Chowing down on calm-inducing foods is the ultimate recipe to conquer stress, says nutritionist Louise Pyne
From low-level migraines to full blown panic attacks, anxiety manifests itself in many forms, and having to deal with this troublesome condition is something that affects around one in 20 of us each year. A worrying 17 percent of us confess to having taken time off work due to stress, and the risk of anxiety is thought to be higher in women than in men. With our non stop, ever-hectic pace of life, these figures are only set to rise as our brains are becoming unable to separate real physical threats from non-physical threats.
There’s a huge range of factors that cause anxiety, but your body’s stress response is always the same. During times of pressure, the amygdala region of the brain kicks in. Responsible for igniting our survival instinct, known as the flight or fight reaction, the amygdala controls emotions such as fear, sadness and worry. When this part of the brain senses that you’re in a dangerous situation, it prepares your body to defend itself or to escape. Hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine are released which starts off a chain reaction of stress-like responses. Your heart rate increases, breathing becomes shallow, muscles tense up, and blood is diverted away from your GI tract and to your brain (which causes you to be more alert). Being in this state of constant stress has far-reaching effects. From increasing the risk of depression, insomnia, migraines and digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety can even lead to obesity and premature death if not properly treated.
Your diet plays an important role in how your feel on the inside-out, and nurturing your body with more happy-boosting nutrients can greatly help to counteract stressful periods. Here we reveal the everyday nutritional goodies that can effectively treat this debilitating condition.
Slash stress levels with these nutritional finds
Aside from a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine, there’s probably nothing more important for wellbeing than a good night’s sleep. Getting enough quality snoozing time can reduce anxiety and improve concentration for the whole day. And if you’re desperate to stop counting sheep, eat more bananas. They contain the neurotransmitter tryptophan which triggers the release of the happiness chemical serotonin, necessary for sleep. You’ll get a double whammy of benefits as bananas are also high in magnesium, which has instant calming effects on the nervous system.
A bowl of porridge is the ultimate anxiety-soothing food. Stress can hamper the digestive process, leading to all manner of GI woes like abdominal pain and diarrhoea, but oats help to counteract any gastric problems. Oats are high in the amino acid l-glutamine, which helps to nourish your intestinal mucosa (layer of cells which line your digestive tract). This breakfast favourite is also rich in B-vitamins which are needed for energy production. Add a handful of berries and some mixed seeds for a hefty dose of morning nutrition that will fuel you up for the day ahead
We’ve found another reason to make sure you get your five-a-day. Research demonstrates that women who eat 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables have a whopping 23 percent lower risk of stress than women who consume zero or one serving per day. And when it comes to anxiety-busting veggies, make sure that leafy greens like spinach are top on your shopping list. It’s packed with stress-relieving iron, which helps to quell fatigue, along with magnesium, which also regulates blood pressure, making this leafy green a superfood with serious stress-busting super powers.
Stress lowers immunity by reducing the number of immune cells (like natural killer cells and T cells) whose primary job is to ward off invaders. Thankfully, foods rich in vitamin C can help to raise immunity, with studies suggesting that consuming more of the nutrient can shorten the duration of common illnesses like colds and flu. Next time you need to push the pause button on stress, nibble on a few strawberries. A portion of the summer fruit contains more vitamin C than an orange along with antioxidant anthocyanidins which are thought to protect against inflammation.
If you’re looking to lower stress and raise your spirits at the same time, adding salmon to your diet could be the ticket to a calmer you. The oily fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids which helps to blunt anxiety in stressful situations. These special fats play an important role in nerve transmission, and help to build healthy cells and form brain chemicals such as the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine.
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