How to Combat Stress with Good Nutrition

You’re Never Too Busy For Good Nutrition!

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As we get busy and stressed, we tend to make poor nutritional choices that can actually increase our stress levels and cause other problems. We may do this because we're in a hurry and it's easier to grab pre-packaged food that may be less healthy, Or we may do this because we crave less healthy food when we're stressed. We may get so busy we forget to eat or skip meals, filling them in with unhealthy snack foods.

Whatever the reason, when we eat an unhealthy diet, we may experience short-term and long-term consequences. We may feel less energetic, and this lack of energy can affect our productivity and stress levels. We may be less able to fight off sickness, and this poor health can affect our quality of life and our stress levels. We may be short-tempered or overly-emotional, and this can affect our relationships and our stress levels. If you've noticed a pattern, this is because nutrition can affect stress levels in so many ways.

Here are tips for getting good nutrition and maintaining a more healthy diet, even under stress. After a few weeks, they’ll become habit and you won’t even have to think about good nutrition. And your body—not to mention your stress level—will feel the difference!

Eat Regularly

We need to eat regularly throughout the day and not skip any meals in order to maintain blood sugar levels, but also make sure that we are not physiologically hungry. If we are stressed and craving something and physiologically hungry, it is going to much more difficult. The first step is to always make sure that you're not skipping meals.

You may rationalize that you’re not hungry yet, that you don’t have time, that lunch will come soon enough, that you need to diet anyway, or that the milk in the latte you pick up on the way is all the good nutrition you need. But skipping breakfast makes it harder to maintain stable blood sugar levels and effective functioning during your busy morning; you need it. (You can easily grab a hard-boiled egg and container of orange juice on your way out the door, right?)

Opt For Green Tea

If you’re a coffee junkie, you may not realize the effects caffeine has on your system. However, you can reduce your stress levels and improve your mental performance throughout the day if you gradually wean yourself off of large amounts of caffeine. A relatively easy and healthy way to do that is to replace coffee with decaffeinated green tea, which has a soothing taste and the added benefit of loads of antioxidants.

Try Sparkling Juice or Perrier

If you’re a cola drinker, you’re probably experiencing the same health consequences from caffeine that coffee drinkers experience. A more healthful alternative is sparkling fruit juice or sparkling water. You’ll still be getting a refreshing treat, but you’ll be adding water to your system, rather than detracting it (caffeine saps your system of water, so drinking it is akin to un-drinking water!), and you’ll be avoiding other caffeine-related side effects.

Carry a Snack

Having some protein-rich, healthful snacks in your car, office, or purse can help you avoid blood sugar level dips and accompanying mood swings and fatigue. Fruit, nuts, trail mix, granola bars, and certain energy bars all contain good nutrition. Along these lines, you should always have water handy as it’s so vital to health and proper physical functioning.

Healthy Munches

If you find that you absently munch when you’re stressed, or have a pattern of snacking at certain times in the day or week, stock up on healthy choices. Replace chips, cheese puffs and other processed munchies with carrot sticks, edamame, celery sticks, and sunflower seeds. (Even popcorn is a better choice if you leave off the butter and salt!)

Brown Bag It

Many people go out for lunch to fast food places, coffee shops or restaurants that serve less-than-optimally-healthy fare. While this does save a bit of time, you can save money and usually eat much healthier if you take a few extra minutes to pack and bring a lunch from home.

Even if you only pack a lunch a few days a week, it would be an improvement over eating out for every lunch.

No Caffeine After 2 pm

Since caffeine has a half-life in your body of at least 6 hours, caffeine you ingest with dinner can interfere with your sleep at night.

Stock Your Home With Healthy Fare

It’s easier to avoid sugary, fatty, and otherwise unhealthy foods if they’re not in your home, practically begging you to eat them. This may sound like a no-brainer (yet it’s sometimes harder to do than you’d expect), but you should go through your kitchen and and make sure you have plenty of good-for-you foods to snack on when you're stressed.

Consider planning a menu of healthy meals and snacks at the beginning of each week, list the ingredients you’ll need, and shop for everything once a week. That way you know you’ll have what you want when you need it, and you won’t have to stress over what to eat each night; you’ll already have thought of it! (This makes eating at home much easier, too!)

Tension Tamers

Adopting stress-reducing techniques should also reduce your stress-induced cravings for unhealthy or excessive food. I recommend yoga, martial arts, journaling, laughter, and PMR; here’s a fuller selection of relaxation techniques you can use to calm down and turn off your body’s stress response.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.