a way to control your urges, then what? To be successful at substantially reducing your stress and anxiety in the long run, you need to create a proper diet to help keep your stress levels to an all time low.
The foods and drinks listed below will contribute (to some degree) to keeping a healthy body, which will help your mental faculties and reduce stress and anxiety in the moderate and long run.
Incorporate some of the foods and drinks below, while exercising, meditating, and getting your required sleep, and your stress and anxiety levels should start to be reduced almost immediately.
- Breakfast Cereal- Cereals are plenty in essential minerals and Vitamins. They can be a great source of stress beating B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Folic acid and Fibre.
- Fish have a high dose of B Vitamins, in particular the stress reducers B6 and B12. It is said that a B12 deficiency can lead to depression.
- Almonds are a great way to reduce stress- These nuts are packed with Vitamin B2 (which is Riboflavin), Vitamin E, Zinc and Magnesium. Magnesium and Riboflavin are used in the production of Serotonin which helps relieve the stress and regulate your mood. Zinc has been shown to help fight against some of the negative forms of stress, while Vitamin E is an antioxidant that kills the free radicals that correlates to heart disease and stress. As they are high in fat, however, it is recommended to have just a small handful to eat.
- Broccoli and Spinach- Full of stress relieving B Vitamins, and has the extra benefit of containing Folic acid. Folic acid helps relieve anxiety attacks, stress and depression, and is also high in fibre. Spinach has a high dose of Vitamin C and Magnesium, which helps the regulation of your cortisol levels and helps increase your mood and well-being
- Chicken and Turkey- High source of amino acid L-Tryptophan which calms and helps the mind by allowing the release of Serotonin. Turkey is a good source of Protein, which helps promote the stable blood sugar levels and, as a result, reduce stress.
- Cottage Cheese and Cantaloupe– Cantaloupe is a high source of Vitamins C, which is a stress reducer. Don't forget, continuous stress depletes Vitamin C in the adrenal glands, so you need to keep a high level of it. Also helps regulate your heartbeats and helps increase the oxygen supply to the brain. Cottage Cheese has high source of Vitamin B12 and B2, Calcium and Protein, which will reduce the anxiety.
- Blueberries- Very high in Vitamin C and E, Magnesium, Manganese and antioxidants and therefore helps reduce cortisol levels. Its also low in calories and a high source in Fibre.
- Whole Grain Rice or Pasta- Brown rice contains Folic acid and B Vitamins, which helps reduce anxiety and stress. They are also high in Carbohydrates, which means that they boost your serotonin levels. Complex Carbohydrates are digested more slowly and will make you feel more fuller and more happier for a longer period of time.
- Nuts- High source in Serotonin boosting L-Tryptophan and full of B Vitamins, Vitamin E, Zinc, Magnesium, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. The Magnesium and B Vitamins regulate mood and relieve stress by giving a boost to Serotonin, Magnesium in particular helps with avoiding headaches and fatigue, while Zinc has been shown to fight of some of the negative effects of stress. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps destroy the free radicals relating to stress and heart disease
- Oranges- High levels of Vitamin C, which is important as distress destroys your Vitamin C levels and your body doesn't replenish Vitamin C naturally. It also boosts the immune system, lowers your level of cortisol and is also an antioxidant, which helps monitor those free radicals and repairs the body.
- Dried apricots- High in the mineral Magnesium, which is a stress reducer. Magnesium is essential for healthy cells and helps relax your muscles. Also a good source in Vitamin C which helps promote your immune system.
- Flaxseed oil- Helps the brain functions and improves mood swings as it promotes Omega 3 Fatty acids.
- Asparagus- Contains Folic acid and Vitamin B, which helps increase the production of Serotonin, which is used to help soothe your mood levels.
- Drinking Chamomile tea is a gentle relaxant that acts like a nerve tonic and promotes healthy sleeping.
- Herbal Tea– Catnip, Lemon balm, Skullcap, Passionflower, Hops, or Valerian. Pick up raw herbs from a herb seller and steep in hot water at your desired strength.
- Honey infused tea- Dried herbs infused with honey for 2 weeks. Mix 1 tablespoon of the tea/honey mixture with hot water, milk, or hot coconut milk. This will help you to relax and de-stress.
- Green tea- Contains L-Theanine, which is an amino acid that helps soothes you and boosts your general mood. Try to go for decaffeinated tea, so the L-Theanine is at its strongest.
- Water- Don't forget, our bodies are made up by mostly water, so when you drink water you are helping out your organs, which when dehydrated, can cause you stress. Having just half a litre dehydrated of water in your body may increase your Cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone. Therefore, keeping your body in a hydrated state will help keep your stress levels to a minimum.
- Milk- High in anti-oxidants, Vitamins B12 and B2, Calcium and Protein. Your blood pressure is actually lowered, thanks to the protein Lactium and the potassium can help relieve the muscle spasms that can be triggered due to feeling stressed and tense. This is why having a warm glass before going to bed helps with insomnia.
Foods and drinks to avoid:
- Try to eliminate Coffee, Tea and other caffeinated drinks- Go for black tea instead, which contains flavonoids that help block the signals that produces the, ‘fight-or-flight' response in your nervous system.
- Refined sugar- Stripped of nutrients, but the fluctuations they cause in the blood sugar and insulin levels leads to poor levels of concentration and being irritable.
- High sodium foods- Liquid is attracted to Sodium like a magnet, so when you ingest more sodium, you keep more liquid which works your heart more, increases your blood pressure and can lead to water retention, bloating, and puffiness. This drains your energy and increases your stress levels.
- Sweets and Candy- Contains high amounts of sugar, which although gives an initial boost of energy, creates a crash afterwards. Due to the overwhelming fatigue it brings, can make your mood irritable.
- Crisp/ Potato Chips- Contains high amounts of Salts which retains water and makes you dehydrated. Fast food, and French Fries are high in Fat and Salt. The grease causes digestion problems.
- Junk food in general- Due to poor nutritional content, are stress inducing. If the body doesn't get enough of the necessary nutrients, its ability at being able to handle stress are lowered.
- Caffeine- Popularly used as a stimulant. Stimulates the nervous system, which can lead to an increase in heartbeats and blood pressure. Also irritates your digestive system. Increased caffeine also interferes with the sleep cycles and trigger dehydration, takes your energy away and can cause headaches.
- Alcohol- Stimulates the production of the same hormones the body creates when under stress. The two in fact can feed of each other: alcohol can lengthen the feelings of tension that is brought on by stress and the stress reduces the nice effects of alcohol and can give you more of a craving.
So there you go. Hopefully you'll be able to take this list away, and create a suitable diet that you can use to reduce your stress and anxiety to an all time minimum.
But what do you think. I would love to hear your thoughts, in the box below;-)