From Chaos to Clarity – Why Your Nutrition is The Key to Beating Stress
Time to read 6 min
Time to read 6 min
In our fast-paced and demanding world, stress, whether we like it or not, has become an inevitable part of our lives.
From meeting deadlines, juggling multiple responsibilities, handling the financial fallout from COVID, or simply muddling through personal challenges, stress can take a toll on our mental and physical well-being.
Which. Totally. Sucks.
What’s even worse, is every time we open our phones to take a stroll down TikTok Lane or Instagram Street, we are bombarded with people shouting about self-care, make time for you, have a bath, take a long walk, book a holiday, get into nature and for goodness’ sake, stop drinking caffeine!
Oh, and don’t forget to gym every day too…
Which is great if you don’t work a full-time job, care for kiddos or elderly parents and/or have a fur baby also.
The reality is, many of us simply don’t have the hours in the day to fit all our lives in AND time for the level of decompression and relaxation that the influencers say we “need.”
I don’t mean to sound like a cynic, of course all those things are amazing for helping you reconnect to yourself, calm your mind, and provide stress relief.
But, for busy individuals, as we know many of you are here at Prepped Pots, effective management techniques can look a lot simpler and require much less effort for big reward.
Alongside these techniques, which I will get to later, nutrition – yes really - plays a crucial role in reducing stress and promoting overall well-being, so let's find out how...
Stress is the body's response to any demand or threat.
When we encounter a heightened situation, our body responds by pumping out hormones (cortisol being one of them) that cause physiological changes, like a pounding heart, quickened breath, or tension in the muscles.
This fascinating combo of physiological and endocrinological reactions are also known as the “fight-or-fight” response. This response evolved as a survival skill many moons ago so we could react quickly to life-threatening situations.
While short-term tension can be helpful in motivating us, chronic stress can have detrimental effects on our health.
You see, chronic stress is basically when your body overreacts to things that are of no threat to life, and you find yourself stuck in a state of fight-or-flight for no real reason.
This prolonged exposure can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical ailments like heart disease, obesity, and a weakened immune system.
While management techniques are useful, the role of nutrition in managing your stress is often underestimated.
You see, nutrition plays a significant role in both our mental and physical health, and studies have shown that specific nutrients can influence tension levels directly.
When it comes to making sure your body is as healthy as possible, having a good intake of the Big Three macros (protein, carbs, and fats) is fundamental. But when it comes to working on your stress management, we need to go smaller and look at our micronutrient intake.
That’s things like our vitamins and minerals. Recent studies have concluded that there are several micronutrients that play a key role in stress management:
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps reduce the negative impact of stress on the body. It aids in the production of stress hormones, as well as supports the immune system.
Citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, and leafy greens are all excellent sources of natural vitamin C.
The B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 (folate), and B12, have critical roles in neurotransmitter synthesis and regulation, which affects mood and stress levels. Making sure you’re getting in the recommended daily allowance of B vitamins means your brain is better equipped to regulate moments of tension!
Great sources of B vitamins include whole grains, legumes, leafy greens, and animal products like whole milk and lean meats.
Credit: The Health Nerd, www.youtube.com/@TheHealthNerdTV
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a crucial role in reducing stress and promoting relaxation. It does this by helping regulate cortisol, a stress hormone, and supports healthy nervous system functioning.
The good news is you can get your magnesium boost and chocolate fix in one as dark chocolate is a great source of magnesium. So are nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and promote brain health. They are also beneficial in alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are closely linked to chronic stress.
Fatty fish like salmon and sardines, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Although not a micronutrient, proper hydration is vital for stress management. This is because dehydration can lead to increased levels of cortisol. So, get that Stanley filled folks!
Now that you’ve got your nutrition under control, what about those realistic management techniques…?
Deep breathing triggers the body's relaxation response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps regulate tension in the body.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, practicing deep breathing techniques can significantly reduce subjective stress and enhance relaxation by lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
This technique allows you to shift from shallow chest breathing (associated with stress) to deep diaphragmatic breathing, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety.
All you need is 1 minute and your levels will decrease almost instantly.
Mindful meditation involves bringing your attention to the present moment without judgment.
According to a meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine, mindfulness meditation programs have been shown to reduce tension and anxiety.
The practice helps to increase self-awareness, break the cycle of worry, and decrease the release of hormones like cortisol.
Regular meditation can lead to long-term changes in the brain, strengthening areas associated with emotional regulation and stress reduction.
And no, you don’t have sit for hours at a time to reap the rewards, simply 5 – 10 minutes is all you need to reconnect with yourself and reduce that stress. Plus, there are loads of great apps out there to help with guided meditations if you’re not too sure where to start.
Physical activity, even in small bursts, has numerous benefits for stress management. Engaging in stretching exercises or simple movements helps relieve muscle tension and promotes the release of endorphins, the body's natural mood-boosting chemicals.
In fact, research published in the Journal of Occupational Health shows that even a short bout of physical activity can significantly decrease stress levels and improve cognitive performance.
So, if you’re feeling the stress, take a minute and give your body a stretch.
Journalling gives you the perfect opportunity for self-expression and emotional release, serving as a constructive coping strategy for stress management.
A review published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment suggests that expressive writing can aid in stress reduction by improving self-regulation and cognitive restructuring.
By documenting your thoughts and feelings, you gain clarity and perspective, which can alleviate stress and enhance emotional well-being.
Focusing on positive aspects or gratitude during journaling can also shift your attention towards a more positive mindset, and that’s a good thing – right?
Both music and natural sounds have a direct impact on the autonomic nervous system, influencing heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels.
A systematic review published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing indicates that listening to relaxing music can significantly reduce stress and improve mood.
Similarly, exposure to natural sounds like bird songs or flowing water has been shown to elicit a relaxation response, reducing stress, and enhancing psychological well-being.
Taking a few minutes to listen to calming sounds can quickly alleviate stress and provide a sense of tranquillity.
Managing stress is crucial for busy individuals to maintain a healthy and balanced life.
Paying attention to nutrition and incorporating stress-reducing foods and adequate hydration into our diets can further support stress management efforts.
And by incorporating stress management techniques throughout the day, such as effective time management, exercise bursts and mindfulness, you can significantly reduce your stress levels without requiring hours out of your day to do so.