What changes should you make to reduce your stress levels?

stressed person with head in hands

What changes should you make to manage and reduce your stress?

Everyone will have undoubtedly experienced some form of stress this year, whether work, financial, family-related, or otherwise, and unfortunately, we’ll likely all experience stress in the future, too!

What is stress?

‘Stress can be defined as ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’

We all have daily pressures placed on us, this pressure can then become stress when we feel unable to manage,  which is why a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.

Stress response triggers high levels of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. In short, these stress hormones signal to your body that you are in an emergency situation. This triggers a temporary increase in energy production at the expense of processes that are not required for immediate survival, which can have deleterious effects on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk.

Excess cortisol levels can keep the body in a catabolic state, which can interfere with tissue repair and therefore result in a loss of muscle mass.

Cortisol and adrenaline also use up significant amounts of vitamin C, B-vitamins, magnesium and zinc, as your body perceives this as an ‘emergency’ situation, and directs the hormones to take priority over the body’s typical use for these nutrients.

Some of the effects of this include; reduced vitamin C and zinc available for collagen production, which has a role in keeping skin clear and the production of white blood cells to fend off infections. Additionally, it can cause a reduction in the availability of B vitamins for energy production and mental function, as well as depleted magnesium levels which increase the likelihood of headaches and increases blood pressure.

‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’– Hippocrates.

This famous quote rings true on this topic, adequate nutrition can be used as a tool to prevent and manage stress. 

Foods to eat to help manage your stress levels

  1. Whole grains (complex carbohydrates) as well as being rich sources of B vitamins, carbohydrate sources prompt the brain to produce serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone, which leads to a boosted mood, helping negate the effects of a stressful situation.
  2. Citrus fruits, as well as berries and kiwi, which are rich in Vitamin C, can support the immune system, as well as help cortisol levels return to normal more quickly after a stressful situation.
  3. Green leafy veg, such as spinach and kale will help build up magnesium stores, too little of which can trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress.
  4. Lean meat, seafood and dairy provide zinc, which has been shown to contribute to healthy immune function.

Other ways of reducing stress

Although it plays a part, nutrition is not the only factor to consider if you want to reduce your stress:

  • Sleep. Research supports the links between sleep, immune function and inflammation. Lack of sleep is thought to detrimentally affect host defence mechanisms, and heighten susceptibility to pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms), and increase inflammation. Sleep deprivation causes interference with many of the body’s biological processes and systems – all, in turn, will have a negative effect on your health. So whilst you have the time, make sure you get those hours in!
  • Gentle Exercise. Gentle exercise can be great at helping us to reduce stress, as it releases endorphins and improves our sense of self-efficacy. No matter how much you’re dreading going for that run, or doing that online class, you always feel better afterwards.
  • Fresh Air. Research has shown that getting outside into green spaces whenever possible is great for our mental health – try to break up your day with short walks, particularly if you’re working from home.
  • Do what makes YOU feel good. What works for your friends or family, may not necessarily work for you. Everyone’s stress responses are unique, and therefore everyone will find different ways to manage the situation. That’s okay! Whether you want to curl up with a book, rack up the miles, or start a new side hustle, just make sure your stress response helps and is healthy for you.

The Take Home Message

We can’t always prevent stress in our lives, but by eating foods and instilling habits which can help us manage how we deal with stress, we can reduce the negative effects it has on the body, giving us one less thing to stress about!

Fresh Fitness Food provides personalised meal plans delivered straight to your door, ensuring not only that you have the nutrients you need to manage your stress levels, but also that you have the time usually spent shopping, cooking and washing up, to engage in your favourite stress-reducing activity. To discuss which nutrition plan is right for you, book a call with our in-house nutrition team here.

Order today and start smashing your goals with personalised nutrition!

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Published by Georgia Chilton

In her teenage years, a love of food and rowing led Georgia into this field as she wanted to know how to optimise performance through nutrition. With a BSc in Nutrition and an MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrition, she has the skill set to help you track towards your goals and maximise your potential.

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