Resident Nutritionist and Food Stylist Emma Reushle‘s monthly blog series on current nutrition & health topics. This week she discusses ways to reduce stress.
Do you ever have days when you feel low, unmotivated, stressed or anxious?
Don’t worry. This is normal.
I’m not one to shy away from the fact that I’ve suffered with anxiety and according to Beyond Blue, approximately 45% of Australians will suffer some form of mental health issue at some point in their life.
It may be that you don’t want to attend that social function, feel frantic and overwhelmed, are frustrated and grumpy or just a bit foggy and down.
As a Nutritionist, I see many clients that present with mild anxiety and stress relating to a number of factors – some food related, some not.
Whilst diagnosed anxiety and depression needs to be dealt with by an expert, there are a few simple tips you can take on to help with daily stress and mild anxiety.
- Reduce caffeine intake
As much as we love that morning coffee, too much caffeine can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. Being overly stressed can leave you feeling exhausted but constantly wired and caffeine doesn’t help this in the long run.
Caffeine gives us that quick burst of energy as it acts on the nervous system and mimics the hormone adrenaline in our bodies, increase heart rate and breathing.
Currently there is no specific health based caffeine recommendation but under 400mg is considered appropriate and the Food Standards Australian and New Zealand (FSANZ) found that anxiety levels increased in adults from 210mg per day.
To give you an idea, a regular coffee contains anywhere between 60-120mg of caffeine. Energy drinks usually contain around 100mg, tea 30-100mg (depending on strength) and even 50g of dark chocolate can contain up to 50mg of caffeine.
Caffeine in moderate amounts is perfectly safe but if you’re finding you feel an increase in stress or anxiety after caffeine containing products, cut down a little and see how you feel.
Aim for about 1-2 cups a day and try to have them before afternoon to avoid sleep issues. Alternatively, switch to herbal tea which doesn’t contain any caffeine. However, don’t try to stop cold turkey unless you want some serious lethargy and headaches! Slow and steady wins the race.
- Deep breaths
It sounds a little silly, but starting your day with some deep, calming breaths can make all the difference.
Waking up late, running out the door and perhaps skipping breakfast can lead to a frantic, stressful start to the day.
Why not try to wake up just 15 minutes earlier and sit somewhere calm for 10 minutes. Taking 5 long, deep breaths will help calm your mind and help you to feel relaxed before the day begins. Try this little trick before a delicious breakfast and enjoy it mindfully, appreciating each bite.
- Give yourself a break
Don’t be so hard on yourself. There are so many pressures in today’s society that it can be a constant battle to keep up with the daily demand.
One thing you can do is let go of food rules.
Social media, celebrities and diet trends dictate what we should and shouldn’t eat and this can become very stressful.
It is ok not to like green smoothies and it’s ok to have a cup cake.
Research has shown that diet plays a big role in depression and anxiety and a diet high in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean proteins and dairy foods is much more beneficial than a diet high in processed foods, trans fat and large amounts of sugar. Basing your diet on the five food groups outlined in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a great idea to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you require, not cutting out important groups and getting evidence based information that’s easy to implement. Letting go of any restrictive food rules or dieting trends will help to reduce anxiety levels around food.
Making meals in bulk or the night before can help with organisation and decreasing stress levels but if you forget or don’t have time, that’s ok too!
- Check your carbohydrates sources
Carbohydrates are our bodies main source of fuel and what gives our brains and muscles the energy to function. Inadequate carbohydrates can leave us feeling exhausted which can lead to feelings of stress. In the same way, pushing our bodies to the limit with work, exercise and daily tasks with inadequate fuel due to very low calorie intakes can do the same thing – just like a car, we don’t run very far on empty.
Checking your carbohydrate source plays a role as well. Highly refined carbohydrates like cakes, biscuits, lollies and pastries will spike blood sugar levels with a ‘sugar rush’ and can leave you feeling exhausted, cranky, frantic or stressed; colloquially known as ‘hangry’.
Aiming for higher fibre and quality carbohydrates like wholegrain breads, pastas, fresh fruit, beans and legumes and dairy will give us a slower release of energy as the sugars take longer to digest.
Numerous studies have found that exercise can significantly reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good and help you sleep better, which also helps you cope with feelings of stress.
Exercise is also a great time to clear your mind and have some time to yourself.
It doesn’t have to be a huge strenuous session or a 10km run; a brisk 20 minute walk can be very beneficial and studies have shown that even 5 minutes of aerobic activity start to decrease stress levels.
Yoga is also a powerful tool to decrease feelings of anxiety and stress and has long been associated with an increase in mental health and wellbeing. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it!
- Call a friend
This has nothing to do with food. Or maybe it could if it includes tea and cake?
As much as you may not want to see or speak to anyone at times of high stress or anxiety, let alone leave the house, having a chat to a friend is one of the best things you can do.
Invite someone you trust out for lunch or just give them a call for a chat. It can make the world of difference.
Should I be taking supplements?
There are so many supplements on the market these days for stress and anxiety and constant marketing making us feel like we need to take a pill for everything.
But are any of these worth your money?
There are many natural supplements that have been found to assist in some cases with feelings of stress and anxiety such as zinc, omega 3 fish oil, magnesium, SAMe, St. Johns Wort, Kava and Passionflower. However, there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to suggest that adding these to your daily routine will help you overcome stress or anxiety and some may have contraindications with other medications.
Therefore, it’s always best to seek help from your doctor, who can tailor a strategy that works best for you and get to the root cause of the problem.
The bottom line is that many people are in the same boat and have experienced the feelings you are having. Talking about your feelings to someone, nourishing your body and treating it well can help you reset and recharge rather than pushing your adrenal glands to the max. A calming cup of tea and a break may be much more beneficial than continuing to push yourself and masking it with a natural supplement.
It you are suffering from anxiety, depression or severe stress or just need to discuss your symptoms with someone, please contact your doctor or call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.