Managing stress through nutrition
Good nutrition and nutritional supplementation cannot remove the stressors from people’s lives, but it can help to increase tolerance to stress, reduce the adverse effects of stress and thereby boost your health and performance at work and at home.
Here are some drinks and foods to avoid when trying to manage your stress levels:
Caffeine Caffeine, the world’s most widely consumed stimulant, is an active ingredient in coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas, and energy drinks. Generally, caffeine enhances mood and alertness, vigilance and attention, speed of information processing, reaction time and motor speed, and may improve long-term memory (1).
However, there are some aspects of caffeine which can be detrimental to those seeking to reduce their stress levels. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others due to slower caffeine elimination from the body. Those prone to feeling stress and anxiety tend to be especially sensitive to caffeine.
Caffeine also stimulates the release of the stress hormone adrenaline into your system, giving you a temporary boost, but can make you feel tired and “low” later. It can also increase the body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn can lead to other health consequences ranging from weight gain and moodiness to heart disease and diabetes.
Finally, caffeine can affect your sleep by keeping you awake longer, thereby giving you less time in the restorative stages of sleep; insufficient sleep can take its toll on your level of alertness the next day and can also make you feel more agitated, leading to stress.
Therefore, it is important to evaluate your caffeine intake and decide whether its potential drawbacks outweigh its potential benefits for you.
Alcohol stimulates the hormonal stress response and interferes with normal sleep cycles.
Sugar and white flour can affect your ability to maintain steady blood sugar levels. The resulting rapid blood sugar fluctuations stress the body because they stimulate release of stress hormones (which puts your body into “stress mode”) in an effort to regain blood sugar stability.
The link between water and stress reduction is well documented. All of our organs, including our brains, need water to function properly. If you’re dehydrated, your body can’t function properly and that can lead to stress. Studies have shown that being just half a litre dehydrated can increase your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. That doesn’t mean that drinking plenty of water throughout the day will magically cause your problems to disappear. But if you’re already stressed by coping with all of these things, you don’t need the additional stress of dehydration to add to your burden. You’re actually likely to get more dehydrated when you’re under stress, because your heart rate is up and you’re breathing more heavily, so you’re losing fluid.(2)
This can lead to low blood sugar, which stresses the body because all our cells need a steady supply of glucose to function optimally.
Because of weight gain from stress, some people intentionally eat less food than they need in order to lose the excess weight. Calorie restrictive diets are often successful at helping people lose weight fast, but they place a stress on the body by depriving it of essential nutrients and energy it needs for optimal functioning.
1) Mednick SC (2008) Comparing the benefits of Caffeine, Naps and Placebo on Verbal, Motor and Perceptual Memory Behav Brain Res 193 1 79–86
2) Shaw G (2009) Water and Stress Reduction: Sipping Stress Away – Find out more about water and stress reduction here…