Between work, obligations, and all the rigors of daily life, stress is inevitable.
Left unaddressed, stress can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health, negatively impacting everything from your mood to your blood pressure, weight, and immune system. Fortunately, there are natural ways to combat the stress in your life.
Exercise is one such weapon in your arsenal against stress. It has been shown to promote relaxation and calm while improving cognitive function. So, by all means, exercise—just don’t forget about your diet.
Eating right can have a serious impact on your stress levels. Comfort foods boost serotonin, which has both an antidepressant and a calming effect.
Meanwhile, Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects that may stifle stress hormones. And, other foods work to lower blood pressure and boost your immunity—two things that can help you de-stress.
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“Eat foods that will give you the most nutritional mileage,” says Louise Chen, RDN.
“These foods include a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. The kind of mileage you get are antioxidants, vitamins/minerals, fiber, amino acids, magnesium, and Omega-3 fatty acids,” which all play a role in reducing stress.
“We often want a diet that is easy and convenient, but then we look for diets that are complicated and make health claims that don’t make sense or eliminate/villainize entire food groups,” says Chen.
“Instead, go back to [the] basics and keep things simple.” She notes that one great way to do that is to add fruits and vegetables to every meal.
The phytonutrients within such foods contain powerful properties that can fight stress and help you to feel your best each day. To start, try to incorporate the below foods into your diet.
Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are rich in antioxidants that protect our cells from damage, thus decreasing our stress at a cellular level.
Chen equates them to “a helmet for our cells.” She notes that berries also include fiber, which is essential for our gut health—and gut health is linked to anxiety and stress.
Walnuts and Almonds
These nuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein. Many believe the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega-3s improve depression and mood disorders.
“Almonds also contain magnesium, which has been associated with reducing stress and affecting our mood,” says Chen.
She recommends loading up on nuts from the bulk section of your local grocery store to save money, as pre-packaged nuts can be quite expensive.
Salmon and Tuna
According to Psychology Today, vitamin D plays a significant role in combating stressful conditions like depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It can also help to shore up your immune system.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds are another solid source of stress-fighting Omega-3 fatty acids, says Chen.
Add them to oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, salads, and any other dishes that might benefit from a little texture.
Avocados contain B vitamins, which help to regulate your central nervous system, thus, helping to control stress levels. They’re yet another great source of heart-healthy Omega-3s.
Add avocado to your salads, sandwiches, and smoothies or spread it on toast. You can also eat it plain with a little salt and pepper.
Chen says that leafy greens, like spinach, are rich in magnesium, an essential mineral that promotes better sleep and overall relaxation, while reducing stress and anxiety.
Leafy greens also contain vitamin K and fiber, so you really can’t go wrong with these versatile foods. To incorporate more leafy greens into your diet, add them to salads, soups, and egg scrambles.
Because your gut and brain are connected, taking care of your gut health can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Probiotic-rich yogurt is one of the best, and easiest, ways to accomplish this. Look for yogurt with live cultures, and try yogurts of the unflavored Greek variety to cut back on sugar.
Dark chocolate not only tastes great, but is an antioxidant-rich treat that has been shown to reduce stress hormones like cortisol, while also reducing inflammation and improving your mood.
This doesn’t mean that you should eat a bar of chocolate every night, but feel free to reach for a small portion—ideally at 70 percent cacao or above—when you want something sweet.
Okay, it’s not a food, but tea is still a powerful stress-reliever. The herbs and amino acids found in green tea and certain herbal teas have long been used to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
The theanine in green tea is used to calm nerves, while studies have shown that chamomile can reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.