Oh, hey, Tax Day is next week.
Did that little sentence make you feel a little stressed out? Maybe you started to sweat a bit? Or did you run and hide under your desk? (Tax Man totally won’t find you there.)
Maybe taxes don’t stress you out because you’re a smart cookie and you pay someone to do them for you. (I like your style.) But I’m willing to bet something else is stressing you out because stress is a part of our lives, whether we like it or not.
Maybe it’s the stress of working 50 hours a week at a job that is slowly sucking the life out of you, maybe it’s that your car is so old the bumper is falling off and it doesn’t go above 30 mph, maybe it’s the feeling that, every time you open your closet, you feel like you have nothing to wear, maybe it’s less than ideal living conditions or a not-so-perfect union with your partner.
I’ve got good news for you.
You can manage your stress, and food can help.
Think about it like this: You get your grubby little hands on the last bar of dark chocolate at the gas station and greedily inhale the chocolate-y smell as you unwrap it slowly. You carefully take a bite and savor how it melts in your mouth. It’s almost eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head good.
That’s because it’s like a hug in a wrapper, aka comfort food.
Comfort foods are like serotonin superheroes, swooping in and calming you down and giving you a boost of feel-good chemicals when you need them most.
There are plenty of foods that can slash your stress hormone levels. And eating cleaner in your cubicle can help you respond to stressful situations better over time because those healthy foods strengthen your immune system and even lower your blood pressure.
Food stuffs like complex carbs are a safe bet when you’re looking to send some stress packing. When you eat carbs, it sends a signal to your brain to make more serotonin (that feel-good chemical). Plus, complex carbs are slow digesting, so you can extend that serotonin supply a bit longer than if you rely on a quick hit from, say, a piece of candy or a pastry.
So what kinds of foods are good for saying so long to stress? Glad you asked, friend.
If you can get past how they make your pee smell (TMI? We’re friends, it’s cool.), asparagus is kind of amazing for stress because those green stalks are packed with folate.
The folate makes dopamine, which — like serotonin — is a feel-good chemical that can help you feel a little calmer and less stressed. Grilled asparagus is delicious but so is steamed or roasted. Maybe just not raw, although you do you.
I’m pretty sure avocado can do no wrong. Unless, you know, you turn your back on it and it suddenly goes from unripe to too ripe.
Besides being a finicky fruit, avocado is full of nutrients that keep your blood sugar in check, like folate, potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin E. And managing that blood sugar keeps you off the emotional roller coaster and keeps you on an even keel so stress is less likely to affect you.
I love bananas. And I love them even more when I think about how amazing they are at dealing with stress. (Not bananas themselves…have you ever put a banana in a bag only to take it out three hours later and suddenly it’s almost too ripe to even make banana bread with? Yeah…)
Bananas are full of potassium, which keeps your blood pressure low; tryptophan; and other phytochemicals that are stress management superstars.
Blueberries, or bloobs as I affectionally call them, might be the OG of superfoods. That deep blue (purple?) color means they are rich in antioxidants, which are responsible for some amazing health benefits. Like better brain power.
They’re also a fab way to get some Vitamin C. Turns out, higher levels of vitamin C lead to lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol.
The benefits of carrots — besides, of course, that they’re rich in nutrients and, you know, good for you — is that they’re nice and crunchy. Eating raw veggies like carrots (or celery) can help get some aggression out. Because you’ve really gotta bite and chew with meaning.
Next time you’re stressed, sit down with some carrots and see how you feel after you chomp your way through a handful.
We’ve talked about nuts many a time around these parts because they’re a great snack full of protein and healthy fat. Cashews in particular are also a great place to get some zinc. We need to get zinc on a daily basis because our bodies don’t store it. Which is too bad, really, because higher levels of zinc translate to less anxiety and depression. Bring on the cashews!
Don’t you just love when I recommend chocolate? It’s like my favorite part of the day.
There’s a reason we turn to chocolate when our mood’s a little dark: It makes us feel good. Even better? It’s good for us. Besides giving us a spike in serotonin, a good-quality dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and is packed with powerful antioxidants. A square or two can definitely lift your spirits — it’s scientific, y’all.
Green Leafy Veggies
I know it’s a lot easier to eat potato chips by the handful, but, when you’re stressed, you’re better off eating spinach leaves like chips. Dark leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard are full of magnesium and folate, which your body turns in to dopamine, another feel-good chemical.
People who eat a lot of folate-rich foods generally feel a lot calmer, happier, and energized than their folate-lacking counterparts. So go ahead and have a big salad, a green smoothie, or a handful of spinach leaves.
Oatmeal is like comfort in a bowl, the ultimate comfort food, a huge hug in food form. It’s those complex carbs we talked about that make your brain crank out serotonin. Whether you make some overnight oats or enjoy some freshly baked oatmeal in the morning, you stand a better chance against stress.
Probably everyone’s favorite citrus fruit and go-to source of Vitamin C, oranges are also full of fiber, which is another nutrient that helps you manage your blood sugar. An added bonus? Peeling an orange is a bit of a repetitive task, helping you focus so you can slow down and calm down.
Like oranges, pistachios come with a hidden benefit: the repetitive task of shelling those little green nuts. Getting your mind off those stressful or negative thoughts is a quick way to calm down.
And, once you break one open, you’ve got a phytonutrient-rich friend in your hand that’s offering up antioxidants to help lower your blood pressure.
Okay, maybe orange isn’t your favorite and you think you’re SOL (you know, shit out of luck) on the whole vitamin C thing. Good news: red peppers actually have more vitamin C than oranges! Up to three times more, actually.
So give yourself a boost by chopping up or roasted some red peppers and adding them to your next salad. Or dip some raw red pepper slices in hummus or guacamole (double whammy with the avocado there).
Not to generalize or stereotype, but seeds of all sorts are full of magnesium, which is one of the key minerals you need to fight off crankiness, depression, and mood swings.
Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, even hemp seeds and chia seeds, are all excellent options. You can eat them by the handful, toss some in a smoothie, or maybe make some protein powder? Just a suggestion.
There are lots of ways to incorporate more of these stress-fighting foods in to your day. Try a soothing smoothie made with bananas and oranges, some carrots and red pepper with hummus or guacamole, a giant salad with asparagus, avocado, and seeds.
Ready to take things one step further? Check out my new ebook: Stress Soother. It’s a seven-day cleanse (available at a pretty damn low introductory price) that will help you incorporate these foods and stress-relieving activities step by step.
And don’t forget — our thoughts and reactions play a huge rule in how stressed we are. So smile, take a nice deep letting go breath, and eat some more fruits and veggies!