Nutritional tips and strategies for managing stress and anxiety
Updated: Feb 4, 2018
A stressed and anxious body and mind greatly benefits from a broad spectrum of nutrients to help you cope and manage, alongside a few small lifestyle changes. Here are some tips and strategies for taking control.
Unmanaged stress can easily tip over into a full-blown anxiety disorder. Anxiety can also be a symptom of depression. Spotting the signs and symptoms of anxiety in ourselves, our family, friends and colleagues is also vital because they may not be aware that they’re behaving differently or they may need you to open up dialogue with them in a supportive and caring environment.
It’s important to get medical advice if you (or someone you care about) is struggling with anxiety or stress. Talking therapies such as CBT can be a vital tool in managing anxiety and stress symptoms.
Alongside this, basic lifestyle changes such as minimising refined carbohydrates (including sugary snacks), caffeine and alcohol is especially important for those prone to stress and anxiety. Although these things may offer a temporary ‘lift’, they place unnecessary strain on an already stressed system, resulting in longer-term fatigue and crashing sugar levels which can trigger symptoms such as palpitations, nervousness, irritability and anxiety. Furthermore, these types of foods are known to increase levels of cortisol (produced in our adrenal glands), and adrenaline - the body’s stress hormones.
Aeons ago, when our ancestors fought off marauding animals and invaders, these stress responses were critical for survival. However, today our automatic responses to daily stress and anxiety are still the same but if we don’t disperse high levels of these stress hormones through regular exercise and relaxation, they can become highly toxic in the body, setting up inflammatory responses which create serious health problems. Long-term stress also makes the body more acidic and vital minerals are then leached from the bones in an attempt to re-alkalise (re-balance) the body.
Nutritional tips and strategies for managing stress and anxiety
A stressed and anxious body and mind greatly benefits from a broad spectrum of nutrients to help you cope and manage, alongside a few small lifestyle changes. Here are some tips and strategies for taking control:
A low-sugar muesli or sugar-free granola with natural yoghurt, wholemeal toast with eggs and spinach are great choices. Oats are a rich-source of B vitamins which help you stay calm so try porridge with rice/soya/almond milk.
Vitamin B complex
These are key nutrients for so many functions in the body but particularly in supporting our adrenals and managing stress. During times of prolonged stress, these nutrients are depleted so making sure you have plenty of B vitamins is essential.
Of particular importance to stress is the B vitamin, Pantothenic acid. A deficiency in this particular B vitamin significantly weakens the adrenal glands and may result in fatigue, sleep disturbances, headaches and nausea. B vitamins work together synergistically so investing in a good complex which includes all of them is the best way to ensure you’re getting enough. Increase your intake of vitamin B-rich foods by including plenty of leafy green vegetables (kale, broccoli, watercress, spinach, rocket), wholegrains, oats, lentils, bananas, avocados, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Urinary excretion of Vitamin C increases during times of stress, so take 1-2grams of vitamin C daily. Vitamin C is also vital for supporting adrenal function. Up your intake of oranges, kiwi fruit, berries, plums and apples.
Women who are depressed or anxious tend to have lower levels of vitamin B6, which is needed for the production of serotonin, the brain chemical that lifts mood. Low levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid can also cause anxiety.
Rhodiola, ashwaganda, astragalus, ginseng and holy basil - herbs
These unique, healing herbs help balance, restore and protect the body. Commonly known as ‘adoptogens’, they work by supporting adrenal function and enhancing resistance to stress.
Liquorice root is also an adaptogen and works to calm anxiety and support the adrenals. Valerian and camomile tea can also be very soothing when you feel anxious or tense from a stressful day. These are best taken before you go to bed.
This is an amino-acid found in green tea. It’s a natural relaxant that increases alpha waves (the brainwaves you produce during relaxation) so L-Theanine can help you to feel more relaxed but doesn’t induce drowsiness.
Often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’, magnesium is a very calming mineral. A daily supplement of calcium and magnesium is recommended when you’re under a lot of stress and feeling anxious. The best food sources include kelp and other seaweeds, nuts (especially brazil nuts and almonds), wholegrains, seasame and sunflower seeds, tofu and dark green leafy vegetables.
Zinc is essential for the body to convert tryptophan into serotonin, the feel good chemical that can induce feelings of calm. Zinc is found in eggs and also in nuts, seeds, peanuts and sunflower seeds.
Not only does eating oily fish reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but according to studies reported in 2003 by the US National Institute of Health, it reduces anxiety and depression as well.
Nuts and seeds
Foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrains and beans, increase brain levels of tryptophan and, in turn, serotonin. A small amount of dietary carbohydrates, such as a handful of nuts and seeds eaten 30 minutes before a stressful situation, can help lower anxiety levels.
Regular exercise and relaxation techniques
Go for a walk and breathe deeply and calmly, preferably in a park or the garden. Studies show that being in nature has a healing and calming effect on us. Yoga and Pilates are gentle ways to move your body and can have a powerful effect on clearing and balancing the mind. Mindful meditation can have a profound impact on stress and anxiety.
Talking with friends, family or colleagues and expressing how you feel can sometimes be a huge relief. But don’t be afraid to seek further professional help - counselling, hypnotherapy and anxiety management courses have all been proven to shift people into a more positive mind-set to be able to cope better.
Make sure you get enough sleep. Sounds simple enough but establishing a healthy sleep/wake cycle by keeping to a routine is important in cracking this. Keep the bedroom as dark as possible, have a soothing herbal tea before bed, take a warm bath with salts or essential oils to unwind and limit evening exposure to electronics. Switch that phone off!
Take stock of your life
Keep a diary and jot down the things that are winding you up. It’s important to identify what your sources of stress and anxiety are in order to take possible and practical steps to remove them from your life. This can include concentrating on what you can change in your life and letting go of things that are beyond your control.
When you’re going through a tough time, treat yourself kindly. Having a regular massage using essential oils such as lavender, valerian, enrol, jasmine, rose or ylang ylang will help to soothe tense muscles and calm a busy mind.
Get a pet
Studies with cat and dog-owners have shown the considerable stress-reducing abilities of a furry companion. When cats purr, they produce the afore-mentioned calming alpha waves, so stroke your cat and de-stress.
This may sound like a glib offering but laughing does release tension and relieve stress; watching some comedy or a funny film can lift us out of a dark place and provide temporary respite.
Some people thrive on stress; others struggle. How we all adapt in times of stress and whether it tips us into an anxious state is very individual - sometimes it just depends on what challenges life presents you with. We’re all unique and we all need to learn our limits and listen to our bodies in order to keep our stress levels within healthy realms.
As with all supplements and herbs, pregnant and breast-feeding women should not take these without prior consultation with a health practitioner. In all cases, please seek professional advice before taking herbs and/or supplements.
Article: Daniela Barbaglia – registered nutritional therapist Dip NT Mbant CNHC