“Stress” may now be considered as the word representing the most predominant emotion of our decade if not century. Most of us are daily faced with stressful situations both at workplace or at home, and it is essential that we learn to handle stress without allowing it to affect our mental and physical health. One important way of influencing the anxiety feeling of stress is through nutrition, since food and stress are highly associated.
Under stressful conditions our body’s need for essential nutrients is increased and may also have an impact on our immune system, as it becomes weaker. A balanced diet is important in order to feel energetic, focused and calm during times of stress. On the contrary, a diet high in empty calories or non-energy dense foods like high fat “junk good” will make our body more prone to illness and most probably will lead to very poor performance during a stressful situation. Often, when people are feeling stressed, they experience the need to consume foods high in sugar and calories as it increases the feeling of comfort and calmness. However, if this consumption is not done in moderation it can cause weigh gain and more stress in the long term. Adrenaline is the hormone produced during times of very intense stress and produces high amounts of energy; however, the blood-sugar level decreases after the crisis is over. Therefore a balanced nutrient intake is needed in order to replenish it and bring the glucose levels back to normal.
There are definitely some nutritional habits to be avoided when we want to overcome stress or even ease the symptoms of anxiety and other health related problems under a stressful situation.
Consuming Caffeine: Although caffeine is known to be a stimulant and helps by increasing the energy levels, it also has some downfalls when it comes to consuming it on a stressful working day. Over-consuming caffeine raises stress hormones and promotes insomnia and dehydration. There are caffeine-free alternatives such as herbal teas that could be more beneficial and still help with remaining focused and energetic at work.
Eating during stress: Although the brain needs glucose to enable it to perform effectively, avoid snacking in the middle of a stressful time. If the digestive system in not relaxed it can cause heart burn and indigestion, unpleasant conditions which are by themselves stressful. It is more preferable if we wait until the situation is more stress-free and then eat food with high nutritional.
Glucose imbalance: It has been observed, that in times of stress, people often feel intense cravings for something sweet and comforting. However, a snack which is high in simple sugars will lead the blood glucose to rapidly increase and then suddenly decrease, causing the feeling of sleepiness and lethargic. This will decrease productivity and thus rendering someone unable to overcome a difficult time of a stressful day.
Some tips on improving your diet and overcome a stressful day:
- Breakfast: Aim always to eat a good and healthy breakfast. This will fuel your body in order to provide the necessary nutrients to get you through the first part of the day. Some good examples of breakfast could be a sandwich with whole grain bread, light cheese, turkey ham and vegetables, or oatmeal cereal with fresh fruit. Even if you are too busy or in a rush to get to work, a small piece of fruit is still better than an empty stomach to start of work.
- Main meals: Ιt is best if the main meal of the day, especially the one consumed at work is not overloaded with carbohydrates and fat. A meal high in simple carbohydrates and fats (for example pasta with fresh cream and bacon) will make you feel tired and sleepy. Try to have a balanced meal with lean protein (such as fish, chicken or turkey), complex carbohydrates (such as a slice of whole grain bread) and vegetables or a green salad. A fresh fruit is the best way to complete your meal feeling refreshed and energetic.
- In-between snacks: In order to sustain your energy, snack on healthy food throughout the day. This will help you remain focused and energetic, hence be productive and able to face any work related situation. It is therefore important to plan ahead and bring to work anything that might be considered as a healthy snack. Some good examples of snacks are fresh fruit, low fat yogurt, nuts and raisins or a few oatcakes.
- Drinks. Avoid high consumption of stimulants such as coffee and soda as much as possible. Try to drink more decaffeinated beverages such as 100% natural fruit juice and herbal teas. Also, drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and keep you healthy and alert at work.
- Supplements. It is always a good idea to help your body remain enriched in essential nutrients from time to time. Consider therefore taking a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to replace the nutrients depleted by stress, particularly the B complex vitamins, vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc. This will diminish the feeling of being fatigue after an exhausting day at work.
Maintaining healthy eating habits is very important and aids in overcoming personal as well as stressful demanding work related situations. It helps people improve their work efficacy and their wellbeing as well as their productiveness at workplace. Keeping organized with healthy meals and snacks will also help in making the right choice under the time of stress, and therefore sometimes planning ahead is the best option. Remember – your body is like a super-machine which needs to accomplish countless tasks daily and perform well; take good care of it and it won’t let you down.