Does the thought of another stressful day at work drive you to the biscuit tin? Do you yearn for a gin and tonic when the pressure is on at home? Do children, commuters, traffic, supermarket queues or noise propel you towards the chocolate bars? Although it might seem impossible, you can say no even when the stress is on.
Stress makes everything about you feel out of sorts. Your heart races like an express train, your irritability soars to dangerous levels and you sweat – profusely.
Job related stress results in an estimated 30 million working days being lost every year. But work attendance isn’t the only casualty of stress. According to recent research, women’s eating habits suffer greatly when under stress.
Apparently women are six times more likely to comfort themselves with junk food than stressed out men are. Men are traditionally more likely to head for the pub to drown their anxieties but indications show that women are beginning to follow them there (once we have scoffed the contents of the biscuit tin, that is.)
Caffeine – another firm favourite when under stress. While a few cups of coffee during the day can help sharpen your wits, more than five or six can heighten the stress reaction by stimulating excess adrenaline.
Needless to say, these habits do not help us deal with stress in the long term, even though they may make us feel slightly better in the short term.
While some foods can add to stress, good healthy eating habits can help you cope better.
Reduce stress with healthy eating
A diet rich in carbohydrates is one of the most effective weapons in fighting stress. They stimulate the brain’s production of the feel good chemicals, endorphins, and can help stress-prone people cope with stressful situations.
This mineral can help some of the physical side effects of stress. Low levels of magnesium can make the effect of “noise stress” much worse - roaring traffic, loud music, next door’s kids and the like. Top it up with foods such as nuts, dried fruit, sardines, green leafy vegetables, wholegrains and pulses.
Essential for the nervous system, B vitamins can also help reduce the stress levels. Eat lots of wholegrains, lean meat, fish, nuts, milk, pulses and peas.
The body uses more vitamin C when under stress and a low intake can weaken the immune system and make it difficult to fight infections and heal wounds. Good sources of vitamin C are strawberries, kiwi, citrus fruit, fruit juice, tomatoes and potatoes.
Dos and Don't for a stress-free life
Do Make it a priority. Research at Bristol University found that people aged between 20 and 79 who ate breakfast every day were less stressed, and suffered less emotional distress and depression than people who skipped breakfast.
Do Base your breakfast on energy-boosting foods rich in wholegrain complex carbohydrate and B vitamins – cereals, breads, bananas, baked beans or dried fruit.
Don’t Attempt to get by on a cup of coffee. In the long term it can lead to a drop in energy and feelings of stress and mood fluctuations.
Do Eat foods with a high nutrient value – not just a soggy sandwich. Tuna, sardines, pulses, eggs and wholegrain breads help guard against the effects of stress. Protein rich foods make you feel more alert and help combat afternoon sleepiness.
Do Eat some brightly coloured vegetables or dark leafy greens. They contain important antioxidants used by the body to mop up damaging free radicals, which increase in the body during stress.
Don’t Drink alcohol. This will only impair your performance during the afternoon and drinking on an empty stomach can also deplete energy and vital stress fighting nutrients.
Do Include at least two portions of vegetables and some fruit for dessert. They supply lots of phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help offset the damaging effects of stress on the immune system.
Do Have a glass of wine, but don’t go mad. Under the right circumstances – with an evening meal when you are able to unwind - a small amount of alcohol can help you relax. Red wine also contains flavonoids, which can boost your heart health.
Don’t Cut out all the comfort foods. They have a significant effect on your psychological health. Opt for lower fat alternatives – oven chips, skimmed milk custard and lower fat cheese, for example.