Stress management can be a powerful tool for wellness. There’s evidence that too much pressure is not just a mood killer. People who are under constant stress are more vulnerable to everything from colds to high blood pressure and heart disease. Although there are many ways to cope, one strategy is to eat stress-fighting foods Foods can fight stress in several ways. Comfort foods, like a bowl of warm oatmeal, actually boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Other foods can reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that take a toll on the body over time. Finally, a nutritious diet can counteract the impact of stress, by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure.
All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it’s best to eat complex carbs, which are digested more slowly. Good choices include whole-grain breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas, as well as old-fashioned oatmeal. Complex carbs can also help you feel balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Oranges make the list for their wealth of vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can reduce levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system. In one study done in people with high blood pressure, blood pressure and cortisol levels (a stress hormone) returned to normal more quickly when people took vitamin C before a stressful task.
Popeye never lets stress get the best of him — maybe it’s all the magnesium in his spinach. Too little magnesium may trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress. One cup of spinach goes a long way toward replenishing magnesium stores. Not a spinach eater? Try some cooked soybeans or a filet of salmon, also high in magnesium. Green leafy vegetables are a rich source of magnesium.
To keep stress in check, make friends with fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and tuna, can prevent surges in stress hormones and protect against heart disease, mood disorders like depression, and premenstrual syndrome. For a steady supply of feel-good omega-3s, aim to eat 3 ounces of fatty fish at least twice a week.
Research suggests black tea can help you recover from stressful events more quickly.
One study compared people who drank 4 cups of tea daily for six weeks with people who drank a tea-like placebo. The real tea drinkers reported feeling calmer and had lower levels of cortisol after stressful situations. When it comes to stress, the caffeine in coffee can boost stress hormones and increase blood pressure.
Pistachios, as well as other nuts and seeds, contain healthy fats. Eating a handful of pistachios, walnuts, or almonds every day may help lower your cholesterol, reduce inflammation in the arteries of the heart, lower the risk of diabetes, and protect you against stress.
One of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure is to get enough potassium — and half an avocado has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. In addition, guacamole offers a nutritious alternative when stress has you craving a high-fat treat.
Almonds are chock full of helpful vitamins. There’s vitamin E to bolster the immune system, plus a range of B vitamins, which may make the body more resilient during bouts of stress such as depression. To get the benefits, snack on a quarter of a cup every day.
Crunchy raw vegetables can help fight stress in a purely mechanical way. Munching celery or carrot sticks helps release a clenched jaw and that can ward off tension.
Another bedtime stress buster is the time-honored glass of warm milk as a remedy for insomnia and restlessness. Researchers have found that calcium eases anxiety and mood swings linked to PMS. Dietitians typically recommend skim or low-fat milk.
There are many herbal supplements that claim to fight stress. One of the best studied is St. John’s wort, which has shown benefits for people with mild-to-moderate depression. Although more research is needed, the herb also appears to reduce symptoms of anxiety and PMS. There is less data on valerian root, another herb said to have a calming effect.
Besides changing your diet, one of the best stress-busting strategies is to start exercising. Aerobic exercise increases oxygen circulation and produces endorphins — chemicals that make you feel happy. To get the maximum benefit, aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week.