Stress and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is a topic that needs to be addresssed in order for us all to feel better about this ‘new normal’. Part 2 of this 2-part blog post will give you easy ways to improve your diet and help your body respond better to stress.
Part 1 of this blog talked about how stress may be affecting us after the lockdown and ways of identifying and managing this stress. Stress is a common problem that we all have to deal with at many times of life whether it is external stressors such as the pandemic, work and family issues or internal stressors such as what we are eating and how our body is functioning.
How Stress Affects The Body
The initial reaction to stress known as fight or flight produces responses such as release of stress hormones, increase in blood sugar, heart rate and blood pressure. These responses are useful if there really is a physical threat to our safety but in the comfort of our homes when we’re stressed thinking about tomorrow’s work meeting these responses do more harm than good. This stress response can remain continually switched on which does not allow your body to recover.
The stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released by your adrenal glands and can affect various funcitons in the body. Supporting the adrenal glands through nutrition is the first step to helping your body through stressful times.
How Can Diet Help?
Important nutrients for adrenal support
Vit C – found in most fruits and veg. It is stored in the adrenal gland and is required to make cortisol.
Magnesium – many people are low in Mg and are unaware. Include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds to supply adequate levels of magnesium.
B vitamins can help to support adrenal function, particularly B5 which directly supports adrenal cortex and hormone production. Sources include wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
What Changes Can I Make?
After identifying and doing your best to reduce and manage the cause of stress, ensurting your diet is balanced and healthy is the next step. There are two aims with this – balance blood sugar to moderate adrenal function and ensure a good intake of nutrients needed for adrenal function.
- Whole , natural foods of varying colours – aim for 7 portions of non-starchy veg per day.
- Have a balanced breakfast – avoid sugary cereals, bread and too much caffeine.
- Prioritise protein – under stress the body will require more protein than usual. Chose good quality sources such as lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds and ensure there is protein in every meal.
- Eat as regularly as you can and try not to skip meals – small regular meals can help maintain your energy and decrease tiredness and irritability.
- Avoid highly refined foods– it’s very common when stressed to crave comfort foods such as bread and cakes as these give an initial sugar hit. Try to avoid foods such as white bread, pasta, chocolate, biscuits, sweets or foods with added sugars. Hidden sugars are also in many cereals, breads, tinned produce and processed or packaged foods. Replace processed foods with the unrefined foods such as brown bread, rice, oats and rye. Note that excess alcohol can also cause imbalanced blood sugar levels.
- Watch caffeine intake – it’s great to get that initial energy boost from your morning coffee but too much can actually end up reducing your energy levels in the long term. Hydrate with water and switch some of your caffeinated drinks with herbal teas.
- Emotional eating – when you are stressed the body does not prioritise digestion so you could end up with more digestive issues than normal such as bloating and indigestion pains. Weight gain is also more likely during stressful times.
More Ideas For Reducing Stress
Other stress management tips
- Get outside
- Good quality sleep
- Regular exercise
- Regular relaxation
Part 1 of this blog was about how to identify and manage the sources of stress in your life.
CAUTION: This information is educational in nature and is in no way a substitute for professional therapy.Be mindful that stress may also exacerbate underlying mental health conditions. Please do not disregard feelings of anxiety and stress and, if necessary, consult a health professional or your GP.