Most people talk about the holidays being a stressful time with decorating, cooking, shopping, dealing with family dynamics and more mess! Interestingly, there is a growing body of research showing that certain types of food can increase or help decrease your stress levels.
First, let’s talk about foods or habits that can negatively affect how you handle stress.
Skipping meals or going long hours without eating causes hormonal and blood sugar changes that increase stress levels. Eating regular meals and snacks can help. Other offenders of increasing stress include the following:
- Dehydration – even mild dehydration can cause fatigue and the ability to deal with stress effectively decreases. Make sure to drink plenty of water or herbal teas.
- Sugar – sugar from sweet drinks, candy, cakes, cookies and pies can cause blood sugar and hormonal fluctuations that hamper managing stress effectively. If you really want a holiday treat have it after a meal and not on an empty stomach to avoid the blood sugar crash and then the addictive quality of more cravings for sweets.
- Processed foods – fast food and junk food promotes an increase in the unhealthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Since much of the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin is made in the gut, processed and junk food inhibits the production of serotonin.
- Caffeine – having extra caffeine to ward off tiredness can increase anxiousness and anxiety and interfere with sleep patterns which also increases stress levels.
- Alcohol – drinking too much alcohol (more than 1 drink per day form women and 2 drinks per day for men) increases hypersensitivity and decreases blood sugar and can negatively affect mood. Alcohol also inhibits a restful sleep cycle which can negatively affect the ability to copy effectively.
There are many foods and habits that increase the ability to cope and deal with stress, including holiday stress. The importance of regular meals and snacks with adequate protein to stabilize blood sugar and mood can help you manage stress better. Other foods to consider:
- Omega 3 fatty acids – food high in omega 3 decrease inflammation in the body, helps protect neurons from damage from chronic stress and may help with depression symptoms. Foods high in omega 3 includes fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, walnuts, chia, hemp and flax seeds.
- Folic acid – folic acid is important to help make the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin to help fight stress. Foods high in folic acid include asparagus, avocado, beans and leafy greens.
- Magnesium – this mineral helps balance cortisol, the stress hormone which means stress increases the use of this mineral. Make sure to include magnesium rich foods such as leafy greens, yogurt or kefir, nuts such as peanuts, almonds and cashews (1 handful a day if you’re trying manage weight), black beans, avocado and dark chocolate (look for 70% cocoa or more)
- Calming herbs – if you’re looking to add some fluids try a calming herbal tea such as chamomile, lavender or mint. These teas help calm the nervous system and help us cope with holiday stress without flipping out!
- More fruits and veggies – generally eating fresh fruits and veggies daily increases vitamin, mineral and fiber intake which helps our bodies have the proper nutrition to fight stress effectively. Make sure to include fruits with edible skins and seeds for a higher fiber content. Have fruit as a snack with a handful of nuts for longer staying power if you’re out shopping. If you forgot to bring a snack try having a kashi or kind bar instead of junk food.
Getting adequate sleep, learning to say no thank you , setting boundaries with challenging loved ones and making sure to get some regular exercise (even as little as 10-15 minutes) are also effective stress management skills. Taking care of yourself in the process of taking care of everyone else will do wonders in making this holiday season the best ever!