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Foods that relieve stress

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Emotional Eating and How to Stop It

Do you eat to feel better or relieve stress? These tips can help you stop emotional eating, fight cravings, identify your triggers, and find more satisfying ways to feed your feelings.

We don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. Many of us also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or to reward ourselves. And when we do, we tend to reach for junk food, sweets, and other comforting but unhealthy foods. You might reach for a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. In fact, it usually makes you feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating.

Are you an emotional eater?

  • Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
  • Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
  • Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
  • Do you reward yourself with food?
  • Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
  • Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
  • Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?

The emotional eating cycle

Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.

Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed. You beat yourself for messing up and not having more willpower.

Compounding the problem, you stop learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you have a harder and harder time controlling your weight, and you feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings. But no matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can learn healthier ways to deal with your emotions, avoid triggers, conquer cravings, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.

The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger

Before you can break free from the cycle of emotional eating, you first need to learn how to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. This can be trickier than it sounds, especially if you regularly use food to deal with your feelings.

Emotional hunger can be powerful, so it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for to help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).

Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.

Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.

Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.

Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.

Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.

Emotional hunger vs. Physical hunger
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly Physical hunger comes on gradually
Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly Physical hunger can wait
Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods Physical hunger is open to options—lots of things sound good
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach. Physical hunger stops when you’re full
Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself

Identify your emotional eating triggers

The first step in putting a stop to emotional eating is identifying your personal triggers. What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event.

Common causes of emotional eating

Stress – Ever notice how stress makes you hungry? It’s not just in your mind. When stress is chronic, as it so often is in our chaotic, fast-paced world, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods—foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.

Stuffing emotions – Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or “stuff down” uncomfortable emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. While you’re numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions you’d rather not feel.

Boredom or feelings of emptiness – Do you ever eat simply to give yourself something to do, to relieve boredom, or as a way to fill a void in your life? You feel unfulfilled and empty, and food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.

Childhood habits – Think back to your childhood memories of food. Did your parents reward good behavior with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you got a good report card, or serve you sweets when you were feeling sad? These habits can often carry over into adulthood. Or your eating may be driven by nostalgia—for cherished memories of grilling burgers in the backyard with your dad or baking and eating cookies with your mom.

Social influences – Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. Or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and it’s easier to go along with the group.

Keep an emotional eating diary

You probably recognized yourself in at least a few of the previous descriptions. But even so, you’ll want to get even more specific. One of the best ways to identify the patterns behind your emotional eating is to keep track with a food and mood diary.

Every time you overeat or feel compelled to reach for your version of comfort food Kryptonite, take a moment to figure out what triggered the urge. If you backtrack, you’ll usually find an upsetting event that kicked of the emotional eating cycle. Write it all down in your food and mood diary: what you ate (or wanted to eat), what happened to upset you, how you felt before you ate, what you felt as you were eating, and how you felt afterward.

Over time, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Maybe you always end up gorging yourself after spending time with a critical friend. Or perhaps you stress eat whenever you’re on a deadline or when you attend family functions. Once you identify your emotional eating triggers, the next step is identifying healthier ways to feed your feelings.

Find other ways to feed your feelings

If you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits for very long. Diets so often fail because they offer logical nutritional advice which only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. It doesn’t work when emotions hijack the process, demanding an immediate payoff with food.

In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment.

Alternatives to emotional eating

If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.

If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.

If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.

If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).

Pause when cravings hit and check in with yourself

Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, it’s all you can think about. You feel an almost unbearable tension that demands to be fed, right now! Because you’ve tried to resist in the past and failed, you believe that your willpower just isn’t up to snuff. But the truth is that you have more power over your cravings than you think.

Take 5 before you give in to a craving

Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.

Can you put off eating for five minutes? Or just start with one minute. Don’t tell yourself you can’t give in to the craving; remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait.

While you’re waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.

Learn to accept your feelings—even the bad ones

While it may seem that the core problem is that you’re powerless over food, emotional eating actually stems from feeling powerless over your emotions. You don’t feel capable of dealing with your feelings head on, so you avoid them with food.

Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. You may fear that, like Pandora’s box, once you open the door you won’t be able to shut it. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention.

To do this you need to become mindful and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. This can enable you to rein in stress and repair emotional problems that often trigger emotional eating. HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit can show you how.

Indulge without overeating by savoring your food

When you eat to feed your feelings, you tend to do so quickly, mindlessly consuming food on autopilot. You eat so fast you miss out on the different tastes and textures of your food—as well as your body’s cues that you’re full and no longer hungry. But by slowing down and savoring every bite, you’ll not only enjoy your food more but you’ll also be less likely to overeat.

Slowing down and savoring your food is an important aspect of mindful eating, the opposite of mindless, emotional eating. Try taking a few deep breaths before starting your food, putting your utensils down between bites, and really focusing on the experience of eating. Pay attention to the textures, shapes, colors and smells of your food. How does each mouthful taste? How does it make your body feel? By slowing down in this way, you’ll find you appreciate each bite of food much more. You can even indulge in your favorite foods and feel full on much less. It takes time for the body’s fullness signal to reach your brain, so taking a few moments to consider how you feel after each bite—hungry or satiated—can help you avoid overeating.

Practice mindful eating

Eating while you’re also doing other things—such as watching TV, driving, or playing with your phone—can prevent you from fully enjoying your food. Since your mind is elsewhere, you may not feel satisfied or continue eating even though you’re no longer hungry. Eating more mindfully can help focus your mind on your food and the pleasure of a meal and curb overeating. See Mindful Eating.

Support yourself with healthy lifestyle habits

When you’re physically strong, relaxed, and well rested, you’re better able to handle the curveballs that life inevitably throws your way. But when you’re already exhausted and overwhelmed, any little hiccup has the potential to send you off the rails and straight toward the refrigerator. Exercise, sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times without emotional eating.

  • Make daily exercise a priority. Physical activity does wonders for your mood and energy levels, and it’s also a powerful stress reducer. And getting into the exercise habit is easier than you may think.
  • Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. When you don’t get the sleep you need, your body craves sugary foods that will give you a quick energy boost. Getting plenty of rest will help with appetite control and reduce food cravings.
  • Make time for relaxation.Give yourself permission to take at least 30 minutes every day to relax, decompress, and unwind. This is your time to take a break from your responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
  • Connect with others. Don’t underestimate the importance of close relationships and social activities. Spending time with positive people who enhance your life will help protect you from the negative effects of stress.

Stress is a common problem that we all have to deal with at some point in our lives. There are many factors that bring stress upon the body – external pressures such as work or family responsibilities, and internal influences – what we eat and how our digestive, immune and nervous systems are functioning.

The good news is that there are plenty of simple lifestyle changes that we can make to help us to manage our stress levels. However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed or struggling to cope, help is available – visit the NHS website or speak to your GP.

How stress affects the body…

Stress triggers a set of biological responses including:

  • The release of stress hormones from your adrenal glands – adrenaline and cortisol
  • An increase in blood sugar
  • Rising blood pressure
  • Rapid heart beat

All these responses, known as ‘fight or flight’, are designed to help you meet physical challenges that threaten your survival when faced with stress (e.g. how your body would respond if you were being chased by lions). The trouble is, in today’s high stress culture, the stress response continually remains on full alert and the body does not have a chance to recover.

How hormones are affected…

The adrenal glands, nestled on the upper, inner surface of each kidney, produce the main stress response hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Over time, the adrenal glands may become overworked and have difficulty producing the right amount of these hormones.

How diet can help

Eating a balanced and healthy diet is key to helping our bodies to manage the physiological changes caused by stress. An important part of any stress response includes identifying and reducing the causes of stress. Adrenal function is significantly influenced by blood sugar levels, therefore much of the dietary advice below aims to stabilise levels of sugar in the blood.

Choose whole, natural foods and ensure a minimum of five portions of non-starchy vegetables per day – and eat a rainbow!

More on fruit & veg intake…
What counts as 5-a-day?
Cheap ways to get your 5-a-day
Recipes which contain all of your 5-a-day

Start the day with a balanced breakfast. Avoid sugary cereals, pastries and too much caffeine.

Healthy breakfast inspiration…
Our favourite healthy breakfast ideas
The best healthy brunch recipes
Is porridge healthy?

Prioritise protein. When chronically stressed the body has an increased demand for protein. Protein requirements are estimated at 0.7-1.8g per kg body weight daily. Choose lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds in each meal. Protein helps to slow the release of sugar into the blood stream.

More on protein…
High-protein recipes
The best sources of protein
Get the balance right – protein & carbs

Try not to skip meals. Ensure that you eat regularly, taking healthy snacks as necessary. Small, regular meals will help to maintain energy levels and mood, while decreasing tiredness and irritability.

More on energy…
How to eat for more energy
5 top tips to boost energy

Avoid highly refined foods such as white bread, pasta, chocolate, biscuits, sweets or foods with added sugars. Hidden sugars are also in many cereals, breads, tinned produce and processed or packaged foods. Replace processed foods with the unrefined foods such as brown bread, rice, oats and rye. Note that excess alcohol can also cause imbalanced blood sugar levels.

More on sugar…
All you need to know about sugar
How much sugar should I eat?
Top 10 low-sugar snacks

Watch the caffeine. Stimulants such as tea and coffee may provide a temporary energy boost, but consuming too much may reduce energy levels and deplete nutrients in the long term. Aim to drink at least 1-1.5 litres of filtered water throughout the day and try incorportating herbal or fruit teas instead of caffeinated drinks.

More on hydration…
How much water should I drink a day?
How to stay hydrated
Is coffee good for you?

Emotional eating. Try not to reach for food when you are in a stressed state. Stress diverts blood flow away from your digestive system, which you don’t want when you are trying to digest your food. You may experience bloating, gas and become prone to discomfort.

More on stress and digestion…
How does stress affect weight?
Digestive health recipes and tips

Key nutrients

Nutrients that specifically support the adrenal glands include:

  • Vitamin C found in most fresh fruit and vegetables. It is stored in the adrenal gland and is required to make cortisol.
  • Magnesium is dramatically depleted in times of stress, and symptoms of deficiency often include fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and predisposition to stress. Include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds to supply adequate levels of magnesium.
  • B vitamins can help to support adrenal function, particularly B5 which directly supports adrenal cortex and hormone production. Sources include wholegrains, nuts and seeds.

More on vital vitamins and minerals.

Other ways to reduce stress

  • Meditation is a great way to calm your mind, plus it’s free and you can do it anywhere, anytime.

  • Yoga may help with practicing mindfulness – not only is it a great form of exercise but it incorporates meditation to slow down and calm the body and mind.

  • Get outside for fresh air and to connect with nature.

  • Good quality sleep is of utmost importance for long term health and regeneration. Few people can function properly with less than seven or eight hours of sleep per night.

  • Regular, gentle exercise is very beneficial for relieving stress and decreasing negative emotions such as worry or anxiety. However, for people with significantly depleted adrenal hormones, intensive cardiovascular exercise may further deplete adrenal reserves.

  • Regular relaxation needs to be built into daily life. Reading, having a bath, getting a massage or listening to music are great ways to promote relaxation.

  • Counselling or other therapies may be beneficial for those having to cope in the face of severe stressors.

If you are feeling stressed and anxious, do not disregard it. Seek advice from your GP or health professional.

This article was last reviewed on 30 January 2019.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a post-graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years, she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at www.nutrijo.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Do you regularly feel stressed or have you found clever ways to cope with the pressures of modern life? Let us know below…

9 Foods That Help or Hurt Anxiety

Looking for food that helps with anxiety? Studies have shown that some foods make us feel calmer while other foods can act as stimulants — at least temporarily. If you experience stress that results in anxiety or panic attacks, making some modifications to your diet may give anxiety help and relief.

Stress describes the many demands and pressures that all of us experience each day. Stress may be physical, mental, emotional, or chemical in nature. Just about anything you encounter can cause stress.

Anxiety is a sign or symptom of stress. Quite often it is the persistent interruptions, hassles, and struggles you face each day that cause anxiety, not life’s catastrophes or disasters. For instance, listening to a phone ringing constantly, hearing a new baby’s cries, or worrying about paying bills can cause stress that leads to anxiety.

When you are anxious for days or weeks, it is called chronic anxiety. The problem with chronic anxiety is that it can lead to health problems over the long term. While there are no quick fixes, you can combat the destructive effects by eating to boost or reduce certain chemicals in your body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, your diet cannot cure anxiety. But there are foods that help with anxiety and have a calming effect in the body, while other foods cause anxiety after eating.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Choose foods such as complex carbs that boost the calming brain chemical serotonin. Select whole-grain breads and whole grain cereals instead of sugary snacks or beverages.
  • Eat protein at breakfast, so you have energy and your blood glucose levels stay steady.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine, which cause anxiety after eating. Both affect your sleep and can cause edginess.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause mood changes.

To boost your mood, consider adding the following to your diet:

  • Chocolate
  • Folate and other B vitamins
  • Low-glycemic foods
  • Magnesium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Tryptophan

In addition, consider adding foods high in zinc to your diet. Findings show that oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks have been linked to lowered anxiety.

Also, a study published in August 2015 the journal Psychiatry Research found a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety. Probiotic foods include pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir. A new study published in 2017 in the journal Annals of General Psychiatry linked probiotics with improving symptoms of major depressive disorder, possibly by either decreasing inflammation in the body or by increasing the availability of serotonin, the calming brain chemical. Anxiety may be linked to depression.

Check out the following five foods you may want to add to your diet to boost your mood, and four foods you may want to avoid because they can increase stress and even possibly cause a depressed mood.

7 Foods for Stress Relief

We all feel wrung out sometimes by the stress of daily life and, unfortunately, we tend to reach for junk food. But high-calorie or sugary foods only trick us into thinking we feel better. Eating healthy food-and making that a conscious choice-can actually offer some real stress relief. End the cycle of eating bad-for-you foods and find relief elsewhere. Instead, add these truly anti-stress foods to your diet.

Related: 6 Ways Stress Can Mess With Digestion

1. Snack on Nuts

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Pictured Recipe: Tropical Snack Mix

Stress depletes our B vitamin stores and snacking on nuts helps replenish them. “B vitamins keep our neurotransmitters in their happy place and help us handle the fight-or-flight stress response,” says Ellen Albertson, Ph.D., R.D., a psychologist in Burlington, Vermont, and founder of smashyourscale.com. The potassium in nuts is also key: Penn State researchers found that a couple servings of potassium-packed pistachios a day can lower blood pressure and reduce the strain stress puts on our heart.

2. Add in Red Peppers

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Pictured Recipe: Chicken Sausage and Peppers

While oranges get all of the vitamin C hype, red peppers have about twice as much (95 vs. 50 mg per 1/2-cup serving). In a study in Psycho­pharma­cology, people who took high doses of C before engaging in stress-inducing activities (oral presentation followed by solving math problems aloud) had lower blood pressure and recovered faster from the cortisol surge than those who got a placebo. “Diets loaded with vitamin-C-rich foods lower cortisol and help people cope,” says Elizabeth Somer, R.D.

3. Serve Salmon Twice a Week

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Pictured Recipe: Cocoa-Rubbed Salmon with Orange Salsa

“To keep your wits about you when life gets hairy, you need omega-3s, especially DHA,” says Somer. In a study in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, people who took a daily omega-3 supplement (containing DHA and EPA) for 12 weeks reduced their anxiety by 20 percent compared to the placebo group. You won’t get the same mood boost from the omega-3s (ALA) in flax, walnuts and soy, though, so shoot for about 2 servings a week of wild salmon or other oily fish and/or talk to your doctor about DHA supplements.

4. Bust Out the Spinach

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Pictured Recipe: Balsamic Berry Vinaigrette Winter Salad

This leafy-green veggie is rich in stress-busting magnesium. People with low magnesium levels (most of us, actually) are more likely to have elevated C-reactive protein levels-and research shows people with high CRP levels are more stressed and at a greater risk for depression. “Magnesium helps regulate cortisol and blood pressure too,” says Somer. And since magnesium gets flushed out of the body when you’re stressed, it’s crucial to get enough. Other solid magnesium sources: beans, brown rice.

5. Fill Up on Oatmeal

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Pictured Recipe: Creamy Blueberry-Pecan Overnight Oatmeal

“Oatmeal is warm and comforting-and it also helps your brain generate the destressing neurotransmitter serotonin,” says Albertson. Research in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows carb-eaters felt calmer than those who shunned carbs. The carb-avoiders reported feeling more stressed. Any carb won’t do, however. Refined carbs (white bread and pasta) digest faster and spike blood sugar, messing with moods and stress. Complex carbs like oatmeal are digested more slowly and don’t spike blood sugar.

6. Indulge in Dark Chocolate

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Pictured Recipe: Healthy Dark Chocolate “Puppy Chow”

If you crave chocolate when you’re on edge, have some. Research in the Journal of Proteome Research showed people who ate the equivalent of an average-size candy bar (about 1.4 ounces) daily for two weeks had lower cortisol and fight-or-flight hormone levels. To reap the feel-better rewards, choose chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cocoa. And remember: dark chocolate is a high-calorie food, so mind your portions.

7. Sip Tea

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Pictured Recipe: Herbal Chamomile Health Tonic

A study from University College London discovered that tea drinkers de-stressed faster and had lower cortisol levels than those who drank a placebo. Although (caffeinated) black tea was used in the study, caffeine revs the stress response in many people, so stick to decaf and herbal teas. “Drinking herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint or ginger can be wonderfully soothing to the digestive tract, which can help with stress by calming the nervous system in your gut,” says Kathie Swift, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Swift Diet.

Rethink your comfort foods

What makes a food calming? Too often, a client will wave me off when I bring up this topic and say, “Oh, Keri, all foods are calming foods. Whenever I’m eating, I feel better.” But there’s a huge difference between tapping into a food’s inherently calming properties and using any food as a kind of emotional anesthesia. That kind of eating may buy you a temporary sense of calm, but it’s a quick fix that wears off way too fast. And where does it usually leave you? Weighing more than you’d like and muttering at yourself, “Yuck, how could I have eaten all that?”

Stressful events—and they don’t even have to be big, just the daily hassles of life—cause our cortisol levels to rise. Cortisol causes food cravings, and in women those cravings tend to be strongest for carbs, especially sweet foods, according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. The more of them we eat, the worse our mood gets. As if that weren’t bad enough, the cortisol then makes more trouble for us, triggering an enzyme in our fat cells (it converts cortisone to more cortisol). Since our visceral fat cells (the ones in our abdomen, packed around our vital organs) have more of these enzymes than the subcutaneous fat cells (the fat on our thighs and butts, for example), stress causes many women to accumulate more belly fat. The more stress, the more this abdominal, or central, obesity occurs. Some research has found that these belly fat cells, which have been linked to a greater risk for heart disease and diabetes, have four times as many cortisol receptors as regular fat cells.

So when I talk about calming foods, I don’t mean so-called comfort foods. I mean meals and snacks that will truly soothe and calm you. Whether it’s because of the specific nutrients they provide or the steady, reliable source of energy they give you, they’ll get you through the day feeling focused, even, and balanced—so you’ll have the ability to conquer anything.

Asparagus

I know, these slender stalks are known to make your urine smell funny. But they are high in folate, which is essential for keeping your cool. I like them steamed, then added to salads. I also love them broiled until crisp. Go ahead and eat as many as you’d like. (Enjoy them in new ways with these delicious asparagus recipes.)

Avocados

These creamy fruits stress-proof your body. Rich in glutathione, a substance that specifically blocks intestinal absorption of certain fats that cause oxidative damage, avocados also contain lutein, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and more folate than any other fruit. A single serving (about one-quarter of an avocado) has plenty of B vitamins, too. Remember, this may technically be a fruit, but I count it as a fat, so use portion control. Thin sliced on sandwiches, it adds a whole new layer of flavor.

Here are some more ways to add this delicious fruit to your diet:

Berries

Blueberries have some of the highest levels of an antioxidant known as anthocyanin, and they’ve been linked to all kinds of positive health outcomes, including sharper cognition. But all berries, including strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are rich in vitamin C, which has been shown to be helpful in combating stress. German researchers tested this by asking 120 people to give a speech, then do hard math problems. Those who had been given vitamin C had lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol after the stressfest. Substitute berries for any other fruits on the plan whenever you want. I like to nibble on them frozen, too.

MORE: Summer Fruit Dessert Recipes

Cashews

I love all nuts. They’re great snacks, and because they are crunchy and a little salty, they cure many cravings. For those trying to lose weight, they’re such a potently satisfying combo of protein and fat that it’s hard for me not to recommend them at every single meal. (You do have to watch portion size though, since they are high in calories.) Cashews are an especially good source of zinc—a 1-ounce serving has 11 percent of your RDA. Low levels of zinc have been linked to both anxiety and depression. Since our bodies have no way of storing zinc, it’s important to get some every day. Trade cashews for other nuts on the plan when you’re in the mood. Coarsely chop a handful and toss them into a chicken stir-fry.

Chamomile tea

This is probably one of the most recommended bedtime soothers around. I’ve always loved it because the flowers are so pretty, like tiny daisies. But now there’s more evidence than ever that chamomile calms. A study from the University of Pennsylvania tested chamomile supplements on 57 participants with generalized anxiety disorder for 8 weeks, and found it led to a significant drop in anxiety symptoms. Of course, I’d much prefer you drink it in tea form—that way, you’ll get the warm, wonderfully calming feeling of holding a mug of tea as you sit in a quiet spot before bed. And yes, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there is some evidence that, in addition to calming nerves, chamomile promotes sleep.

Just pour a cup of boiling water over 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of the dried flowers (you can buy chamomile either loose or in tea bags at health food stores) and steep for 10 minutes. Try having a cup every night: Turn off the TV, the computer, and your phone, and settle down for a peaceful end to the day. It’s nice iced, too.

MORE: 5 Steps To A Perfect Cup Of Tea

Chocolate

Besides the healthy antioxidants in this treat, which push chocolate to the top of most heart-healthy food lists, it has an undeniable link to mood. A recent study from the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine reports that both women and men eat more chocolate as depressive symptoms increase. Of course, we’ve all been there, polishing off an entire package of chocolate after a bad day. But there’s evidence that, in moderation, chocolate does actually make you feel better.

Dark chocolate, in particular, is known to lower blood pressure, adding to a feeling of calm. It contains more polyphenols and flavonols—two important types of antioxidants—than some fruit juices. You can safely allow yourself dark chocolate as a snack once a week, or as a conscious indulgence, and still stay on track with your weight loss results. I always keep a few squares in my bag.

MORE: Guilt-Free Chocolate Desserts

Garlic

Like many plants, garlic is jam-packed with powerful antioxidants. These chemicals neutralize free radicals (particles that damage our cells, cause diseases, and encourage aging) and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage the free radicals cause over time. Among the compounds in garlic is allicin, which has been linked to fending off heart disease, cancer, and even the common cold. Because stress weakens our immune system, we need friends like garlic, which can toughen it back up. As long as you saute it in broth, not oil, you can add it liberally to all the meals on the plan.

Grass-fed beef

Grass-fed beef is not only better for the planet, it’s also better for people. It has more antioxidants—including vitamins C and E and beta-carotene—than grain-fed beef, and doesn’t have added hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs. And while it’s lower in fat overall, it’s about two to four times higher in omega-3s. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that healthy volunteers who ate grass-fed meat increased their blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and decreased their levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. These changes have been linked with a lower risk of a host of disorders, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, and inflammatory disease. Grass-fed beef is pricey but well worth the occasional splurge. (If you’re really gung-ho on the concept, check out local sources for “cowpooling,” where you go in with others on shares of grass-fed cattle.)

Green Tea

While it does contain caffeine, green tea also has an amino acid called theanine. Researchers at the University of Illinois say that in addition to protecting against some types of cancer, this slimming food is a brain booster as well, enhancing mental performance. Drink two cups each day.

MORE: 5 Signs You’ve Had Too Much Caffeine

Oatmeal

Talk about comfort food! A complex carbohydrate, oatmeal causes your brain to produce serotonin, a feel-good chemical. Not only does serotonin have antioxidant properties, it also creates a soothing feeling that helps overcome stress. Studies have shown that kids who eat oatmeal for breakfast stay sharper throughout the morning. And beta-glucan, the type of soluble fiber found in oatmeal, has been shown to promote greater satiety scores than other whole grains. Make a batch of the steel-cut variety on the weekend, store it in the fridge, and microwave it on busy mornings. It keeps beautifully, and in fact, that’s how restaurants often prepare it.

MORE: What’s Healthier: Steel-Cut Oats vs Rolled Oats

Oranges

Another vitamin C powerhouse, oranges have the added benefit of being totally portable. That tough skin keeps them protected while they’re bouncing around in your purse or backpack, meaning you can tote them anywhere. Experiment with all the varieties—clementines, tangelos, mineolas.

Oysters

And you thought oysters were only good as aphrodisiacs! They belong here, too, because they’re the Godzilla of zinc: Six oysters, which is what you’d typically be served in a restaurant as an appetizer, have more than half the RDA for this important mineral. I think they’re best served on ice with nothing but a lemon wedge.

MORE: Foods That Can Spice Up Your Sex Life

Walnuts

The sweet flavor of walnuts is so pleasant, and it’s nice to know they’ve been proven to provide a bit of a cognitive edge. They contain alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid, and other polyphenols that have been shown to help prevent memory loss. Researchers at Tufts University found that animals that ingested walnuts even reversed some signs of brain aging. To bring out their flavor, I toast them for 10 minutes, then chop them and add them to salads.

Adapted from Slim Calm Sexy Diet. Get more proven strategies for mind-body bliss. Buy the book here!

7 Foods That Help You De-Stress

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Stress and food have a complicated relationship.

Stress can cause you to grab for food—and it’s likely you’ll grab for the wrong things and overeat them as well. Stress, for many, spikes appetite, making it turn into an insatiable and desperate monster.

In fact, almost 40 percent of Americans report eating too much or eating the wrong foods as a way of dealing with their anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association. And those foods they turn to—comfort foods—are usually unhealthy ones, like cake, cookies, ice cream, chips and mac and cheese.

They’re foods rich in fat and sugar, which send pleasure signals to the brain. How? By boosting levels of the hormone serotonin, which has a calming effect.

But there are foods that can help with stress. Yes, you can nurture yourself with good, healthy foods that will comfort you and soothe your stress.

A word about carbohydrates: Many people crave carbs when they’re stressed. Some experts think that the craving is related to the decrease in serotonin, that feel-good hormone. So, if you love carbs, then be smart and choose “smart carbs,” like nourishing whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, which contain healthy things like fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.

Let’s get more specific and varied for the sake of stress relief:

1. Green leafy veggies
Think spinach, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, broccoli rabe, mustard greens: they’re rich in folate, which helps your body manufacture neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) that help regulate mood. Create kaleslaw out of chopped kale or incorporate some spinach into these delicious herbed spinach quiche portabella caps.

2. Turkey
The key ingredient here is L-tryptophan, which is an amino acid your body needs to convert into serotonin, which plays a role in mood. In fact, L-tryptophan is found in most foods that contain protein—with the exception of gelatin—but turkey contains a significant amount. This turkey and cucumber sandwich on whole-grain bread gives you a filling, balanced meal.

3. Fermented Foods and Yogurt
The “gut” has gotten a lot of attention lately, and this brain-gut connection is for a good reason: An unhealthy gut flora, numerous studies show, can hurt your brain health and lead to anxiety and depression. There is recent research that demonstrates changes in gut bacteria can lower anxiety levels in mice as well as affect levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And, when you consider that your intestines house most of the body’s serotonin, that all-important mood-related neurotransmitter, it’s easy to see the connection as well.
Fermented foods and yogurt that contains the probiotic lactobacillus rhamnosus (which can lower the stress-induced hormone corticosterone) can help ease stress. Although research is ongoing, adding healthy foods like yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles can’t hurt! Learn more about probiotics here.

4. Blueberries
When researchers studying post-traumatic stress disorder fed rats a diet rich in blueberries, they found that levels of serotonin in the brain increased, suggesting that blueberries might have a beneficial effect on stress. CNN reports that the antioxidants and phytonutrients in these little berries can help “improve your body’s response to stress and fight stress-related free radicals.” Get your blueberry fix with our blueberry banana oatmeal chia smoothie.

5. Dark Chocolate
A healthy indulgence (as long as you watch how much you eat), dark chocolate has been shown to reduce stress hormones, including cortisol. And its antioxidants can relax the walls of your blood vessels, hence lowering blood pressure and enhancing circulation. For a special indulgence, cook up these chunky chocolate brownies, made with healthy ingredients, including prune puree, which substitutes for added fat.

6. Milk
A warm cup of milk before bed is not just an old wives’ tale: It’s high in vitamin D, which is a nutrient associated with happiness. And the California Milk Advisory Board reports that the tradition of drinking warm milk before bed comes from the science related to the release of tryptophan, which helps decrease stress (see above).

7. Salmon
Thank the omega-3 fats in salmon (as well as in sardines and anchovies) for influencing your mood. In one study, medical students taking an omega-3 supplement enjoyed a reduction in their anxiety levels. Those omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help fight off the negative effects of stress hormones on your body as well. Here’s an easy and delicious way to turn salmon into salmon cakes, served up with some sauce made from Greek yogurt.

Meditation, exercise and quality sleep are all powerful ways to de-stress. And, yes of course, vacation and a fab massage work too. But, the good-mood-food thing IS real. These five foods work to contribute to reducing stress and anxiety. Read on and eat up!

1. Avocado

This favorite food of most people (and Instagram) is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which fight inflammation (a reaction to cellular stress), as well as numerous other anti-inflammatory compounds. The healthy fats in this fruit promote blood flow to the brain, and are also linked to helping lower blood pressure. If you’ve only been eating it on toast or tortilla chips, try it in a smoothie!

2. Cashews

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A “sweet” nut for snacking indeed and cashews are also a great source of zinc, a mineral that plays a major role in managing the body and brain’s response to stress. It’s been found that individuals with chronic anxiety show signs of improvement with zinc supplementation. If snacking on nuts isn’t your thing, try this cashew sauce for dipping.

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3. Dark chocolate

In it’s super dark, most natural state, dark chocolate has been associated with higher levels of serotonin (a chemical responsible for regulating your mood). It also contains magnesium, which may have an effect on reducing anxiety. This is no excuse to eat a bag of M&M’s when your boss stresses you out, but replacing afternoon cookies and coffee with ½ ounce of 70 to 85 percent dark chocolate and a green tea may do you some good.

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4. Grapefruit

This citrus fruit is high in vitamin C, which has been shown to lower levels of cortisol in the body and reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress. If you aren’t a fan of this tart citrus, try oranges or peppers, which are also high in this powerful vitamin. I grew up eating broiled grapefruit regularly!

5. Leafy greens

Greens like spinach, kale and broccoli rabe are filled with folic acid, a nutrient that helps maintain normal levels of serotonin (that feel-good hormone). Asparagus and broccoli are also high in this water-soluble vitamin. Lunch time salads are a great way to get your greens, but you can also add them to smoothies for your daily dose of greens.

For more tips on how to live a nutritious life, follow Keri on Instagram @nutritiouslifeofficial.

20 Foods to De-stress yourself

Eating more than your normal diet, when stressed, is a common practice. Many people feel better when they eat during a stressed phase of life. While trying to de-stress their minds, they tend to stuff their mouths with unhealthy (junk) foods. All they gain is a timely relief and a lot of extra calories. This whole situation seems quite hilarious. In spite of that we cannot deny the fact that there are certain anti-stress food items that come with calming properties. And if taken properly, they can actually make you feel better. Here we have rounded up 20 stress-busting foods, let’s read on more about them.

1. Nuts

source: destress.com

Vitamin B is something that guarantees a relaxed state of mind by keeping our neurotransmitters at the right place. And we are more equipped with the energy to deal with various stressed situations. Most of the nuts (almond, cashew, pistachio) are enriched with vitamin B, B2 and vitamin E. So, next time, you feel stressed, try some.

2. Chamomile Tea

source: theromantic.com

Chamomile tea promotes sound sleep, calmness and relief. It is easily available in health food stores. Next time when you are having an anxiety disorder, sip on a cup of chamomile tea. It works wonder for a sound sleep as well.

3. Try Chocolate Magic

source: drodd.com

Chocolate is the best mood booster. Both males and females prefer having those choco chunks, when stressed. To get the best out of it, pick dark chocolate and not the ordinary milk chocolate available in the stores. Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure and makes you feel better. If you are on diet, intake of dark chocolate, once in a week is more than enough.

4. Green Tea

source: fyiliving.com

The list of the benefits of green tea is never ending. In spite of having some quantity of caffeine, green tea has many elements that help relieving stress, curing headache and make you feel light and relaxed. Take at least two cups in a day for best results.

5. Munching Raw Vegetables

source: nickyskitchen.com.sg

Studies have proved that releasing of a clenched jaw can be helpful in removing any tense thoughts. Sounds weird! But that’s true. So, next time you are stressed, try munching some raw carrots or celery and check your stress level.

6. Avocado

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Avocado is a fruit enriched with vitamin B, that is good for the proper functioning of brain cells and nervous system. Avocado has potassium and that lowers your blood sugar level and keeps you cool and controlled.

7. Cashew

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A recent study has proved the power of zinc in lowering down your anxiety level. People with low level of zinc in their body are quite likely to face stress and anxiety. Zinc is an element that is hardly stored by our body. So, intake of a handful of cashews each day may prove helpful. For zinc intake oysters are another great choice.

8. Blueberries

source: lueberrycouncil.org

You need vitamin C and antioxidants, especially when you are not in a good mood. Apparently, blueberries are small but these are the real stress boosters that repair the damaged brain cells.

9. Red Pepper

source: homemadeforelle.com

Vitamin C has a great role to play, when you are tensed. Red pepper is one item that holds a larger quantity of vitamin C (greater than oranges). It not only lowers the cortisol level but it also controls your blood pressure.

10. Magnesium-based Foods

source: indoindians.com

Any food item that has magnesium, promises relief from panic, anxiety and depression. It may include; nuts, seeds, green vegetables, pumpkin, seaweed, sesame seed or any other item containing magnesium.

11. Asparagus

source: foodnetwork.com

Not favorite of many but still it is acknowledged for its folate enriched properties to keep you cool and calm. There are so many ways to eat it, opt for whatever way you like.

12. Milk

source: feelgrafix.com

Milk (low-fat), especially at bed time, has a lot of advantages. First of all, it cures insomnia (a form of stress). The long list of milk properties including; protein (lowers blood pressure), potassium (cures muscle spasms resulting from stress), vitamin B2 and B12, all promise positive effects on body.

13. Pistachio

source: pinterest.com

Potassium too has stress-relieving properties. Intake of potassium proves helpful in lowering your blood pressure. Pistachio is one such diet that has an ample amount of potassium. Next time you feel stressed, don’t forget to munch few.

14. Fish on your Dish

source: twitter.com

Don’t let those stress hormones surge inside you. Intake of fish, especially salmon and tuna fish (enriched with omega-3 fatty acids) balances the amount of cortisol and adrenaline in the moment of stress. Omega-3s is also highly beneficial for the overall health of your heart.

15. Turkey

source: empirekosher.com

Turkey relaxes our mind. Amino acids tryptophan in it, is a great source that signals the brain to release serotonin, a natural chemical that boosts the mood and makes you feel better.

16. Old-fashioned Oatmeal

source: hesca.org

To keep the feel-good hormone, serotonin, flowing in your body, you need oatmeal. Prefer thickly cut oatmeal and not the instant ones. The ones that require a longer procedure of cooking take time in digesting. The longer it’s the part of your body, the longer you are going to feel good.

17. Black Tea

source: servingjoy.com

Black tea is a proven beverage that makes you feel relaxed and calm. If you are in a stressful condition, drinking black tea would lower the cortisol (stress hormone) level in the body.

18. Garlic

source: mpfitgyms.com

A power-packed antioxidant food, garlic has allicin that boosts immunity. So, you must have it as a part of your diet to bear the side effects of stress.

19. Pasta

source: today.com

Pasta has complex carbs that are helpful in producing serotonin (feel-good hormone). Other than pasta, many other food items like whole grain bread and other breakfast cereals should be on your hit list.

20. Oranges

source: foodandwine.com

Orange is another great and natural source of vitamin C. Eating oranges or drinking fresh orange juice especially in breakfast, relaxes your mind and energizes your body.

Conclusion: Stress is a natural condition and no one can avoid that. The least we can do is to lessen its level. Next time, when you are tensed and you have any of these items at hand, try it without giving a second thought.

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Should you stress about stress? Stress is a natural part of everyday life which is caused by events that the body experiences. Eustress is the good kind, that triggers a positive response in the body, whereas distress; the negative kind, can have harmful effects on the body, when exposed to toxic amounts.

Dietary intervention can be a very effective, cheap and natural remedy to stress. Whether you realise or not, by choosing what you eat, you are also choosing how to treat your body.

With exams fast-approaching for many school students across the globe, it’s fair to say that stress is mounting! Whether you’re struck with stresses from work, exams or other people, here’s a list of foods that can help keep the effects of stress at bay.

10 of the Best Foods to Help Combat Stress

Earlier this week was Banana Lovers Day, but did you know just how beneficial this fruit is for you and your body? Not only convenient and packed of nutrients, they are also great to provide sustained glucose, due to their natural sugars and fibers which slowly release into the bloodstream. Bananas are also rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which makes your body produce serotonin, which can lift your mood!

2. Cherries

Agricultural research studies have found that cherries are the only natural food that are a source of melatonin. This chemical is responsible for regulating sleep, as it controls the body’s internal clock. Lack of sleep is a major contributing factor to causes of stress and being tired can make you irritable. It is recommended, that eating cherries fresh or dried, an hour before bed will help you clock those z’s!

3. Sweet Potato

Also known as kumara, these are a versatile vegetable and nutritional powerhouse! They are packed with naturally stress-lowering benefits and are rich in nutrients that lower depression, alongside being high in potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, amino acids. Like bananas, they are a good source of tryptophan. Additionally, the amounts of magnesium and potassium in sweet potatoes help reduce blood pressure levels, a common stress-affecting factor.

4. Oats

Oats are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which make your brain produce the ‘feel-good’ chemical, serotonin. This chemical has properties which soothe and help lower or overcome high amounts of stress, and they’re packed with antioxidant properties! Oats even have a unique ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, improving the health of your heart and reducing inflammation within the body.

5. Leafy Greens

Bursting with nutrients to help manage the effects of stress, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin B’s and C’s, even protein, leafy greens could be just as nourishing to your mental health, as your physical wellbeing. Because of the high chlorophyll content in leafy greens such as spinach, collards, asparagus, kale, dark greens can lead to a healthier mood and reduced stress levels. For those who hate vegetables, worry not, as there are plenty of ways to sneak these into your daily diet.

6. Lentils

The humble lentil contains one of the highest sources of antioxidants found on the planet. They’re also loaded with nutrients to boost your mood and energy, such as potassium, magnesium, iron, protein, fiber and zinc and B vitamins. Also, lentils are a very affordable source of nutrition and are very versatile to be used in a variety of creative culinary ways. Why not try this lentil dhal?

7. Nuts and Seeds

There are various nuts and seeds, all with varying nutritional content, but overall, nuts and seeds are reputed for their healthy fats, high protein content and abundance of available nutrients. For example – walnuts, chia, pumpkin seeds, linseeds and hemp seeds are high in magnesium, zinc and iron, and, in the omega-3 rich fatty acid, making them a powerful healthy fat and enabling optimum brain function. When your brain is in good health, inflammation can reduce and stress levels can lower too.

8. Berries

All fruits are wonderful for health, especially berries! Not only bright and colourful, berries are super versatile and their benefits can be experienced in a variety of ways (smoothie bowls, porridge toppings, cookies, vegan cheesecakes…) They contain benefits which boost your mood and are rich sources of vitamin C and antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, which protect the brain and improve moods.

9. Chocolate

This is not a drill, chocolate can genuinely be good for you! (we say as we demolish another family-sized block after a long day…) Chocolate is very healthy for your heart, and studies have shown that as chocolate consumption increases, symptoms of depression decrease. Specifically, dark chocolate lowers blood pressure, in turn making you more calm. With more important antioxidants than most fruit juices, especially polyphenols and flavonols, chocolate also contains cacao; the easiest absorbed form of iron.

10. Chamomile

If you’ve ever had a headache and been sent to bed with a hot chamomile tea, there is actually truth behind why this flower is used medicinally to treat symptoms and calm frazzled nerves down before sleep. The University of Maryland Medical centre reports that chamomile can calm nerves and promote restful sleep. Also, a component of chamomile has the same effect on the brain as anxiety-reducing medication, such as Xanax or Valium, but without the side effects or physically addictive properties.

Life doesn’t have to revolve around stress. Mental health is just as, if not more important than physical health. Food isn’t the only way to combat negative symptoms, why not try meditation or yoga, followed by a healthy, nourishing smoothie?

If you’re still struggling, please reach out to a friend, family member, responsible adult or helpline if you need support and coping mechanisms.

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