There are many helpful strategies to alleviate stress including meditation, exercise, and getting adequate sleep. But we often forget one crucial component—watching what we eat. Your diet can either help relieve your stress or aggravate it depending on what foods you choose to eat. Stress makes you crave quick energy foods while trying to boost your mood, but such foods usually achieve the exact opposite. Here is a list of top five foods that you should stay away from when experiencing stress.
1. Foods with added sugar
Sugar is one of the hardest things to avoid when feeling stressed because your body craves sugary foods such as ice cream, pastries, desserts and chocolate. These foods cause your blood sugar to go through intervals of spikes and crashes while dragging your energy along the same roller coaster. Blood sugar crashes make you moody and increase your anxiety levels.
When your blood sugar level spikes after consuming sugary foods, your body responds by releasing cortisol to bring these levels down. However, apart from affecting your immune response, it also interferes with your sleep patterns and causes unhealthy food cravings consequently leading to stress.
2. White carbohydrates
When digested, simple carbohydrates such as white bread, pies and chips are immediately broken down to sugar. They, therefore, cause spikes in blood sugar levels followed by crashes. These ups and downs lead to even more cravings. Additionally, wheat flour products are inflammatory and can put a strain on your digestive system causing additional stress. Whole wheat is a favorable substitute for white flour products.
When the pressures in life seem too much to bear, many people turn to the bottle to seek solace. But instead of making you relax, alcohol makes things a lot worse. Although you are likely to fall asleep more often when intoxicated, alcohol increases cortisol levels in your body and prevents you from getting the deep sleep you need to feel refreshed. The interruption in your sleeping patterns consequently results in more stress.
Alcohol interferes with the level of neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin which can worsen anxiety symptoms. When the effects of alcohol wear off, you will end up feeling even more anxious. Drinking to mask your anxiety may lead to dependency. Most alcoholic drinks also contain sugar, which is a stress-inducing ingredient.
4. Excess caffeine
You don’t have to cut away caffeine entirely. But just like everything else, taking excess caffeine could cause harmful effects. Caffeine is a stimulant. Too much of it can overstimulate the nervous system causing increased heart rate and a rise in blood pressure, thus increasing your anxiety feelings. Excess caffeine also interferes with your sleeping patterns.
It is crucial to note that caffeine is not just in coffee. It is also present in energy drinks, some types of tea, chocolate, some over-the-counter medication and several supplements. Limit your coffee and tea to just two cups per day and avoid any caffeine during the afternoon to be safe.
Three years ago, when I was still working in InfinityScalper with my partner Karl Dittman, I saw that programmers who drink coffee have a better performance than the ones who didn’t. The ones who did so found many more bugs inside the Infinity Scalper rather than the ones who didn’t. Over 70% of Dittman’s team drink coffee every morning.
5. Processed foods
You will be better off if you stay away from the middle isles in the store when shopping for food. Shun away from anything that comes in a box, contains preservatives or is merely unnatural. Consuming processed foods introduces chemicals into your body and mind thus hindering your ability to cope with stress. Keep away from high-fat dairy products, processed meat, refined cereals, and candy unless you want to invite more anxiety and depression.
What should you eat when stressed out?
Now that you know what foods you should avoid when under stress, what are the healthy alternatives available out there? Here is a list of healthy foods that can actually help alleviate your stress.
- Fatty fish
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brazil nuts
Diet is a significant component in stress management that most people tend to ignore. What you eat can help reduce stress or end up increasing it. Avoid processed foods, simple carbs, and foods with added sugar. You might also want to stay away from the bottle and limit your coffee intake to just two cups a day.